Trump decries 'witch-hunt' after special counsel picked for probe

VIDEO: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump speaking at the White House, on May 18, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaking at the White House, on May 18, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

A defiant President Donald Trump has lashed out at what he called "the greatest witch-hunt of a politician in American history" after a special counsel was appointed to oversee the FBI's investigation into Russia's alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Robert Mueller, a highly respected former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief, was appointed by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday - reportedly with only a half-hour's notice given to the White House. At the time, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia investigations, was busy interviewing candidates to replace ousted FBI director James Comey.

Initially, Mr Trump appeared to welcome the move. In a statement, he said: "A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know - there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."

But early yesterday, he took to Twitter, writing: "With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed! This is the single greatest witch-hunt of a politician in American history!"

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In explaining his move, Mr Rosenstein wrote: "My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. 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."

Mr Mueller, who analysts say will have wide powers, responded with a brief statement: "I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability."

Mr Trump has faced intense backlash for firing Mr Comey on May 9. He was also reported to have earlier asked Mr Comey to "let go" of the FBI's probe into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russian government.

On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee - which is continuing its own separate Russia probe - requested more documents from the Department of Justice and the FBI, including any on the President's dismissal of Mr Comey.

Aides to the Senate Intelligence Committee said it was negotiating with Mr Flynn himself to obtain documents relating to its own investigation. However, US media reported that a top Republican on that panel said it had been advised that Mr Flynn would not honour a subpoena to appear before the committee for questioning.

Earlier, the New York Times reported that Mr Trump's administration had been told by Mr Flynn himself - prior to his appointment as national security adviser - that he had contacts with Russian associates.

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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 'Trump decries 'witch-hunt' after special counsel picked for probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe