The Justice Department is appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the growing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump associates.
"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," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
"My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination," Rosenstein continued. "What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."
Mueller's appointment comes after growing outcry from Democrats amid fallout of President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey last week. While the White House initially insisted the dismissal was precipitated by Comey's mishandling of the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's emails, Trump later told NBC's Lester Holt that the Russia investigation factored into his decision.
Two sources close to Comey told NPR that Trump asked Comey to shuttle an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn the day after he resigned. Flynn stepped down after reports he had misled Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. The White House denies that Trump made the request.
A Comey associate says Comey wrote a memo after his encounter with the president, and congressional committees investigating the Russia ties have requested to see the memo and other related documentation. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has also asked Comey to testify next week.
Rosenstein had the authority to appoint a special counsel since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any part in the investigation. Sessions said he would step back in March after reports he had met twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign, contacts he insisted were innocent.
This story has been updated.