The United States Justice Department has named former FBI director Robert Mueller to oversee an investigation into Russia’s alleged role in last year’s presidential election.
The appointment of the special counsel comes amid growing pressure from opposition Democrats for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the investigation.
Mr Mueller will be ultimately answerable to deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, who announced the appointment, and, by extension, to the president.
But as a special counsel, he will have greater autonomy than a United States attorney to run the investigation.
Democratic senator Jackie Speier, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, has told CNN she is happy with the appointment.
“I am, indeed. And the necessity to have a special counsel has been something I’ve been harping on now for weeks. We really needed to have this role be identified, and I think now we’ve got to make sure that whoever is selected as the new director of the FBI is above politics and is certainly not someone who has held a political position before.”
Robert Mueller was appointed FBI director in 2001, handled the aftermath of the September 11 attack and remained in the position until retiring in 2013.
White House officials had previously said the appointment of a special counsel was unnecessary.
The move comes as Donald Trump faces what his critics say are the most serious allegations of his presidency.
He is accused of trying in February to have then-FBI director James Comey drop an investigation into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn’s suspected links to Russia.
That report followed confirmation by Mr Trump that he himself disclosed security details about the self-proclaimed Islamic State to the Russian foreign minister last week.
Politicians from both sides of politics are demanding answers.
And during an address at a graduation ceremony for coastguard cadets, President Trump has vented his frustration.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history has been treated worse, or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down.”
Worries in the United States over the claims have stretched from Washington to Wall Street, with the Dow Jones dropping 370 points, its worst daily fall in eight months.
Senior Republican senator John McCain says developments have now reached the scale of the infamous Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
“I think it’s reaching a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen. It’s a centipede that the shoe continues to drop, and every couple of days there’s a new aspect of this really unhappy situation.”
But another Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, has warned against any rush to judgment.
“We need the facts. There are some people out there who want to harm the President, but we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House.”
The Democrats have insisted the Republicans could not be trusted to thoroughly investigate the President.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed that point in Congress for a second day.
“Concerns about our national security, the rule of law, the independence of our nation’s highest law-enforcement agencies, are mounting in this land. The stated explanation for these explanations from the White House have been porous, shifting and, all too often, contradictory. The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. What are now required are facts and impartial investigations into these very serious matters.”
Texas Democratic senator Al Green has called for Donald Trump’s impeachment.
“I rise today with a sense of responsibility and duty to the people who have elected me, a sense of duty to this country, a sense of duty to the constitution of the United States of America. I rise today, Mr Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the President of the United States of America for obstruction of justice. I do not do this for political purposes, Mr Speaker. I do this because I believe in the great ideals that this country stands for — liberty and justice for all.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin has intervened in the matter of Mr Trump sharing security secrets with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Mr Putin says no secrets have been passed on and, if necessary, he can supply a record of the interview.
“More than that, if the US considers it necessary, we are ready to provide the Senate and US Congress with a recording of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump. But only if the American administration wants it.”
It is unclear whether Mr Putin was referring to a written or audio record of the exchange.