Special prosecutor abruptly named to probe Trump-Russia ties

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WASHINGTON (KTVU/AP) -- The Department of Justice's sudden appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to head up the investigation into whether the Trump campaign had any ties to the Russian election meddling, brought relief to Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill Wednesday, following a rocky week of news reports that raised questions about the integrity of the FBI investigation.

Mueller, 72, will serve as special counsel and is expected to bring credibility to the highly politicized and complex probe.

Mueller started his law career in San Francisco after graduating from University of Virginia Law School in 1973. Three years later he joined the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco rising to the position of chief of the criminal division. He moved on to become Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston and then served in 1989 in the Department of Justice as an assistant to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. Mueller returned to San Francisco to become U.S. Attorney from 1998 through 2001. He was appointed FBI Director one week before the 9/11 attacks by then President George W. Bush.

"He's a very skilled investigator and a prosecutor. He knows how to put together a complex case," said former U.S. Attorney For Northern California Joe Russoniello. Russoniello says he remembers when Mueller worked for him in the San Francisco office three decades ago.

"He was a great lawyer. He did a great job. You could see he had all of the skills."

Mueller will need all of those skills as he tackles an investigation that has become increasingly politicized and complex. Media reports earlier in the week stated that President Trump had released classified intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office, and asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation against the president's national security adviser Michael Flynn. Three months later, President Trump fired Comey.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued the order Wednesday with a letter explaining his reasons for the appointment.

"My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted," Rosenstein wrote, adding that for Americans to have confidence in the outcome, he felt the need to appoint a special counsel "who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

"I think it's a good thing because this takes the politics out of it, hopefully. This has gotten too political. People go with whatever news comes out, those on the left yell *impeach*, some on the right say it's fake. So, this hopefully detoxes some of the politics of it," said Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York posted on twitter, "I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead."

Mueller said he would accept the responsibility and discharge it to the best of his ability.

"No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly," said President Trump during a speech Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy graduation. The White House later released a statement attributed to the President.

"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. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly," the statement read.

"People will probably not see press conferences every week reporting on how the investigation is going. they might not see him at all. But they'll know...they'll see subpoenas being issued," said Russoniello.

When he became director, Mueller had "expected to focus on areas familiar to me as a prosecutor -- drug cases, white-collar criminal cases and violent crime," he said in 2012. Instead, "we had to focus on long-term, strategic change. We had to enhance our intelligence capabilities and upgrade our technology. We had to build upon strong partnerships and forge new friendships, both here at home and abroad."

In hindsight, the transformation was largely a success.

At the time, though, there were problems and Mueller said as much.  In a speech near the end of his tenure, he recalled "those days when we were under attack by the media and being clobbered by Congress; when the attorney general was not at all happy with me."

Among the issues: the Justice Department's inspector general found that the FBI circumvented the law to obtain thousands of phone call records for terrorism investigations. Mueller decided that the FBI wouldn't take part in abusive interrogation techniques of terrorist suspects, but the policy wasn't effectively communicated down the line for nearly two years. In an effort to move the FBI into a paperless environment, the bureau spent over $600 million on computer systems that were way behind schedule and in one case had to be scrapped as obsolete.

For the nation's premier law enforcement agency, it was a rocky trip.

But there were successes as well and an extraordinary vote of confidence: Congress, at the Obama administration's request, approved a two-year extension for Mueller to remain at his post until 2013, when he was replaced by Comey, the director fired last week by President Donald Trump.

Mueller was born in New York City and grew up outside of Philadelphia. As a Marine officer, he led a rifle platoon in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and two Navy Commendation Medals. As a federal prosecutor he rose quickly through the ranks. And later, as head of the Justice Department's criminal division, he oversaw high-profile prosecutions that brought victories against targets as varied as Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and New York crime boss John Gotti.

Mueller was driven by a career-long passion for the painstaking work of building successful criminal cases. Even as head of the FBI, he would surprise agents by digging into the details of bureau investigations, some major cases, others less so -- sometimes surprising agents who suddenly found themselves on the phone with the director.

"The management books will tell you that as the head of an organization, you should focus on the vision," Mueller once said. But "for me there were and are today those areas where one needs to be substantially personally involved."