Republicans, Democrats hail Mueller's appointment

Former FBI director and prosecutor Robert Mueller is taking on a new challenge in the midst of a crisis that threatens the presidency of the United States.
The Justice Department has gained widespread approval over its decision to appoint Mr Robert Mueller (above, right) as special counsel to investigate possible coordination between the associates of President Donald Trump and Russia in the 2016 campai
The Justice Department has gained widespread approval over its decision to appoint Mr Robert Mueller (above, right) as special counsel to investigate possible coordination between the associates of President Donald Trump and Russia in the 2016 campaign. PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But they vow to move forward with congressional probes into Russian activity, raising prospect of conflicting goals

WASHINGTON • In a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill over a politically charged issue, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers praised the Justice Department's decision to appoint Mr Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate possible coordination between President Donald Trump's associates and Russia in the 2016 election campaign.

Nevertheless, the Senate and House panels conducting their own inquiries pledged to move forward, setting up a complex landscape of potentially conflicting investigations - and competing goals.

Democrats have accused Republicans of making a show of investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Several of them, along with some Republicans, said on Wednesday that the news of a special counsel probe should not slow down Congress' work - and Republican leaders pledged that it would not.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr, whose panel is conducting one of five congressional probes that are directly or indirectly looking into Russian activity, was among those who hailed the news while also declaring that "our task has not changed".

"Having someone like Bob Mueller head the investigation assures the American people that there is no undue influence, be it here or be it at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, or within the Justice Department or FBI," he said.

Mr Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was more forceful, saying: "The appointment of a special counsel is not a substitute for a vigorous investigation in Congress, and the House Intelligence Committee will take steps to make sure our investigations do not conflict and ensure the success of both efforts."

The widespread approval of Mr Mueller's appointment followed weeks during which many congressional Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, declined to call for a special counsel. Before Wednesday, many of them touted the congressional probes as sufficiently independent entities.

But in the hours after the announcement, Republicans spoke mostly about it in positive tones.

"My priority has been to ensure thorough and independent investigations are allowed to follow the facts wherever they may lead," Mr Ryan said. "That is what we have been doing here in the House. The addition of Robert Mueller as special counsel is consistent with this goal, and I welcome his role."

But senior Democrats cautioned that Mr Mueller should be permitted a wide berth for his probe.

"A special prosecutor is the first step, but it cannot be the last," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. She also called on the Justice Department to let Mr Mueller review Mr Trump's "attempt to intervene" on behalf of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Similarly, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that Mr Mueller's probe "should extend to the circumstances that led to the President's abrupt dismissal of James Comey" as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Republicans, Democrats hail Mueller's appointment'. Print Edition | Subscribe