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How does the Mueller investigation compare with former investigations, of a similar size and scope, in terms of length of time, money spent, and indictments brought? What are some of the extreme examples of these categories that have occurred?

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FiveThirtyEight has a chart and an article that compares the current special counsel investigation to previous ones, accurate as of November 29, 2018.

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It's worth noting that the current special counsel has indicted many people abroad. Here's an older chart that labels the number of indictments of people abroad. As this article explains:

There’s a problem, though, with simply comparing the number of indictments in different investigations. That approach assumes that all the indictments are in the same general category. For the Mueller investigation, they aren’t.

The vast majority of the people charged by Mueller live abroad — specifically, in Russia. This means that unless the 25 Russians individuals accused of crimes related to election interference travel abroad, are arrested and turned over to the U.S. or are extradited by Russia, Mueller can’t actually prosecute them.

FiveThirtyEight also has an older article, with comparisons to previous special investigations in detail.


For the cost of the current and previous special investigations, PolitiFact has some of the numbers:

So, if you add up the direct and indirect costs through Sept. 30, 2018, [the cost of the Mueller investigation] works out to $25.2 million.

[ ... ]

As we’ve reported, the investigation of President Bill Clinton over Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky — headed by Kenneth Starr and then by his successor, Robert Ray — cost upward of $52 million over half a decade. Another $40 million-plus went toward a handful of other Clinton-era independent counsel investigations.

Meanwhile, the investigation of Reagan administration officials over the Iran-Contra Affair, headed by Lawrence Walsh, topped out at more than $47 million over a roughly similar period.

Those figures are direct costs only, and are not adjusted for inflation. Their price tags would be far higher if converted to 2018 dollars.

  • Note that the indictments are artificially inflated by indicting foreign citizens who are unlikely to be prosecuted. Previous investigations did very little (if any) of that. If we drop those indictments, there have been far fewer. Most of the two big bubbles disappear. – Brythan Jan 20 at 3:41
  • @Brythan That is true, I've updated the post to include an older chart that labels the indictments of people abroad for clarity. – Panda Jan 20 at 3:48
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    @Brythan Then again, did any of the other investigations have anywhere near the same level of foreign involvement? I don't think the other investigations failed to give such indictments simply out of practicality, but because they didn't really have the opportunity. They also might not be entirely without teeth here: property holdings by these individuals within the US (or certain cooperating jurisdictions) could be confiscated, assets frozen, etc. A small price compared to the consequences of a successful prosecution, but not without effect. – zibadawa timmy Jan 20 at 4:02
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    No mention of the fact that the Mueller investigation has actually made more money than spent? – Tanath Jan 29 at 10:57
  • Now that the investigation has concluded, here's an updated chart, albeit in a slightly different format. – Bobson Mar 27 at 0:47

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