TO LEAD IN­QUIRY

New Straits Times - - News -

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 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.”

Cap­ping days of po­lit­i­cal drama here, Mueller’s ap­point­ment came as Trump fends off a stun­ning se­ries of al­le­ga­tions, in­clud­ing claims he shared US se­crets with Rus­sian of­fi­cials in the Oval Of­fice.

“We need the facts,” Repub­li­can House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

A spe­cial coun­sel is em­pow­ered to con­duct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­de­pen­dent of the Jus­tice Depart­ment hi­er­ar­chy, with a ded­i­cated staff of his choos­ing.

The coun­sel is not re­quired to con­sult with or keep in­formed the at­tor­ney-gen­eral or deputy at­tor­ney-gen­er­als on the course of the probe.

Mueller is specif­i­cally em­pow­ered to ex­am­ine “any links and/or co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Rus­sian govern­ment and in­di­vid­u­als as­so­ci­ated with the Trump cam­paign”.

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

The deputy at­tor­ney-gen­eral penned a memo crit­i­cis­ing Comey’s han­dling of the probe into Trump’s de­feated ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails, which pro­vided the White House with the ra­tio­nale for fir­ing him — and raised ques­tions about Rosen­stein’s abil­ity to re­main po­lit­i­cally in­de­pen­dent.

His boss, At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, was forced to re­cuse him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion due to his own undis­closed con­tacts with Moscow’s am­bas­sador, Sergey Kislyak.

Trump has con­sis­tently re­jected any sug­ges­tion of col­lu­sion be­tween his camp and Moscow as “fake news” and com­plained in a speech on Wed­nes­day that he had been treated “more un­fairly” than any US leader in his­tory dur­ing his fledg­ling pres­i­dency.

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 ad­viser fired for not telling the truth about con­tacts he had with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton be­fore Trump took power.

Trump’s al­leged pres­sure on Comey — de­nied by the White House — has ex­posed the pres­i­dent to ac­cu­sa­tions of ob­struct­ing jus­tice.

The New York Times re­ported on Wed­nes­day that Flynn told the pres­i­dent-elect’s tran­si­tion team in early Jan­uary that he was the sub­ject of a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but was hired for the highly-sen­si­tive na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser po­si­tion any­way.

Flynn ended up be­ing fired from the po­si­tion af­ter just 24 days.

Se­nate leader Mitch McCon­nell on Wed­nes­day stressed that while Mueller’s ap­point­ment “con­firms that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­ven­tion into our elec­tion will con­tinue”, the Se­nate com­mit­tee’s probe would also stay ac­tive.

Given the po­lit­i­cally ex­plo­sive con­text, Mueller’s ap­point­ment was widely wel­comed across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

Dur­ing his ten­ure as di­rec­tor of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, he served both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions, over­see­ing a shake-up of a huge bu­reau­cracy blamed for miss­ing ev­i­dence that could have pre­vented the Sept 11, 2001 at­tacks, and earn­ing high re­spect from both par­ties.

Top Se­nate Demo­crat Chuck Schumer said Rosen­stein did “the right thing” by ap­point­ing Mueller.

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

AP PIC

Robert Mueller has a rep­u­ta­tion as a tough law­man who once stood up to a pres­i­dent.

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