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US Justice Dept. appoints special counsel to probe Trump-Russia links

United States Department of Justice has named Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s team.

Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein announced Mueller to take over the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s probe of “Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters”.

“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,” Rosenstein said in a statement.

Mueller, a former head of the FBI and widely-respected figure who headed the Bureau for the decade after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

He is empowered to examine “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” Rosenstein’s order says.

During his tenure, he served both Republican and Democratic presidents, and is highly respected by both parties, reports said.

In a statement after the Justice Department announcement, Trump said he looked forward to a quick resolution of the matter adding an investigation will confirm that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russia.

“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.

“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.”

Mueller, in a brief statement said: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability”.

A special counsel is empowered to conduct the investigation independent of the Justice Department hierarchy, with a dedicated staff of his choosing.

The counsel is not required to consult with or keep informed the attorney-general or deputy attorney-general in the course of the probe.

The special counsel is also authorised to prosecute any crimes unearthed by the investigation.

Rosenstein’s order came a week after he played a key role in Trump’s firing of James Comey, who had overseen the FBI investigation into Russia’s election interference since last July.

The deputy attorney-general had, in a recommendation to Trump, criticised Comey’s handling of the probe into former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The recommendation reportedly provided the White House with the rationale for firing Comey, which raised questions about Rosenstein’s own ability to remain politically independent.

Attorney-General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation in March due to his own undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. (NAN)

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