San Antonio Express-News: Justice Department appoints special counsel over Trump-Russia investigation
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department late Wednesday said it was appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the ongoing investigation of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that 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.”
Mueller, who served as FBI director from 2001 to 2013, “will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” Rosenstein said.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, called Mueller's appointment “a positive step.”
“The American people expect him to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into whether any Americans assisted the Russians who interfered in our election and, if necessary, to use his ability to prosecute perpetrators,” Castro said in a statement.
The announcement came amid growing murmurs of impeachment as Democrats went on the attack over reports that before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, he asked him to squelch an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Even as Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a review of a damaging memo implicating Trump, he said he still had confidence in the president. At the same time, the Senate Intelligence Committee said it wants Comey to testify, and Democrats pressed for legislation to name an independent commission to investigate alleged Trump-Russia ties and potential obstruction of justice.
Public reaction from Republicans was muted, though some expressed private frustration about the onslaught of allegations surrounding Trump’s handling of classified information and his sacking of Comey, who was leading the agency’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, went beyond most Republicans, amplifying on an earlier statement last week that had called Comey’s firing “troubling.”
“Even more troubling,” Hurd said Wednesday, “are reports that just months before his firing, James Comey - a man who in spite of our disagreements I have the utmost respect for - may have come under pressure by the president in an attempt to influence an ongoing FBI investigation.”
Hurd, who sits on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he supported the committee’s request for Comey’s memos and for the former FBI director to appear in front of the committee to testify.
The memos reportedly stem from leaked accounts of private notes Comey took of his conversations with Trump in February. Their existence was reported by the New York Times and Washington Post, citing associates of Comey who had seen the notes.
At least one Republican, Justin Amash of Michigan, told reporters that if the allegations about Trump’s pressure on Comey are true, they would warrant impeachment. Amash added, however, “Everybody gets a fair trial in this country.”
Meanwhile, Houston Democrat Al Green became the first member of Congress to go to the House floor to call for impeachment, citing Trump’s alleged request to Comey to “let… go” an inquiry about Flynn, and the president’s subsequent warnings to Comey via Twitter that he “better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
“There is a belief in this country that no one is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States of America,” Green said. “Our Democracy is at risk… This offense has occurred before our very eyes.”
San Antonio Democrat Lloyd Doggett also took to the House floor to decry Republican silence about the Comey affair.
“It would appear that some of our Republican colleagues are in a witness protection program,” Doggett said. “At long last we wonder what will awaken these Republicans from their partisan stupor.”
While stopping short of calling for impeachment, Doggett said, “Our Republican colleagues need to decide whether they want to be accessories to Trump’s obstruction of justice as he continues to endanger national security.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, used his Twitter account to assert that Trump may have sought to obstruct an FBI investigation.
“The American people need an independent investigation to find the truth,” Cuellar wrote.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, among several Texas Republicans who have publicly backed Comey’s firing, did not respond to a request to comment on the latest report dogging the White House. Nor did Texas Republicans Michael McCaul, John Culberson, Ted Poe and Pete Olson.
Republicans were being urged by leaders to show restraint and not rush to judgment. Ryan told GOP members during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday that they “need the facts.”
“There’s been a lot of reporting lately,” Ryan said, referring reports that Trump pressured Comey to end the Flynn investigation, which centered on his firing for misleading White House officials about his phone calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Ryan also questioned Comey’s version of events. “I’m sure we’re going to want to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happened as he allegedly describes, why didn’t he take action at the time?”
Trump, speaking at Wednesday’s U.S. Coast Guard commencement, struck a combative tone but didn’t directly address the political whirlwind around him.
“You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted,” he said. “But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight.”
He added: "No politician in history … has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
But Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican, compared the obstruction of justice allegations against Trump to those made against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer, speaking with reporters while returning from the Coast Guard Academy, refuted media accounts of Comey’s memo, but offered no details.
“The president has been very clear that the account that was published is not an accurate description of how the event occurred,” he said. “I’m not going to give any other comment on that.”
Green, a former NAACP leader in his 12th year in Congress, joined a chorus of Democrats - including California’s Maxine Waters - who have talked about Trump’s impeachment. But he was the first to do so from the House floor.
Green’s speech - delivered, he said, with a “heavy heart” - also comes a day after Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, suggested on CNN that Trump could be headed for impeachment after allegedly asking Comey to end his inquiry of Flynn.
“I have to say,” King said, “simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense.”
Green also cited obstruction of justice as a grounds for impeaching Trump. “I do not do this for political purposes,” he said. “I do this because I believe in the great ideals that this country stands for: Liberty and Justice for all.”
While recent revelations about Trump’s sacking of the FBI director have alarmed Democrats, actual impeachment proceedings would require the participation of Republicans who control both chambers of Congress.
Green acknowledged that his impeachment call might seem a long shot. “I am a voice in the wilderness,” he said. “But I assure you that history will vindicate me.”