President Donald Trump decries 'single greatest witch hunt' in US history
President Donald Trump decried the appointment of a special counsel to lead the Russia probe as "the single greatest witch hunt" in US history, hours after he said he looked forward to a thorough investigation.
In the face of rising pressure from Capitol Hill, the US Justice Department named former FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday (Thursday NZ Time) as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow.
Trump said in a statement on Wednesday night (Thursday NZT) that "a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know - there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity."
In a pair of Twitter posts on Thursday morning (Friday NZT), Trump made clear he was unhappy with the latest development to roil his four-month-old administration.
* Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contracts with Russians
* Ex-FBI Chief named special prosecutor for Trump-Russia probe
* The world inside the pro-Trump media
* Trump abortion order goes into effect
With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
The comments mirrored a speech by Trump on Wednesday (Thursday NZT), before Mueller's appointment was announced, in which he said no politician in history "has been treated worse or more unfairly."
The decision to move to an independent probe came a week after Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, sparking a political firestorm as the agency was in the midst of an investigation into the Russia matter. Trump cited displeasure with the Russia probe as a factor in dismissing Comey.
This week, news reports alleged that Trump had previously tried to pressure Comey into backing off inquiries into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The reports, based on a memo Comey wrote after their conversation, fuelled allegations by Democrats that the Republican president may have been trying to obstruct the investigation.
Flynn's contacts with Russians during the presidential campaign, as well as his work for the Turkish government, are under investigation.
Russia has denied US intelligence agencies' conclusion that it interfered in the election campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favour. Trump has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his November election victory, and has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
US stocks fell on Wednesday (Thursday NZT) as the controversy cast a cloud over prospects for Trump and the congressional Republicans' policy agenda for issues such as tax reform. A selloff in US stocks looked set to extend into its second day on Thursday (Friday NZT).
PRAISE FOR SPECIAL COUNSEL
The appointment of a special counsel to take over the Russia probe was widely praised by Democrats and Trump's fellow Republicans.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel, was due to brief US senators later on Thursday (Friday NZT) about Comey's removal.
Republican Representative Charlie Dent said there was no question the Russians meddled in the election. The goal of the special counsel probe, he said, was to determine whether there was collusion between Trump associates and Russia to do so.
"I believe that's why we're having this investigation - to find out if in fact there was collusion. I certainly hope there wasn't any but if there is there are going to be very serious consequences," Dent told CNN.
Another Republican congressman, Carlos Curbelo, said if any wrongdoing was uncovered, "Those people should be held accountable."
Moments before Trump weighed in on Twitter, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin welcomed the special counsel investigation and said it was important to get facts in the Russia probe.
"I am not on a witch hunt. I am on a fact-finding mission," he said on CNN.
Another Democratic senator, Dick Durbin, said he had confidence that Mueller, who is widely respected among US lawmakers, will follow the facts where they lead. "This won't be a witch hunt," he said on CNN.
Durbin said Trump's actions - including the decision to fire Comey and his "incessant" provocative posts on Twitter - have done more harm than any enemy, real or perceived, could.
"This president has no one to blame but himself for the mess that he's in," Durbin said.