The Justice Department on Wednesday named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he made this decision out of the enormous “public interest” in this investigation.
“Based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command,” Rosenstein said in a statement.
“A special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome. Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the Public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly.”
Notably, the statement says the investigation will focus on both Russia’s election interference and “related matters.”
The White House was only given thirty minutes notice that a special counsel would assume control of the case, ABC reported.
In a statement, President Donald Trump said he looked forward to the investigation ending “quickly.”
“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” the statement read. “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”
This remarkable development in the Russia probe arrives one day after the New York Times reported that in February, President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to kill the bureau’s investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. The White House has denied the Times’ story, which was based around on a memo Comey reportedly wrote at the time detailing his conversation with the President.
That bombshell, which legal scholars say could be read as an attempt to obstruct justice, fueled calls for both an independent commission and special counsel to investigate Russia’s election meddling and Trump’s associates. A handful of Republican lawmakers joined their Democratic colleagues who’ve been calling for an independent commission and/or special counsel for months. The Trump White House and the President’s allies on Capitol Hill have argued probes already underway in Congress and by the FBI were sufficient.
Rosenstein assumed control of the FBI investigation when he was confirmed in April, given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe after failing to disclose conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. last year.
Mueller, who served as FBI director from 2001-2013, now assumes control of that probe. He will resign from his position at law firm WilmerHale to work on this investigation full-time.
News of his appointment was met with rapid, near-universal applause from both sides of the aisle, with lawmakers commending his legal acumen and sterling reputation in Washington, D.C.
“Mueller is a great selection,” House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) wrote on Twitter. “Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.”
Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) May 17, 2017
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Mueller’s appointment “a good first step” to rooting out the extent of Russia’s meddling and possible collusion with Trump associates.
“There’s no better person who could be asked to perform this function,” she said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) concurred, calling Mueller “exactly the right kind of individual for this job.”
“I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Read the full DOJ statement and Rosenstein’s order announcing Mueller’s announcement below.
WASHINGTON – Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein today announced the appointment of former Department of Justice official and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel to oversee the previously-confirmed FBI investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters.
“In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” said Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. “My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”
Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein added, “Each year, the career professionals of the U.S. Department of Justice conduct tens of thousands of criminal investigations and handle countless other matters without regard to partisan political considerations. I have great confidence in the independence and integrity of our people and our processes. Considering the unique circumstances of this matter, however, I determined that a Special Counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome. Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly. Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result.”
Special Counsel Mueller has agreed to resign from his private law firm in order to avoid any conflicts of interest with firm clients or attorneys.
This post has been updated.