Trump calls cam­paign probe a witch hunt

Other Repub­li­cans happy with choice of spe­cial coun­sel


WASH­ING­TON — U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­nounced the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate his cam­paign’s ties with Rus­sia Thurs­day, call­ing it an un­prece­dented “witch hunt” that “hurts our coun­try ter­ri­bly.” Even as he erupted anew, fel­low Repub­li­cans ex­pressed hopes the move would re­store some calm to a cap­i­tal plunged into chaos.

A day af­ter ap­point­ing former FBI di­rec­tor Robert Mueller to lead the in­de­pen­dent probe, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein ap­peared be­hind closed doors be­fore the full Se­nate. Law­mak­ers of both par­ties sought to ques­tion him about Trump’s fir­ing last week of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, which was fol­lowed by news that Trump had shared se­crets with the Rus­sians and tried to stop Comey from in­ves­ti­gat­ing former pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Michael Flynn.

“We’ll get rid of the smoke and see where the ac­tual is­sues lie,” said Sen. Tim Scott, RS.C. “I do think that the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor pro­vides a sense of calm and con­fi­dence per­haps for the Amer­i­can peo­ple, which is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant.”

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

He said it “shows we’re a di­vided, mixedup, not uni­fied coun­try” and is “a very, very neg­a­tive thing.”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment an­nounced Wed­nes­day that former FBI di­rec­tor Robert Mueller has been given sweep­ing power to in­ves­ti­gate Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial links be­tween Moscow and Trump cam­paign as­so­ci­ates.

De­spite ini­tially op­pos­ing ap­point­ment of an in­de­pen­dent coun­sel, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thurs­day that the devel­op­ment “helps as­sure peo­ple and the Jus­tice De­part­ment that they’re go­ing to go do their jobs in­de­pen­dently and thor­oughly, which is what we’ve called for all along.”

But Trump, af­ter is­su­ing a mea­sured state­ment when the news first broke Wed­nes­day evening, al­lowed his re­sent­ment to burst forth Thurs­day in an­gry morn­ing tweets.

“This is the sin­gle great­est witch hunt of a politi­cian in Amer­i­can his­tory!” Trump wrote, ig­nor­ing im­peach­ment ef­forts and blis­ter­ing ver­bal at­tacks on pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents and other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

“With all of the il­le­gal acts that took place in the Clin­ton cam­paign & Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion, there was never a spe­cial coun­sel ap­pointed!” he added later, with­out pro­vid­ing ex­am­ples.

Trump leaves Fri­day for his first for­eign trip, to the Mideast and beyond, which aides hope can have the ef­fect of re­fo­cussing a White House in dis­ar­ray.

The pres­i­dent’s tweets and com­ments to the TV an­chors drew lit­tle re­ac­tion from fel­low Repub­li­cans, who in­stead joined Democrats in heap­ing praise on Mueller, a long­time re­spected law­man who served un­der Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama, pre­ced­ing Comey as head of the FBI. Now, Mueller will have nearly un­fet­tered ac­cess to wit­nesses and in­for­ma­tion, and the abil­ity to bring crim­i­nal charges.

His ap­point­ment raises the stakes dra­mat­i­cally on the long-sim­mer­ing al­le­ga­tions that Rus­sia med­dled in the 2016 elec­tion and had con­nec­tions with mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign.

Demo­cratic sen­a­tors had been pre­pared to press Rosen­stein Thurs­day to take the step of ap­point­ing a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor, but were left prais­ing him in­stead be­fore his closed-door brief­ing be­gan.

“This was a very good first step. Mr. Rosen­stein has done the right thing,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on the Se­nate floor.

“I now have sig­nif­i­cantly greater con­fi­dence that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will fol­low the facts wher­ever they lead.”

De­spite the ap­point­ment, at least three con­gres­sional com­mit­tees are con­tin­u­ing their in­ves­ti­ga­tions, lead­ing to some turf war­fare and snip­ing as the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee and the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee both sought to lay claim to tes­ti­mony from Comey, while the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee also hoped to hear from the former di­rec­tor.

On a day of fast-mov­ing de­vel­op­ments, the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee an­nounced that it, too, had asked for doc­u­ments, in this case from the FBI and the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

The No. 2 Se­nate Repub­li­can, John Cornyn of Texas, said he is sup­port­ive of in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Congress but ex­pressed con­cern about the “pro­lif­er­a­tion” of hear­ings. “I hope that we don’t in­ad­ver­tently trip up or dam­age the in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the spe­cial coun­sel,” he said.

There was con­fu­sion dur­ing the day sur­round­ing Flynn, Trump’s former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser who has emerged as a cen­tral fig­ure be­cause of his own ties to Rus­sia, which led to his dis­missal early on in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee chair 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 co-op­er­ate.”

It was not clear what caused the mix-up.

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