WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in charge of the investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“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,” Rosenstein said. “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.”
The deputy attorney general, who was placed in charge of the investigation, ongoing at the FBI since July, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal, added that the 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.”
Mueller, 72, served 12 years as FBI director under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama; he previously had a lengthy career at the U.S. Attorney’s office. For two of those years Mueller led the FBI, during the Bush administration, former FBI Director James Comey was deputy attorney general.
Mueller is leaving his D.C. law firm, Wilmer Hale, to concentrate on the investigation full time. He will have authority to appoint staff or use existing staff, and have a budget for the investigation.
The order from Rosenstein appointing Mueller says his investigation will include “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and any other matters” within the scope of the probe.
The White House issued a brief statement from Trump: “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. 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.”
CNN reported that the White House counsel’s office received only about an hour’s notice before the Justice Department made the announcement, and was told about the order as Rosenstein was signing it. Sessions was reportedly informed after Rosenstein signed the order.
The pick quickly drew praise from both sides of the aisle. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who requested all Comey memos be turned over to his committee by May 24, tweeted, “Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who voted against Rosenstein for not committing to appointing a special counsel, lauded the Mueller appointment as “a very solid and significant step.” Blumenthal told CNN the Bush-Obama FBI director has the “guts and backbone to stand up and speak out against any kind of political influence.”
The junior senator from Connecticut was more cautious: “Special counsel is the right move. But will Trump, Sessions give Mueller the resources, latitude he needs? If past is prologue, watch out,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D) tweeted.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the appointment “confirms that the investigation into Russian intervention into our election will continue, as stated last week by Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.”
“The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will also continue its investigation into this matter,” McConnell added.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) reaction was also brief.
“Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job,” he said. “I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
This story was updated at 7:35 p.m. EST