Print Edition - 2017-05-19  |  World

Former FBI boss Mueller to lead Trump-Russia probe

- Associated Press, WASHINGTON

May 19, 2017-

Robert Mueller has been given sweeping power to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, an acknowledgment of growing public demands to place the politically charged inquiry into the hands of an outside investigator with bipartisan respect.

The former FBI director has a broad mandate that could encompass any questionable actions of President Donald Trump’s associates and possibly even the circumstances of last week’s abrupt firing of James Comey.

“I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability,” Mueller said in a statement.

In a statement released by the White House, Trump said: “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.”

As special counsel, Mueller will direct an FBI counterintelligence investigation examining whether Russia coordinated with Trump campaign associates to influence the election in his behalf. He is entitled to a budget, can request new or additional staff and will have the same authority as high-ranking Justice Department lawyers, including the ability to prosecute any crimes he uncovers.

His mandate extends beyond any specific Trump-Russia connection to cover “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” That language suggests Mueller could also explore whether the firing of Comey - who publicly revealed the investigation’s existence to Congress in March - and a conversation Comey has said he had with the president weeks earlier represented efforts to obstruct or derail the FBI’s work.

The Justice Department’s appointment of Mueller follows weeks of questions about the its independence from the White House and comes two months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself because of his own undisclosed Russian contacts during the campaign.

The White House counsel was notified after the special counsel order was signed and soon before it was publicly announced. A senior administration official described Trump’s reaction to Mueller’s appointment as “measured.” The official said there was widespread agreement among staff that the appointment of Mueller provides Trump and his aides with the opportunity to “commit ourselves to doubling down on the agenda.”

The appointment seemed meant to quell mounting questions about the Justice Department’s ability to independently oversee the investigation.

Last week, a memo drafted by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was held up by the White House as justification for the firing of Comey, who had been leading the investigation. Then came Tuesday’s revelation that Comey had written in a memo that Trump, in a February meeting, had asked him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denied that account.

Rosenstein, who at his confirmation hearing would not commit to a special counsel appointment and who inherited the probe following Sessions’ recusal, seemed to acknowledge the public outcry by calling Mueller’s selection “necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome.”

The public interest, he said, “requires me to place this investigation into the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.” The Justice Department said Mueller has resigned from his job at a private law firm, WilmerHale, to take the job. That firm is also home to Jamie Gorelick, who has represented Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

 

Trump assails naming of counsel as ‘witch hunt’ 

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump lashed out at the appointment of a special counsel to investigate allegations that his campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election, tweeting Thursday that it is “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

The surprise announcement to hand the probe over to Mueller, a lawman with deep bipartisan respect, was a striking shift for Trump’s Justice Department, which had resisted increasingly loud calls from Democrats for an outside prosecutor. It immediately escalated the legal stakes - and the potential political damage - for a president who has tried to dismiss the matter as partisan witch hunt and a “hoax.”

In another Twitter post Thursday, Trump said: “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel (sic) appointed!” He did not provide examples or evidence of any alleged “illegal acts.”

The announcement, the latest in the shock-a-day Washington saga, was made by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The White House counsel’s office was alerted only after the order appointing Mueller was signed

Published: 19-05-2017 09:13

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