Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia's potential collusion with the Trump campaign, which Trump denies.
“I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” 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.”
The move followed rising demands from both sides for an independent probe of alleged Russian efforts to sway the outcome of November's presidential election in favor of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton.
"As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know –- there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity," Trump said in a statement released by the White House. "I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."
Pressure has been building on Trump over the Russia issue since his firing last week of FBI chief James Comey, who had been leading a federal probe into the matter.
The FBI, the CIA and other agencies have been looking into evidence of possible contacts, money transfers and business relationships between Trump’s associates, like former national security advisor Mike Flynn, and Russia. The investigation will also examine how Russian intelligence propagated fake news and leaked hacked emails that some say could have cost Clinton the election, NBC reported.
U.S. intelligence agencies said earlier this year that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
“I determined that a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome," Rosenstein said.
Mueller would ultimately answer to Rosenstein, who answers to President Trump, but Mueller will enjoy an independence that an attorney general would not.
Rosenstein inherited the task after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
Some past independent investigations have stretched for years. For example, Kenneth Starr, who investigated former President Bill Clinton, probed allegations surrounding his past real estate deals but later expanded the inquiry into Clinton's relations with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky, leading to an impeachment of Clinton by the House.
Mueller is second only to J. Edgar Hoover for longest tenure for a director of the FBI. Mueller headed up the bureau for 12 years under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Reuters contributed to this report.