Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel in the Russia investigation on Wednesday, a major escalation in the ongoing federal probe into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In a letter formalizing the appointment, Rosenstein said Mueller was authorized to oversee the entire Russia investigation, including “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
“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,” Rosenstein said in a statement. “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.”
Under Justice Department rules, the attorney general can appoint a special counsel “when the facts create a conflict so substantial, or the exigencies of the situation are such that any initial investigation might taint the subsequent investigation.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States” in March after news outlets reported he had misled Congress about his conversations with top Russian officials during the election. That left the decision in Rosenstein’s hands.