Russia Probe Moves Forward As Robert Mueller Investigation Is Exempt From Government Shutdown

Despite the partial government shutdown, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's alleged role in influencing the results of the 2016 presidential election will push forward as normal, according to a new report from the Hill.

In a report published Friday, the Hill cited an unnamed Justice Department spokesman, who told the political publication that Mueller's office is "funded from a permanent indefinite appropriation." This means the special counsel investigation will "[not be affected] in the event of a shutdown," the spokesman added.

With Congress stalemated over President Donald Trump's desired $5 billion budget for the construction of his planned U.S.-Mexico border wall, lawmakers were not able to meet the Friday midnight deadline for agreeing to fund a number of government agencies. This resulted in the ongoing partial government shutdown, which, per the Hill, affects the departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State, and Treasury, among other agencies. Furthermore, close to 400,000 federal employees were placed on furlough, or temporary leave without pay, for the duration of the shutdown.

Although Robert Mueller's Russia probe is linked to the Justice Department, which, as mentioned above, is among the agencies affected by the shutdown, the Hill pointed out that the special counsel is not affected, on account of Mueller's "independent authority and powers of a U.S. attorney." This sentiment was echoed by CNN in January, as a Justice Department spokesman similarly confirmed that special counsel employees are exempt from furlough and that the Mueller probe would continue in the event of a shutdown.

Per Politico, the federal government did end up shutting down for three days in January but was reopened after Senate Democrats got a commitment from Republican lawmakers to push forward with immigration and budget-related negotiations. A second shutdown briefly took place early in February, but as the Huffington Post noted, no federal employees ended up furloughed, as Congress fast-tracked "a massive bipartisan spending deal" that was approved several hours after the stipulated funding deadline.

For the past 19 months, Robert Mueller and his team of investigators have been looking into accusations that Russian officials colluded with Donald Trump's campaign and interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Despite the fact that several individuals, including former Trump colleagues Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, have been charged in the probe, the special counsel investigation has consistently been met with criticism from conservative lawmakers and other public figures. Trump, in specific, has frequently referred to the special counsel investigation as a "witch hunt" in his Twitter posts, and vehemently denied that any collusion had taken place.