Special counsel a 'witch hunt,' Trump says; Senators briefed on Mueller

And The New York Times said the US President had told top Russian officials Mr. Comey's sacking had relieved "great pressure" on him.

"I just fired the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was insane, a real nut job", Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. The new FBI director will face confirmation hearings, which will provide a fresh opportunity to maintain attention on the Russian Federation investigation.

Several Republican senators asked Mr Rosenstein if the Senate Intelligence Committee could continue its own investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election now that Mr Mueller has been appointed special counsel on the same matter.

"The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russian Federation as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people".

That flies in the face of the White House's public insistence that Comey's dismissal was not linked to his ongoing investigation.

"The investigation would have always continued, and obviously the termination of Comey would not have ended it".

Trump said he was about to name a replacement for Comey, another move to settle the waters.

"I find it hard to subpoena records of somebody, like Mr. Flynn, who may be subject to a criminal investigation because he has a right not to incriminate himself", he told reporters. "I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein".

Comey did not. Trump called him over from across the room, and the two shook hands as attendees applauded.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said he also believes Rosenstein's memo had little to do with the president's decision.

The president's frustration has been building since he abruptly fired Comey. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers praised Rosenstein's appointment of Mueller to oversee the investigation of Russian meddling in last year's presidential election and possibly whether the president or anyone at the White House has interfered with the inquiry.

"The takeaway I have is that everything he said was that you need to treat this investigation as if it may be a criminal investigation", said Sen.

While Mr Mueller is technically still part of the justice department and ultimately reports to Mr Trump, his stature is such that he is unlikely to be cowed by the president.

"I actually thought when I made that decision, that it would be a bipartisan decision".

Kathleen Clark, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University School of Law, said the Justice Department can grant a waiver if concerns about bias are minimal. "In this administration, we see that the agenda seems to be completely derailed by the desire to fight this and push back on the story". Trump has also strongly denied the accusations.

"With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!"

The memo focused on Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, particularly the FBI director's decision to divulge details to the public at various junctures during her presidential campaign against Trump.

The surprise announcement to hand the probe over to Mueller, a lawman with deep bipartisan respect, was a striking shift for Trump's Justice Department, which had resisted increasingly loud calls from Democrats for an outside prosecutor.

Asked point-blank if he'd done anything that might merit prosecution or even impeachment, Trump said no - and then added of the lingering allegations and questions: "I think it's totally ridiculous".



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