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SPECIAL COUNSEL: What Does it Really Cost?

Robert Mueller

The appointment of special counsel is nothing new. The first such occurrence was at the hands of Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 to investigate the Whiskey Ring scandal, a situation in which whiskey distillers were said to have bribed government officials to have the tax on barreled whiskey cut in half. As most things political go, the investigation ran into turmoil when the special counsel began asking questions about President Grant’s meddling in the investigation. Sound familiar? Ultimately, the special investigator, a name used interchangeably for special counsel today, was fired and later replaced under political pressure.

In more recent years, special counsel has been used to investigate Watergate under Nixon, The Iran-Contra Affair under Reagan, Whitewater under Bill and Hillary Clinton (remember Kenneth Starr?), and Monica Lewinski also under Bill Clinton. Now Robert Mueller is investigating President Trump.  The assignment of a special counsel generally comes during turmoil and often adds to the controversy. In all things political, one should expect the motive of those who push for assignment of special counselors to be driven to soil the reputation of those at the heart of the investigation. Think of it as a political tool used to cloud the minds of voters. The very fact that a special counsel was appointed can be enough to raise doubts. Those driving the appointment of the special counsel will make sure the need for this action not be forgotten in the next election cycle. It all seems to boil down to a political game.

Being keenly interested in all things financial, it doesn’t take us long to get to a couple of our favorite questions. How much does it cost? And, who pays the bill? Interestingly enough, the special counsel doesn’t require special funding from Congress. The funding is built into the congressional budget, so if you were really wondering, the citizens pick up the tab. That’s right, a political game funded by taxpayer dollars. Shocker!

The more important question is, how much? That’s a moving target. It has been said, the many investigations into Bill Clinton’s foolishness are said to have ultimately cost the taxpayers about $79 million to investigate. The investigation into the Iran-Contra Affair reportedly cost around $47 million. Mueller’s current investigation into alleged Russian collusion has reportedly racked up a price tag of $6.7 million in its first five months according to Justice Department figures. Assuming the cost is uniform throughout that investigation, that amount should be about $13.4 million by now.

What expenses are covered in these calculations, you might ask? The cost of salaries, travel, rent, supplies, government agencies and agents, and any needed help from private contractors.

So, what is the taxpayers’ likely return on this investment? Not much. When Bill Clinton was impeached by The House of Representatives after the investigation into Whitewater, the U.S. Senate later acquitted him, and he finished his term. Some of the individual players in the current investigation have already been charged with wrongdoing, but these charges do not appear to be on the level of a smoking gun against President Trump. These things take time and time is money! Mr. Mueller was expected to finish his probe within nine to 12 months. He was appointed in May of 2017. It’s March now, so that’s 10 months by our count, and the meter is still running.

William G. Lako, Jr., CFP®, is a principal at Henssler Financial, a financial advisory and wealth management firm that has been delivering comprehensive financial solutions to its individual, corporate, and institutional clients for 30 years. Mr. Lako is a Certified Financial Planner professional.

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