Trump complains of ‘greatest witch hunt’

US president's tweet follow the justice department's appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead the federal investigation in to possible links between Russia and members of the US president's campaign team.

Robert Mueller testifies during a Senate hearing in May 16, 2013, while he was in charge of the FBI. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
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WASHINGTON // US president Donald Trump lashed out on Thursday at the appointment of a special counsel to investigate allegations that his campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election, tweeting that it is “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”.

Mr Trump has made similar complaints before, but this one came the day after the justice department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead the federal Trump-Russia investigation. Mr Mueller will have sweeping powers and the authority to prosecute any crimes he uncovers. But Mr Trump’s claim ignored impeachment efforts and blistering verbal attacks on previous presidents and other political leaders.

Meanwhile, US senator Richard Burr, who chairs the intelligence committee, created confusion on Capitol Hill by saying that a lawyer for Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had told the panel Mr Flynn would not be complying with the panel’s subpoena for documents. Mr Flynn was fired by Mr Trump after it became known that he had Russian contacts and had misled the Trump administration about them. He is a key figure in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Later, Mr Burr reversed himself, saying Mr Flynn’s attorneys “have not yet indicated their intentions regarding the senate intelligence committee’s subpoena”, and that he would welcome “their willingness to cooperate”. It was not clear what caused the mix-up.

Mr Flynn, through his lawyer, had earlier asked for immunity from “unfair prosecution” in exchange for agreeing to cooperate with the committee. A key adviser to Trump during the presidential campaign, he was dismissed not long after the inauguration.

On a day of fast-moving developments, the house of representatives intelligence committee announced that it, too, had asked for documents, in this case from the FBI and the justice department.

The broad federal investigation under Mr Mueller, a lawman who engenders deep bipartisan respect, was just getting underway.

His appointment, by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, was a striking shift for the justice department, which had resisted increasingly insistent calls from Democrats for an outside prosecutor. It immediately escalated the legal stakes – and the potential political damage – for a president who has tried to dismiss the matter as partisan witch hunt and a “hoax”.

Soon after Mr Mueller’s appointment late on Wednesday, Mr Trump said merely, “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”.

But he expressed more resentment on Thursday on Twitter. In addition to complaining he was being abused in unprecedented ways, he took aim at his former presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, saying she never faced a special counsel despite “all the illegal acts that took place” in her campaign. He gave no examples.

Mr Mueller’s broad mandate gives him not only oversight of the Russia investigation, but also over “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” – which would surely include Mr Trump’s firing last week of FBI director James Comey.

* Associated Press