Robert Mueller, who was FBI director from 2001 to 2013, has been appointed special counsel to oversee the Justice Department's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links to Donald Trump's campaign.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the announcement this afternoon, national media outlets report.
"The move marks a concession by the Trump administration to Democratic demands for the investigation to be run independently of the Justice Department," The Washington Post reports. "Calls for a special counsel have increased since Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey last week."
Rosenstein released a statement saying the appointment of a special counsel does not constitute "a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted," but means he has determined "the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."
"While a special counsel would remain ultimately answerable to Mr. Rosenstein -- and by extension, the president -- he would have greater autonomy to run an investigation than a United States attorney," The New York Times notes. Rosenstein is leading the investigation because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recused himself after it was revealed he had contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign -- something he denied in his confirmation hearing.
Mueller ran the FBI for almost all of George W. Bush's presidency and most of Barack Obama's. He was credited with improving procedures at the bureau and was respected by politicians of both parties. He was the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover, and when he resigned in 2013, he was replaced by Comey. Since then Mueller has been working for a private law firm, but he plans to resign to avoid any conflict of interest.
Calls for a special counsel intensified this week after the revelation that Comey wrote a memo saying Trump asked him to drop the investigation of alleged improprieties by National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was later dismissed from the post. Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will be among the key subjects of the probe overseen by Mueller, NBC News reports.