A former FBI chief was tasked Wednesday with leading a beefed-up investigation into whether Donald Trump’s team colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in the president’s favor.
Trump responded by once again denying any links to Moscow, but the appointment of a special counsel with sweeping powers dramatically raises the stakes in a crisis threatening to paralyze his presidency.
The Republican leader, who has struggled to shake off suspicions that Russia helped put him in the White House, has been accused of seeking to block the investigation by sacking FBI chief James Comey.
“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,” Rosenstein said in a statement.
A New York-born Vietnam war vet aged 72, Mueller has a reputation as a tough lawman who once even stood up to a president.
He will head up the FBI’s ongoing probe of “Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters,” with the authority to prosecute crimes unearthed by the investigation.
Trump reacted swiftly, without directly commenting on Mueller’s appointment.
“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 in a tersely-worded statement.
“I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”