The Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the media reported.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller on Wednesday to the position, reports CNN.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously recused himself from any involvement in the Russia investigation which includes evidence of potential collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign associates and Russian officials, due to his role as a prominent campaign adviser and surrogate.
Mueller was appointed Federal Bureau of Investigation Director by former President George W. Bush in 2001 and served until 2013.
He will resign from his private law firm WilmerHale to avoid any conflicts of interest, the Justice Department said.
As special counsel, Mueller is “authorised to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters”, according to the Justice Department order Rosenstein signed.
In a brief statement, Mueller said, “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability”, CNN reported.
News of the special counsel announcement was closely held.
The White House received a heads-up less than an hour before the news broke at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
The rest of the House leadership and rank-and-file members were in the dark, but a Justice Department official did reach out directly to Speaker Paul Ryan shortly before the announcement to let him know of the special counsel appointment, according to a Republican official.
Trump was meeting with FBI director candidates when the White House was formally told that a special prosecutor had been named in the Russia investigation.
The White House counsel informed the President, reports CNN.
“It’s still sinking in,” one administration official said, adding “We were told about it. Not asked about it.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Trump said an investigation will confirm that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russia.
The naming of Mueller as special counsel comes a week after Trump abruptly fired James Comey, the man who succeeded him as FBI Director.
The official announcement of Comey’s dismissal cited his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server during her 2009-2013 tenure as Secretary of State.
Senators plan to question Rosenstein about Comey’s firing when the deputy attorney general testifies on Thursday in a closed hearing.