Mueller probe would continue during a government shutdown

Special counsel, staff exempt from furlough

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Special prosecutor Robert Mueller

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller would be able to continue, even if the federal government shuts down over an impasse on the budget.

A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed to CNN that employees in the special counsel office are considered exempt from furlough and "would continue their operations in the case of a lapse in appropriations."

The shutdown looms for Friday at midnight as congressional and Trump administration negotiators grapple with an agreement to continue funding the government, and some Democrats mull how to force a plan to protect recipients of the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program.

Should Congress and the White House fail to achieve a spending agreement, much of the government will shut down, and federal operations will lapse until a spending plan is passed. During the lapse in funding, however, all employees whose work is not funded by the regular appropriations process are "exempt" from the mandatory furlough that other federal employees have during a shutdown.

The special counsel probe is not part of the annual funding process Congress approves for the Justice Department, and therefore its employees are exempt from the potential shutdown.

The Justice Department said in December that investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election had cost about $7 million from May to September, and the announcement noted that funding for the probe comes from "the permanent, indefinite appropriation for independent counsels."

Outside of protection from a shutdown, the funding mechanism also makes it somewhat difficult for Congress to target the special counsel through the regular appropriations process at all -- a fact that made a few headlines last fall as President Donald Trump tweeted about the "costly" investigations and some House Republicans expressed opposition to Mueller's funding.

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