By David McLaughlin and Andrew Harris, Bloomberg News
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been named special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election, the Justice Department said.
The naming of Mueller, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the FBI during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, comes as the White House is reeling from President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey on May 9. That was followed by allegations Trump asked Comey in February to end his probe of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The naming of a special counsel was a key demand by many Democrats in the wake of those revelations.
“My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement. “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 FBI’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and potential links with Trump’s campaign had been overseen by Rosenstein and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year recused himself after it was revealed he had not disclosed conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
The order issued by Rosenstein specifies that Mueller is authorized to pursue the investigation into Russian meddling, including “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
‘Authorized to Prosecute’
“If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters,” the order says.
Rosenstein, who is scheduled to brief the full Senate behind closed doors on the Russia probe Thursday, made the decision to name Mueller, Justice Department officials told reporters. It isn’t clear if Trump had a role in the decision.
Mueller, 72, served as FBI director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was the longest serving head of the bureau since J. Edgar Hoover. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, as the U.S. was ramping up security, he joined then- Deputy Attorney General Comey in threatening to resign if the White House overruled a Justice Department opinion that domestic wiretapping without a warrant was unconstitutional.
Unlike Comey, who Trump charged was a “showboat” and a “grandstander,” Mueller typically shied away from making comments to reporters and routinely refused to discuss ongoing investigations. He also won wide praise as FBI director from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, an attribute that may help steady concerns about the handling of the Russia probe.
“Mueller is a great selection,” Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the Oversight Committee, said on Twitter after the decision was announced. “Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.”
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said “I think that’s probably a good choice. I’ve been impressed by him.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the selection “excellent.”
Before joining the FBI, Mueller served as U.S. Attorney in San Francisco and held other positions in the Justice Department. Obama asked Mueller to stay in office two years beyond the normal 10-year term.
–With assistance from Billy House, Laura Litvan and James Rowley.
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