An independent counsel (also called special counsel or special prosecutor) is:
|“|| an official appointed on a temporary basis, with limited jurisdiction, to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute a case in which regular law-enforcement authorities might have a conflict of interest. Such a case normally, although not always, involves a high-ranking government official accused of a serious crime.
Special prosecutors have been appointed to investigate major U.S. scandals, such as Teapot Dome and Watergate. The term independent counsel, however, most commonly refers to prosecutors appointed under the federal independent counsel statute.
The statute, which specifically applied to allegations of wrongdoing by certain members of the executive branch, became law through the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. It was reenacted, as amended, in 1982, 1987, and 1994 but allowed to expire in 1999.