Transcript for DOJ appoints special counsel to oversee WH Russia probe
Another astonishing turn of events out of Washington. The newly appointed special counsel taking over the investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. Election. This as the trump administration battles a barrage of attacks over his handling of sensitive classified information. Tonight lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demanding answers. Here's ABC's David Wright. Reporter: Tonight at the department of justice, breaking news. We are coming on the air now with major news. The U.S. Justice department announced this evening -- This a special counsel has been appointed -- Reporter: The big announcement, there's a new sheriff in town, a special counsel who will now take over the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the November election. Deputy attorney general rob Rosenstein chose former FBI director Robert Mueller for the job. A special counsel Mueller will have extraordinary power. He can replace all the agents currently working on the case if he chooses. He has 60 days to put together a team of lawyers to work with him on the case. Reporter: Mueller's appointment is a blow to the white house. I am told that the senior staff here at the white house did not get word of this until about 30 minutes before the news was shared with the news media. Completely taken off guard. Reporter: Tonight the president issued this statement. "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." The president made no secret of his wish for the Russia investigation to end. As trump Todd NBC's Lester holt, it was on his mind when he decided to fire FBI director James Comey. In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I 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. Reporter: If the president were hoping that would be the end of it, his statement combined with his decision to fire Comey appears to have had the opposite effect. On capitol hill, Democrats have been clamoring for this. The point is, he was trying to interfere with an investigation. Reporter: Even some Republicans have started expressing concern. Republicans can't be okay with this. Reporter: President trump appears to be bracing for battle. Fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine. Reporter: Today at his commencement address at the coast guard academy, trump insisted the media and the D.C. Elite are being unfair to him. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. Reporter: Tonight on capitol hill, relief. Have you seen the latest news reports? Obviously that's a step in the right direction. This takes the politics out of it hopefully, this has gotten too political. Reporter: Lawmakers in both parties welcomed the idea of an independent counsel to sort it O all out. It's good to have a focal point of somebody we all trust. Reporter: Mueller was the longest-serving FBI director after J. Edgar Hoover. Confirmed for the job just a week before 9/11. Going on to serve a dozen years during the bush and Obama administrations. He's James Comey's immediate predecessor and have had this to say about Comey -- A man of honesty, dedication, and integrity. Reporter: The feeling mutual. I must be out of my mind to be following Bob Mueller. Reporter: Mueller himself wants to find his approach. In a speech at university of Virginia, as public service without politics. We must be objective, and be perceived as objective. We must be fair, and be perceived as fair. It also means that we must be apolitical. Reporter: Today key congressional committees signaled they'll press on with their own investigations. The senate Intel committee formally asked Comey to come and testify asap. I think we want to hear from him in a way that's going to be fully forthcoming. And I'm looking forward to that. Reporter: Separately, the committee also demanded the FBI hand over any and all documents prepared by Comey that detail his interactions with senior white house officials over the Russia investigation. Of greatest interest, that memo Comey apparently wrote himself in February. ABC news has not seen the memo but sources close to Comey have confirmed its existence. It documents Comey's account of a meeting that took place shortly after former national security adviser Michael Flynn had been caught out in a lie about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Trump allegedly asked Comey to go easy on Flynn. Allegedly telling Comey, I hope you can let this go, he's a good guy, I hope you can let this go. Is that the smoking gun in an obstruction of justice case? It is way too early to say that it is aking gun. But it has certainly energized both Republicans and Democrats on capitol hill. Reporter: The white house disputes that account. The president's been very clear the account that was published is not an accurate description of how the event occurred. The fact that the president has admitted he had Russia on his mind when he fired Comey, there are going to be a lot of factors that go into assessing, was the administration, was the president, attempting to obstruct the investigation into Russian ties with the 2016 campaign? Reporter: Democrats are already jumping to their own conclusions. The white house is obstructing our investigation, covering up for general Flynn, and refusing to provide not a single document, not a single syllable, zilch, nothing. Reporter: Tonight one of the founders of the federalist society took issue with that. The Democrats seem to be pretty convinced that there's a good obstruction of justice case to be made here. And I gather you don't agree? It's clear that if president trump suggested to director Comey that he do something in an investigation, that's entirely within his role as president of the United States. But it's not just he asked him to do a favor for him, it's also that he carried through on the veiled threat, right? He fired him. Well, that's also appropriate for the president. He can pick and choose who works in his administration. And he lost confidence in director Comey. If there are tapes of this conversation, does that change the equation at all? No. Because I think it's okay for the president to give direction to the FBI about which investigations they should do. There's a guy from "Nightline" here today, "Nightline" is the shoot -- shooting the entire show out of which they'll use train seconds. Reporter: Today we visited a corner of conservatism in the ultra-hip tribeca neighborhood here in Manhattan. Every single day it's an impeachable offense. I feel like I'm living in a bad made for TV series here. We're at the studios of I heart radio, the mark Simone show, taking the pulse of the trump faithful. Did they ask you how you can defend this president? Yeah. Reporter: Mark Simon is a staunch defender of president trump. These are all attempts to get rid of him, these are kill shots, every one of them. So what are you hearing from people? Are they concerned? No, not really. You remember, most of America, they really don't pay attention to James Comey. Most people are watching "Dancing with the stars" or "Shark tank." At a certain point they're going to know who James Comey is, he's going to be out there, it sounds like this could go the next step. I've been covering this campaign for a year and a half. Every two months, this is it, this could go the next step, he'll never get out of this. He always gets out of it. In the end he always succeeds. I think this will go nowhere. Let's go to Steve in Brewster. Caller: Good morning, how are you guys doing? Good. Reporter: Are we still in the chattering phase? Is this still idle talk, nothing more? Any talk of impeachment at this point is way, way, way too premature. And probably will never happen. Is it wishful thinking on the part of the Democrats? It is entirely wishful thinking. Reporter: That said, where this goes now depends very much on two men, both former FBI directors. One of them expected to tell his side of the story in congress as soon as next week. The other assembling his team. Special counsel Mueller has swum in these waters before. He has the experience and now the authority to take this where it leads. I'm David Wright for "Nightline" in New York.
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