Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Named Special Counsel In Russia Probe

May 17, 2017
Originally published on May 17, 2017 8:31 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We have another major breaking news story. The Justice Department has named a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in last year's presidential election and related matters. The special counsel is former FBI Director Robert Mueller. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. And, Scott, this announcement came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. What did he say about his reason for taking this step?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Rosenstein said in a statement that he's determined that based on the unique circumstances here, the public interest requires him to put this investigation under the authority of a person who can exercise a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.

Now, think about that, the normal chain of command would involve the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has already recused himself from any matter involving the Russians because of false statements he made to the Senate about contacts he'd had with the Russian ambassador. This is an investigation of the Russian meddling in the election and related matters. Those related matters could be possible ties to the Trump campaign, so they want to put some distance here.

SHAPIRO: Now, even since the campaign, there have been developments, although the FBI was investigating this since last summer. Just over a week ago, President Trump abruptly fired his FBI director, James Comey, and the president himself suggested that the Russia investigation played a part in his decision to fire Comey. What can you tell us about this?

HORSLEY: Right. Remember, the original story from the White House was that Comey had been fired at the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein because of his handling of Hillary - the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server, but then Trump himself undermined that story in his interview with NBC News when he told Lester Holt he decided to fire Comey on his own.

And that when he decided to do it, he said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won. So the Russian meddling and that investigation is deeply tied up in the status of the FBI. And that's, again, one of the reasons that Rosenstein felt it was valuable to have some distance between that investigation and the normal chain of command.

SHAPIRO: Now, the Justice Department only announced the decision to appoint a special counsel this evening, and we have not heard from the president since that announcement was made. We did hear from President Trump earlier in the day. He gave a graduation speech at the Coast Guard Academy. His message was pretty defiant. Tell us about what he said.

HORSLEY: Yeah, this was a speech to the graduating cadets. And the president offered what seemed to be sort of ordinary advice - adversity makes you stronger. But then he really layered that with some grievance. You know, this White House has been under fire for the last 48 hours. First, there was the story that the president had revealed sensitive classified information to - who else? - the Russians.

And then there was the story that he had tried to stop the FBI investigation into his former national security adviser. So it was a defiant President Trump. The White House has disputed both of those stories. And Trump complains he's the victim of unfair media coverage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.

HORSLEY: The president went on to say he was not elected to serve the Washington media but the forgotten men and women of the country.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley on breaking news that the Justice Department has named a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to handle the Russia investigation. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.