special prosecutor

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A special prosecutor is a prosecutor who is independent of an office that would normally exercise jurisdiction in a criminal investigation—to avoid potential conflicts of interest or to facilitate subject matter area expertise. At the federal level, under 28 CFR § 600.1, a special prosecutor is referred to as a “special counsel,” and may be appointed by the attorney general to criminally investigate an individual or matter in cases where a Justice Department investigation would present a conflict of interest, or in other “extraordinary circumstances.” Under Supreme Court precedent in Morrison v. Olson, Congress may also appoint a special counsel through the passage of legislation. Notable special counsels in U.S. history include Ken Starr of the Clinton Whitewater investigation and Lawrence Walsh of the Iran-Contra Affair

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]