The United States Justice Department on Wednesday appointed former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert S Mueller III as special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in US presidential election. Deputy Attorney General Rod J Rosenstein said that it was in “public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter”.

After the appointment, President Donald Trump said the new investigation will give him and his team a clean chit, reported BBC. “A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” said the president. Meanwhile, Mueller said, “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”

As a special counsel, Mueller will be answerable to Rosenstein as well as Trump but he will have more autonomy to run an investigation than a US attorney, according to The New York Times. He will be free to choose whether to consult with or inform the Justice Department about his inquiry. He is also authorised to investigate any links whatsoever and may slap criminal charges. Meanwhile, House and Senate Republican leaders said they would continue with their own investigations into the matter, reported Reuters.

With an unblemished reputation, Mueller is considered one of the most credible law enforcement officials in the US. Thus, his appointment was praised by both Democrats and Republicans. While Republican Senator Ben Sasse lauded his “record, character, and trustworthiness”, Democrat Senator Ben Cardin said the choice was “solid and shows the seriousness Rosenstein brought to this decision”. Another Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said Mueller was “exactly the right kind of individual for this job”. Mueller, 72, was appointed by Republican President George W Bush as FBI director a week before the September 11, 2001, attacks. In 2011, Democratic President Barack Obama asked him to continue for two more years. Comey replaced Mueller in 2013.

This comes a week after the Trump administration abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey who had been leading an investigation into the president’s campaign ties with Russia. However, the letter informing Comey of his dismissal did not state exactly why he was being fired and merely mentioned he was “not able to effectively lead the Bureau”. Democrats had called for an independent probe into the matter after Comey was fired. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin had urged the White House to clarify whether the investigation would continue without Comey. “Any attempt to stop or undermine this FBI investigation would raise grave constitutional issues,” he had said.