WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee a federal investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The appointment Wednesday comes amid a growing Democratic outcry for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the politically charged investigation.
“I am pleased to hear that the Department of Justice has named a special counsel to lead a comprehensive investigation into Russian interference in our election," Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said in a statement Wednesday evening. "Hoosiers deserve answers, and I am sure that Mr. Mueller will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) who sits on the House Intelligence Committee called the decision a "strong start," adding quick findings shouldn't be expected and that the investigation "will occur out of the public eye so that all the facts and witnesses can be treated fairly."
"It appears that Director Mueller has been given broad jurisdiction and the ability to pursue the facts of this investigation where they lead, without arbitrary limitations," Carson said in a statement.
The appointment follows the revelation Tuesday that fired FBI Director James Comey wrote in a memo that Trump had asked him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” President Trump said Wednesday during his first commencement address to the Coast Guard.
The whirlwind 48 hours has seen a pile of new accusations, most recent claims he pressured former FBI Director James Comey to end the bureau’s investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
The accusations were first reported by The New York Times Tuesday, citing a memo Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.
“Even though we don’t know every aspect of what’s going on, this is a really important time in American politics,” Laura Albright said, a CBS4 political analyst. "You have very serious allegations about what may have happened, and oftentimes at this point in an administration, this isn't something you necessarily focus on."
On Capitol Hill, Republicans appeared to grow weary.
Members of Indiana’s Republican delegation, including Sen. Todd Young and Reps. Susan Brooks, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, declined to comment at all or even issue a statement on the latest allegations.
Others, like freshman Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), expressed increasing concern the Republican agenda, focused on a health care replacement and tax reform, could derail.
"All of this frenzy surrounding this situation and what the president said from day-to-day, what he tweeted day-to-day is a significant distraction from Republicans fulfilling the agenda we set out to fulfill," Banks said.
But mirroring House leadership comments Tuesday, the freshman congressman did acknowledge the seriousness of the allegations in an interview with CBS4 and cautioned any knee-jerk reaction from Capitol Hill.
“It would be premature for any member of Congress to draw conclusions based on the allegations so far,” Banks said. “So I look forward to learning more in the days to come. But if the allegations are true, they are deeply troubling and should be addressed.”
Donnelly also called on the Justice Department to release the memo to all 100 U.S. Senators.
“The memo from Director Comey is extraordinary troubling,” he said in an interview. “It indicates interference in an ongoing investigation, and these are important allegations that we need to find the answers to.”
While some Democrats called for impeachment hearings Wednesday, Donnelly declined, instead focused on a robust investigation into the accusations.
“Do I believe the memo exists?” Donnelly said. “You know I don’t have certainty one way or another, but I know this, Director Comey has always been extraordinarily meticulous with his records. All of the folks around him have said he has on a consistent basis always made memos like this after meetings of importance.”
Still as both the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Oversight Committee sent an invitation to Comey to testify before them, some Republicans question the timing of the latest release.
“Director Comey’s allegations of what appears in a memo he wrote at this point are somewhat suspicious in that he didn’t do anything about it a couple months ago,” Banks said.
It remains unclear whether Comey will accept Congress’ invitation to appear before lawmakers.