Former FBI chief Robert Mueller has been appointed as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
The Justice Department made the announcement in the face of rising pressure from Capitol Hill.
The move followed a week in which the White House was thrown into uproar after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
Democrats and some of the president’s fellow Republicans had demanded an independent probe of whether Russia tried to sway the outcome of November’s election in favor of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump, whose anger over the allegations has grown in recent weeks, took the news calmly and used it to rally his team to unite, move on and refocus on his stalled agenda, a senior White House official said.
“We are all in this together,” Trump told his team, the official said.
Trump said in a statement after the Justice Department announcement he looked forward to a quick resolution.
“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.
Mueller said in a statement tweeted by CBS News: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”
Trump, who said in a speech earlier on Wednesday that no politician in history “has been treated worse or more unfairly,” has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his election victory.
The Russia issue has, however, clouded his early months in office. Moscow has denied the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that it meddled in the campaign.
Pressure on the White House intensified after Trump fired Comey, who had been leading a federal probe into the matter, and allegations that Trump had asked Comey to end the FBI investigation into ties between Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia. That raised questions about whether the president improperly attempted to interfere with a federal investigation.
The issue spilled over onto Wall Street on Wednesday, where the S&P 500 and the Dow had their biggest one-day declines since September as investor hopes for tax cuts and other pro-business policies faded amid the political tumult. The Justice Department announcement came after the market close.
Robert Swan Mueller III (born August 7, 1944) is an American attorney who was the sixth Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, serving from September 4, 2001 to September 4, 2013.