U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday disparaged the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign's links to Russian interests in last year's presidential election, calling it "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"
In a pair of early morning comments on his Twitter account, Trump complained that a special counsel had never been named to investigate "all of the illegal acts that took place" in the campaign of his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the administration of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Trump was reacting to Wednesday's appointment of Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to lead the probe into whether any of Trump's aides criminally colluded with Russian officials in an effort to boost Trump's chances of winning.
The U.S. intelligence community has already concluded that Moscow meddled in the election to help Trump claim the White House by hacking into the computer files of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks subsequently released thousands of his emails that cast an embarrassing look on behind-the-scenes efforts of Democratic operatives to help Clinton win her party's presidential nomination.
Mueller assumes his new role as the FBI and the intelligence committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives are already probing Trump campaign links to Russia.
Trump, not wanting to give credence to anything that diminishes his presidential victory, has been dismissive of the Russia investigations. He has said the claims of Russia's involvement in the election are excuses made by Democrats as an explanation for Clinton's stunning upset loss. Trump said last week that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" as he fired the most recent FBI director, James Comey.
On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee said it has requested documents from the FBI and Justice Department related to the dismissal of Comey.
Associates of Comey say notes he kept of a February meeting at the White House with Trump showed the president asking Comey to end his probe of Trump's first national security adviser, retired Army General Michael Flynn, whom Trump had ousted after it was learned he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the Mueller appointment, to the surprise of Trump and his aides.
Rosenstein said Mueller's appointment as special counsel - also known as a special prosecutor - does not mean "a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted."
But he added, "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."
Before his Thursday Twitter comments, Trump said in a statement, "A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know -- there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."
After his new assignment was announced, Mueller said, "I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability."
Mueller held the top position at the FBI for 12 years until 2013. He was succeeded by Comey, whose firing by Trump set off a political firestorm in Washington, magnified when news of Comey's notes from his February meeting with Trump came to light earlier this week.
A Republican political analyst, Evan Siegfried, told VOA that until Mueller’s appointment, “there was zero integrity in this investigation.”
Mueller, he explained, will be “completely siloed off from the Department of Justice and the FBI. He has his own budget; he can hire his own staff; he can kick all the FBI to the curb for all he wants” and can take the investigation wherever it leads.
The special prosecutor also would seek indictments and lead court action against anyone charged with criminal acts as a result of discoveries during the probe.
The move came after a small but growing number of Trump's Republican colleagues in Congress, along with Democrats, began calling for a special prosecutor or commission to examine ties between Trump and his campaign aides to Russia.
Numerous top lawmakers praised Mueller's appointment, saying that it gave them confidence that there will be a fair and thorough investigation.