Democrats cheered the choice of Robert S. Mueller III Wednesday to lead the Justice Department’s probe into Trump campaign figures’ dealings with Russia, while Republicans seemed to be taken by surprise.
Praise for the decision, made late in the evening by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, rolled in from the left.
“Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said appointing Mr. Mueller was the first step to getting a handle on things.
“Bob was a fine U.S. attorney, a great FBI director and there’s no better person who could be asked to perform this function,” she said. “He is respected, he is talented and he has the knowledge and ability to do the right thing.”
President Trump predicted he will be exonerated.
“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said. “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”
The appointment of a special counsel elevates the ongoing investigation – something Democrats had sought for weeks, saying that it needed to be lifted out of the control of political appointees at the Justice Department.
In the wake of the decision Democrats said the first thing Mr. Mueller should do is expand the scope of his probe beyond Russian meddling in the election, to now include whether Mr. Trump or his administration broke any laws in firing former FBI Director James B. Comey last week.
Democrats also demanded that the Justice Department agree to give Mr. Mueller the funds needed to hire a staff and pursue the probe aggressively. Under the law, he is allowed to request a budget from the department, and is supposed to be granted “all appropriate resources.”
Mr. Rosenstein said he will make sure Mr. Mueller has those resources.
While reaction poured in from Democrats immediately after the announcement Wednesday night, GOP lawmakers were restrained.
Republicans had resisted calls for an escalated probe, saying they took the FBI acting chief’s word that there wasn’t any evidence of political meddling. They said multiple congressional probes were also proceeding, and would help get to the bottom of things.
Finding their voices late in the evening Wednesday, GOP leaders said appointing Mr. Mueller was the next step in an ongoing process.
“My priority has been to ensure thorough and independent investigations are allowed to follow the facts wherever they may lead. That is what we’ve been doing here in the House,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “The addition of Robert Mueller as special counsel is consistent with this goal, and I welcome his role at the Department of Justice.”