By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON President Donald Trump lashed out on Thursday over his Justice Department's appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible ties between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, calling it "the single greatest witch hunt" in U.S. history.Trump's Twitter comments stood in contrast to his measured statement on Wednesday night after former FBI chief Robert Mueller was named as special counsel, in which he said "a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know - there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity."Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller after a succession of jarring developments that brought questions over Russia's alleged meddling in the election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign to a boil.They included Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, reports that Trump had previously pressured Comey to end a probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Trump discussing sensitive information on Islamic State with the Russian foreign minister.In two Twitter postings, the Republican president made clear his unhappiness with the latest development to roil his four-month-old administration."With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!" Trump wrote, misspelling the word counsel as he referred to Democratic former President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton."This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" added Trump, who said in a speech on Wednesday that "no politician in history" had been treated worse or more unfairly than he has.Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar responded, "This is a truth hunt."U.S. stocks rallied back on Thursday after seeing their biggest drop in eight months the previous day on worries that the political turmoil could sideline Trump initiatives such as tax cuts that investors see as favoring economic growth. Investors cited a supportive economic and corporate earnings backdrop for the modest rebound. In late morning trading, the benchmark S&P 500 was up about a third of a percent.
Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official, named Mueller amid mounting pressure in Congress for an independent investigation beyond existing FBI and congressional probes into the Russia issue.Mueller's appointment was not expected to affect the FBI or congressional investigations.Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Comey should still appear before congressional committees that have invited him to testify, despite Mueller's appointment.A key issue Mueller may have to tackle is whether Trump has committed obstruction of justice, an offense that could be used in any effort in Congress to impeach him and remove him from office.
Trump cited displeasure with the FBI's Russia probe as a factor in dismissing Comey. In addition, Comey wrote a memo detailing Trump's comments to him in February saying "I hope you can let this go," referring to the Flynn probe, a source who saw the memo said on Tuesday.Flynn's contacts with Russians during the presidential campaign, as well as his work for the Turkish government, are under investigation. He was fired as national security adviser in February after it emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington in December.FLYNN CONTACTS
Flynn and other advisers to Trump's campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the presidential race, Reuters reported on Thursday.Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that it interfered in the election campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favor. Trump has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his November election victory.
In the Russian city of Sochi, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on Mueller's appointment, saying, "It is an internal matter for the United States."Democrats and Trump's fellow Republicans widely praised the appointment of a special counsel to take over the Russia probe.Rosenstein was due to brief U.S. senators later on Thursday. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said Rosenstein would be questioned about a letter he wrote accusing Comey of missteps as FBI director, including his handling of an election-year probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. The White House initially said that letter prompted Trump to fire Comey, but Trump later said he had already decided to dismiss him and was thinking of "this Russia thing."The Russia matter has consumed Washington and overshadowed Republican legislative priorities including a planned healthcare overhaul and sweeping tax cuts, something the party had hoped to make rapid progress on given its control of the White House and both chambers of Congress."There's a sense of drift and distraction," Republican Senator Susan Collins told MSNBC. "It feels like everything is up in the air, everything is chaotic, and there's some lack of leadership coming from the White House."Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told CNN: "This president has no one to blame but himself for the mess that he's in." (Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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Updated Date: May 18, 2017 21:48 PM