The first special prosecutor was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875, to investigate a bribery scandal involving his close friends and associates. Ever since, presidents of both parties have appointed special prosecutors and empowered them to operate with unusual independence.
Also called special counsels and independent counsels, such appointments became a standard method for neutralizing political scandals and demonstrating the President's commitment to the rule of law. Special counsel Robert Mueller is the latest example.
In his new book, "Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law," Andrew Coan offers a look at the long, mostly forgotten history of special prosecutors in American politics. Andrew Coan is a law professor at the University of Arizona.