Published: Sat, May 20, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

USA senator insists special counsel won't derail Congress' Russia probes

USA senator insists special counsel won't derail Congress' Russia probes

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller testified, in June 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. By several senators' accounts, he contradicted Trump's statements that Rosenstein's written criticism of FBI Director James Comey had been a factor in Comey's recent firing by the president.

A special counsel does not have to keep his or her superiors briefed on each step of the probe they are carrying out - even though the counsel does still answer to the Justice Department and thus, ultimately, to the president. In January, only days after the inauguration, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates had informed Trump's White House counsel that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI as part of an active investigation.

Under pressure to provide guarantees to Congress and the public that the Russian Federation probe will continue unhindered, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped Robert Mueller - a widely respected figure who headed the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the decade after the 9/11 attacks - to take over the reins.

"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".

President Donald Trump told Russian diplomats last week his firing of "nut job" James Comey had eased the pressure on him, even as the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation had moved into the White House, according to reports Friday that pursued the president as he began his maiden foreign trip. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Alice Fisher, the former head of the Justice Department's criminal division; and Michael Garcia, a former USA attorney from Manhattan. Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman was seen as the front-runner.

Mueller, who is well-regarded by both parties, was a name welcomed by Democrats and by some Republicans, as well.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, said there was "no better person who could be asked to perform this function". Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr indicated at one point that Flynn was resisting the committee's document subpoenas, but later clarified that he hadn't actually heard from Flynn's lawyer to that effect and he would welcome "their willingness to cooperate".

White House hopes that Trump could leave scandalous allegations at home were crushed in a one-two punch of revelations that landed shortly after his departure.

Flynn was sacked after it was revealed that he misled administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the nature of his conversations with Russian officials, including Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, prior to Trump's inauguration.

Trump strongly disagreed. The appointment, he said in a briefing with news anchors, "hurts our country terribly".

Rosenstein's order came a week after he played a key role in Trump's firing of Comey, who had overseen the FBI's Russian Federation investigation since last July.

But calls for the Russia probe to be placed in independent hands intensified this week following reports that Trump urged Comey to reel back its investigation of Michael Flynn, the national security advisor fired for not telling the truth about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador to Washington before Trump took power. Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Trott says lawmakers pressed Rosenstein on the memo but he declined to respond.

They are appointed when an investigation by a USA attorney would present a conflict of interest or "under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter", says the law allowing for special counsels.

Trott says Maryland Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings asked something like, "So you woke up one morning and made a decision to write a memo?"

The Justice Department said Mueller has resigned from his job at a private law firm, WilmerHale, to take the job.

Another partner, Reginald Brown, is representing Paul Manafort.

The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a former USA attorney. He can maintain the same investigators in place, or request new or additional staff including from outside the department.

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