The Note: Fate of Trump's presidency rests in the FBI's hands

PHOTO: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller shown testifying on Capitol Hill on June 19,2013.The Justice Department is appointing Mueller as special counsel to oversee investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. PlayJ. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
WATCH Special counsel appointed to lead Russia investigation

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

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  • The Trump-Russia investigation now has its own special counsel, with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein caving to pressure by choosing former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the probe.
  • Trump tweeted this morning: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"
  • Mike Flynn told the Trump transition team before inauguration he was under federal investigation for his ties to Turkey, according to a New York Times report
  • Flynn and other Trump campaign associates communicated with Russian officials in at least 18 phone calls and emails, Reuters reports
  • THE TAKE with ABC News’ RICK KLEIN

    This won’t be pretty, and it won’t be fast. The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel creates a rare bipartisan moment, built on respect for the longest-serving FBI director not named Hoover, which may manage to hush the political frenzy of the moment. But don’t mistake the quiet for relief among the president’s allies. Special counsels can take things anywhere, and having one in place just four months after the inauguration gives the president a powerful and unpredictable counterweight. Mueller has 60 days just to propose a budget, and the word at the White House is that the inquiry could last years. And settling this matter refocuses the investigation to substance rather than process. New details are already emerging about Michael Flynn, and Mueller’s scope can easily expand to include the president’s alleged attempts to influence the investigation. Worth remembering: The fate of the Trump presidency now appears to rest on the reputations and actions of two former directors of the FBI.

    HE SAID, HE SAID

    ABC News’ Ben Siegel reports: Whose version of events do Republicans believe about the memo – Comey or Trump? It's a question that many are dodging on Capitol Hill. But already, some Republicans are beginning to discredit the former FBI director. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, a Trump stalwart, told Fox News he believes Comey broke the law when he didn't report Trump's request to drop the Flynn investigation to the Justice Department as soon as Trump allegedly made it. "It sounds like he waited only until it was politically expedient which would make it a crime for him," Gohmert said.

    QUOTE OF THE DAY

    “Look at the way I've been treated lately. Especially by the media. 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.” - President Trump at the Coast Guard Academy commencement in New London, Conn. yesterday

    THE SLEEPER STORY with ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe

    At a time of crisis in the White House, the administration appears to be getting a controversial new employee. Wednesday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke told Wisconsin talk radio host Vicki McKenna that he will work in the Department of Homeland Security as an assistant secretary. "I'm both honored and humbled to be appointed to this position," Clarke told McKenna. DHS quickly tweeted no announcement had been made, but another controversial White House employee, Sebastian Gorka even tweeted his congrats to the sheriff overnight. The backlash was swift thanks to Clarke’s controversial Twitter postings, polarizing comments, and remaining questions about four deaths, including of a newborn, inside a jail he’s charged with overseeing. At a time of such chaos in the administration, why choose such a controversial and polarizing figure to lead a critical agency? It’s another question for the White House that is extremely hard to answer.

    NEED TO READ with ABC News’ Adam Kelsey

    How did Trump take the special counsel news? The White House only got a brief head’s up that the news of Mueller’s appointment was coming. A group of senior White House staff members huddled with Trump in the Oval Office where he offered a measured response, according to a senior White House official. http://abcn.ws/2quYmLU

    Who is Robert Mueller, the man at the center of the Russia probe? The longest-serving FBI director since Hoover, Mueller, who was appointed by former president George W. Bush, has a history with Comey, who succeeded him. http://abcn.ws/2rtcNxS

    What was the reaction? After a growing chorus for an independent voice, Mueller’s appointment appears to have quieted some concerns on the Hill. http://abcn.ws/2pMrpvg

    Michael Flynn likely to be key in probe. ABC News has confirmed that a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas to Flynn’s private-sector associates and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has requested documents detailing Flynn’s foreign contacts, his business clients, and his communications with the Russian ambassador. http://abcn.ws/2qulNok

    WHAT TO WATCH TODAY

    President Trump will speak today alongside Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

    Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief all members of the Senate today about President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

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