Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has cost $6.7 million during the first four and a half months of the probe, including $1.7 million on salaries and benefits for employees, according to the first report issued on the costs.
In addition to Mr. Mueller, the special counsel team includes 17 attorneys. Mr. Mueller and five of his attorneys were hired from outside the government while the remainder are on detail to the team from the Justice Department. The costs associated with bringing on outside employees tops $500,000 while the salary for those already employed by the federal government totaled $1.2 million.
The special counsel’s office has declined to provide details on how many other people have been detailed from various agencies or divisions of the Justice Department to work on the team.
Tuesday’s disclosures provide the first opportunity to measure the cost-effectiveness of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which has netted two guilty pleas and two indictments thus far.
Some past independent counsel investigations have come under fire after their investigations racked up high bills.
Kenneth W. Starr’s 1990s-era investigation into President Clinton ranks as the priciest independent counsel investigation on record, costing taxpayers about $73 million and involving the work of more than 170 employees and federal government detailees.
But some with experience working on independent and special counsel investigations caution that it’s difficult to gauge whether the cost is reasonable or not because there are no similar comparisons to be made.
“In most investigations involving U.S. Attorney’s offices or litigating components of the Justice Department we don’t see this type of information provided on a case by case basis,” said Randall Samborn, senior vice president of Levick and a former spokesman for Patrick Fitzgerald’s special counsel investigation into the unmasking of CIA agent Valerie Plame in the mid-2000s. “It’s important to really have to wait and see approach, especially given the early stage of the investigation to see what the return on investment is at a later time.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the amount spent by the special counsel “is entirely reasonable given the results we’ve already seen.”
“With two individuals having entered guilty pleas and two more facing federal charges, it’s clear the investigation is moving forward,” Mrs. Feinstein said, adding that the investigation should continue to receive all the resources needed.
Mr. Mueller’s team has been tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any possible coordination with members of President’s Trump’s campaign, but for those who question the evidence upon which the probe was started and impartiality of those involved, Tuesday’s expenditure report is confirmation that the probe has spiraled out of control.
“Every dollar spent on a special counsel operation that is compromised, out of control and unconstitutional is a wasted dollar,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, as well as his longtime colleague Richard Gates, were indicted on a series of charges related to their past consulting work rather than their work related to the campaign. Both have pleaded not guilty.
But two others associated with the Trump campaign have both pleaded guilty to charges stemming from lies they told the FBI about their interactions with the Trump campaign.
George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty under seal over the summer to making false statements to FBI agents as they questioned him about his attempts to arrange meetings between members of the campaign and the Russian government.
And just last week, former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn admitted that he lied to investigators when he said he didn’t ask Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. to limit Moscow’s reaction to U.S. sanctions during the presidential transition.
Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI and current president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said he wasn’t surprised by the amount spent during the course of the investigation, noting that start up costs like office infrastructure surely added to the bulk of the first report. He suspected that Mr. Mueller may have even tried time the announcement just after Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea to show that the investigation is getting results.
“I think every piece of it is being gamed out in Mueller’s office,” Mr. Hosko said. “Perhaps even this too. Get Flynn last Friday and then say what it cost taxpayers the next week.”
That hasn’t stopped others critical of the investigation from taking issue with the amount of money spent on the probe.
“They must be having one hell of a Christmas party,” Rep. Matt Gaetz told Newsweek.
Mr. Gaetz, Florida Republican, previously called on Mr. Mueller to step down from heading the investigation.
“What they’ve been able to turn up so far is an intern who wanted the president to meet with Russian officials but was rejected, and a former national security adviser who has pled guilty to the very conduct that resulted in his firing,” Mr. Gaetz said, referring to the guilty pleas from Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Flynn.
Asked Tuesday when the president knew that Mr. Flynn had lied to the FBI, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Mr. Trump didn’t fire Mr. Flynn for that reason.
“The president knew that he lied to the vice president. That was the reason for his firing,” she said.
According to the DOJ report, more than $362,000 was spent during that period on rent, communications and utilities.
Another $223,000 was spent on travel expenses, though much of that amount - approximately $220,000 - was spent on the cost of temporary relocation of DOJ employees who were detailed to the special counsel’s office. Only around $3,000 was spent on direct travel expenses.
Another $734,000 was spent on the acquisition of equipment that will remain the property of the federal government at the close of the Mueller investigation.