Former FBI director Robert Mueller has been appointed as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Moscow.
The decision by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to appoint Mueller, 72, as special counsel came following a week of turmoil for the White House after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading a federal probe into the matter.
Rosenstein said he had taken the decision "to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election," including "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump."Reacting to the appointment, Trump said a thorough investigation will prove that no such collusion took place.
"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," Trump said in a statement.
"In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country," he said.
Considering the unique circumstances of this matter, Rosenstsein said a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome.
"Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly," he said.
"Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result," he added.
Mueller served as FBI director for 12 years after his nomination by President George W Bush in 2001. Prior to leading the bureau, Mueller was the US attorney for the Northern District of California and served as an assistant attorney general in between stints in private practice.
On Tuesday, ABC News reported that Comey, Mueller's successor at the FBI, was asked by Trump in February to end the bureau's investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said his priority has been to ensure thorough and independent investigations are allowed to follow the facts wherever they may lead.
Cutting across party lines, top American lawmakers welcomed the Mueller's for the investigation.
"The appointment of former FBI director and respected lawyer Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a positive development and will provide some certainty for the American people that the investigation will proceed fairly and free of political influence," Senator Richard Burr said and Mark Warner, chairman and ranking member of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said.
Democratic Senator Al Frankens said that appointing Mueller is an important step that will help restore the public trust and result in a thorough and comprehensive investigation.
"We owe it to the American people to find out what happened, and I'm encouraged to see that the justice department has appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election," Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera said.
"The decision by the US Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor underscores the serious nature of the allegations of impropriety and abuse of power by President Trump, Congressman Joe Crowley said.