US intelligence officials have praised the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as the special prosecutor responsible for investigating the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia.
The appointment, following fresh controversy over the firing of FBI director James Comey, was hailed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as members of the security community.
It is the latest twist in a saga which has embroiled Donald Trump since the election in November.
Last week, the New York Times reported that Mr Trump had asked Mr Comey to drop the probe into the alleged links between his former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn and Russian agents.
Gen Flynn was forced to resign just weeks into the job after it emerged he had met with Russian officials to discuss policy in the days before the inauguration.
Mr Mueller’s appointment was described as taking Mr Trump “from the frying pan into the fire” by former top counsel for the NSA and the CIA, Robert Deitz.
Mr Deitz told Business Insider: "I have enormous respect for Bob. We worked together when I was at the NSA. The Russia investigation will continue apace with no loss of momentum."
Known for his independence, Mr Mueller was originally sworn in as FBI Director in the days before the 9/11 attacks but threatened to resign in 2004, along with Mr Comey who was serving as Deputy Attorney General at the time, over plans to revive warrantless NSA surveillance without any legal protections.
After leaving the FBI in 2013, the 72-year-old returned to the private sector where he became co-managing partner at the WilmerHale law firm which represents associates of the President such as his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Upon being appointed to head the Russia probe he immediately resigned from the position to avoid a potential conflict of interest, but a spokesperson for the firm told legal blog Lawfare that he had never had anything to do with these clients.
- Read more
Former Assistant Attorney General for national security, David Kris, wrote an op-ed for Lawfare saying “Mueller is experienced, knowledgeable, capable”.
He said: “He is utterly incorruptible. He cannot be intimidated. At this stage in his career, he has nothing to prove, no reputation to burnish, no axe to grind. He is ramrod straight in his integrity.”
Last week, Mr Trump appeared to admit he had fired Mr Comey over “this Russia thing” but denied that he had asked him to drop the investigation – instead saying he was merely unhappy with his work.
It also emerged that Mr Trump had allegedly revealed classified information from another country’s, believed to be Israel's, intelligence services to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a meeting at the White House.