Special Prosecutor Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Special Prosecutor, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Special Prosecutor?

(n) Special prosecutor is the attorney appointed by the attorney general, congress or the head of the state to investigate into the illegitimate activities of the government servants and persons dealing in state properties and to represent the state for prosecuting the wrong doers

History and Meaning of Special Prosecutor

A special prosecutor is a lawyer appointed by the government to investigate political wrongdoing by high-ranking people in power, such as government officials, politicians, or members of the judiciary. The role of a special prosecutor is to serve as an independent party to conduct an investigation without the interference or influence of normal government channels. Special prosecutors have been appointed in high-profile cases such as the Watergate scandal and the Iran-Contra affair.

The first special prosecutor was appointed in 1875 during the Grant administration. The term “special prosecutor” became famous when President Richard Nixon appointed Archibald Cox to investigate the Watergate break-in. The special prosecutor ensures the independence of the investigation and avoids conflicts of interest.

Examples of Special Prosecutor

  • Edward J. Walsh was appointed as special prosecutor in 1986 to investigate the Iran-Contra affair.
  • Kenneth Starr was appointed as a special prosecutor in 1994 to investigate Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration.
  • Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed as special prosecutor in 2003 to investigate the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel in 2017 to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Legal Terms Similar to Special Prosecutor

  • Independent counsel: a term used in the past for a prosecutor appointed to investigate wrongdoing by high-ranking government officials.
  • District attorney: a government official who represents the state or federal government in the prosecution of criminal offenses.
  • Attorney general: the chief legal officer of the United States or a state, responsible for providing legal advice to the government and representing the government in legal matters.