WASHINGTON (CN) – A special counsel will oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into possible coordination between the Russian government and President Donald Trump’s campaign, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced on Wednesday.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller will oversee the investigation and will resign from his law firm in order to take the position, Rosenstein announced. Mueller lead the FBI from 2001 to 2013, immediately preceding James Comey, whose firing last week increased calls for a special counsel to look into the Trump campaign’s ties with the Russian government.
“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 in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”
In a statement, President 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. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”
According to the one page order appointing Mueller, the special counsel will have the authority to conduct an investigation into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
Under federal regulations, a special counsel is given “the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States attorney.” The special counsel, often called a special prosecutor, is not directly supervised by anyone in the Justice Department, though the attorney general can remove him for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of departmental policies.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department investigation into Russian coordination with the Trump campaign after it was revealed he did not disclose a meeting with a Russian ambassador to Congress.
Democrats have called for Rosenstein, who has taken over the investigation in Sessions’ stead, to appoint a special counsel ever since Trump fired Comey last week. The calls grew louder on Tuesday after a New York Times report on a memo from Comey that claimed Trump had asked him to stop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn left office after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversation with a Russian ambassador during the transition.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, praised Mueller as a “great selection” on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.
“Mueller is a great selection,” Chaffetz wrote. “Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.”
Rosenstein is set to brief the full Senate tomorrow afternoon.
Mueller was widely praised, even by Republican lawmakers who did not join Democrats in supporting the idea of an independent prosecutor.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was among those to laud Rosenstein’s choice.
“The appointment of Bob Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a good first step to get to the bottom of the many questions we have about Russian interference in our election and possible ties to the president,” Feinstein said in a statement.“Bob was a fine U.S. attorney, a great FBI director and there’s no better person who could be asked to perform this function. He is respected, he is talented and he has the knowledge and ability to do the right thing.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, one of the leaders of the special prosecutor calls, was also pleased with the choice.
“A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing,” Schumer said. “Former Director Mueller is 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.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee who is a co-sponsor of a bill that would create an independent commission to handle the investigation, likewise praised the decision on Wednesday evening.
“Knowing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein from his tenure in Baltimore, I think he made a solid choice in Mr. Mueller, and I commend him for putting our country and justice system first,” Cummings said in a statement. “I urge Mr. Mueller to follow the facts wherever they may lead—with integrity and independence.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called Mueller’s appointment, “a positive step.”
“I am hopeful that he will help us get to the bottom of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, including any role the president may have played,” Sanders said.
“To ensure the American people have full confidence in this investigation, it must be conducted in an open and transparent manner and be given the full resources it needs. Additionally, the ongoing investigations by both the Senate and House must continue,” he added.