By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating suspected Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election spent $4.5 million between October last year and March 2018, the Department of Justice said on Thursday.
In addition, other Justice Department "components" spent $5.476 million on activities supporting the investigation, the department said in a published report. Mueller's office is also looking into possible links between President Donald Trump's election campaign and Russia.
Even with the additional costs, the official figure is significantly less than what Trump has said the Mueller inquiry is costing taxpayers.
In a Twitter post earlier this month, Trump called the Mueller investigation a "$20,000,000 Witch Hunt". Five days earlier, he estimated the cost of the probe at $10 million.
The largest direct expenditure by Mueller's office for the period Oct. 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 was $2.738 million in salaries and benefits for its employees, the Justice Department report said.
Mueller's office spent $886,000 on rent, communications and utilities and $264,000 on "contractual services," most of which involved information technology, according to the report.
Last year, Mueller's office reported that in its first months from May 17 to Sept. 30, 2017, it spent a total of $3.2 million. Not counting additional spending by the Justice Department, Mueller and his team have spent a total of $7.7 million since his appointment just over a year ago.
The last time a special counsel was investigating a White House occupant, President Bill Clinton between August 1994 and February 1999, then counsel Kenneth Starr's office spent $52 million in the 4-1/2 years.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Grant McCool)