Explaining the mechanics of the Trump-Russia special counsel

Rosenstein did not say what spurred the decision, but it came one day after press reports emerged that former FBI Director James Comey kept notes about his interactions with Trump on the Russian Federation probe, including one reflecting a request from the president to abandon any investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who played a key role on Trump's campaign.

James Comey, second from right, was sacked as Federal Bureau of Investigation director by Donald Trump, but his former colleagues continue to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

There have been calls for months for a special counsel to oversee the investigation into any ties between Trump's campaign team and Moscow. Deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein said, "In my capacity as acting attorney general, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter".

In his new role as special counsel, Mueller will have wide latitude to take the investigation wherever he thinks it should go and can use the full range of Justice Department investigative tools, said Jack Sharman, an attorney who served as special counsel during a probe into the Whitewater real-estate investments of President Bill Clinton in 1995.

The controversy has caused an uproar in Washington and on Wall Street where the S&P 500 and the Dow had their biggest one-day declines since September as investor hopes for tax cuts and other pro-business policies faded amid the political tumult.

Democrats and some of the president's fellow Republicans had demanded an independent probe of whether Russian Federation tried to sway the outcome of November's election in favour of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Former FBI director and prosecutor Robert Mueller, known for his independence in high-profile government investigations, is taking on a new challenge in the midst of a crisis that threatens the presidency of the United States.

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The White House was not told of Rosenstein's decision to name Mueller until after the order had been signed, the Justice Department said.

Asked if he was representing Trump in a personal capacity on the Russian Federation investigation, the president's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen replied in a phone interview, "I don't know if he's made a complete decision". Manafort is Trump's former campaign chairman, and has been an important focus of the USA investigation of Trump's associates and Russian Federation. In this case, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had already formally recused himself from participating in any Trump-Russia investigations, so the next person in line, Rosenstein, was the person with the authority to appoint a special counsel.

Mueller, 72, was decorated as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War. In the job, Mueller will have all the same powers as a USA attorney, though he will still ultimately report to Rosenstein. Mueller will have to propose a budget to the Justice Department within the next 60 days - and update it annually, for as long as the investigation runs. Prosecutors want I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to serve up to three years in prison for lying about his conversations with reporters regarding Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame, whose 2003 outing touched off a leak investigation. Nor were there any major legal scandals involving former President Barack Obama.

After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe told reporters in March that the investigation would continue. They included Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, whose investigation morphed repeatedly, eventually resulting in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

A senior administration official said former Democratic vice presidential candidate and Senator Joe Lieberman, one of those interviewed by Trump, was among the leading candidates.

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