Justice Department names special investigator for Russia election probe

May 17, 2017, 3:22 PM | Updated: 6:18 pm

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2011, file photo, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III speaks in Tucson, Ariz....

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2011, file photo, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III speaks in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX — The Department of Justice has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate possible interference by Russia in last year’s election, it was announced Wednesday.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has asked former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the investigation.

“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 press release.

In another release, President Donald Trump said he is looking forward to the quick conclusion of the entire investigation — including alleged ties between his own campaign and Russia.

“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,” he said.

Rosenstein said the appointment was made so Americans can trust the results are not tainted by politics.

“I have great confidence in the independence and integrity of our people and our processes,” he said. “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.”

The special prosecutor announcement reportedly caught the White House by surprise.

Numerous lawmakers have called for an independent investigation into possible Russian influence in the election after former FBI Director James Comey was fired this month.

“I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election,” U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement. “The president’s decision to remove the FBI director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego led the Arizona Democratic call for an investigation, saying Comey’s firing felt like a cover-up.

“Trump can get away with these troubling maneuvers for only so long as Congressional Republicans allow him to do so,” he said in a statement. “Now that the FBI investigation has been tainted, it’s beyond time to appoint an independent special prosecutor to get to the bottom of this administration’s Russia ties.”

In response to the announcement that a special prosecutor was named, Gallego said the move was a “good development.”

“We hope that…former Director Mueller is going to have the full independence and all the assets he needs to conduct a full investigation,” Gallego told reporters on Wednesday.

“And we hope that this includes the scope that goes into searching whether this was an obstruction of justice in an attempt to cover up what occurred with [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn or any other person in the Trump administration.”

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) also praised the move, calling it the “right decision at this time” and praising Mueller as “someone who is free of politics.”

“I look forward to an expeditious conclusion to this investigation in order to provide answers to the questions the American people are asking and I think former Director Mueller is a great choice to do just that,” McSally said in the statement.

Three congressional committees, all led by Republicans, confirmed they wanted to hear from Comey, whose notes about a February meeting with the president indicate Trump urged him to drop the bureau’s investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Congressional investigators are seeking Comey’s memos, as well as documents from the Justice Department related to the firing.

The White House disputed Comey’s account of the February conversation concerning Flynn, but did not offer specifics. Several members of Congress said that if Trump did suggest that Comey “let this go” regarding Flynn’s Russian contacts, it was probably just a joke, light banter.

Mueller was appointed to lead the FBI by former President George W. Bush in 2001. He has worked at a private practice and at Stanford University since he left the FBI in 2013. He was replaced by Comey.

Mueller will resign from his private law firm during the investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Justice Department names special investigator for Russia election probe