President Trump calls investigation into alleged Russian interference in US election a 'witch hunt'

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Associated Press

President Donald Trump lashed out overnight at the appointment of a special counsel to investigate allegations that his campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election, tweeting that it is "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"

Trump has made similar complaints before, but this one came the day after the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the federal Trump-Russia investigation.

Mueller will have sweeping powers and the authority to prosecute any crimes he uncovers. But Trump's claim ignored impeachment efforts and blistering verbal attacks on previous presidents and other political leaders.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who chairs the intelligence committee, created confusion on Capitol Hill by saying that a lawyer for Michael Flynn had told the panel Flynn would not be complying with the panel's subpoena for documents.

Flynn, Trump's fired national security adviser, is a key figure in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Shortly thereafter Burr reversed himself in a statement saying Flynn's attorneys "have not yet indicated their intentions regarding the Senate Intelligence Committee's subpoena," and he would welcome "their willingness to cooperate." It was not clear what caused the mix-up.

Flynn, through his lawyer, had earlier asked for immunity from "unfair prosecution" in exchange for agreeing to cooperate with the committee.

A key adviser to Trump during the presidential campaign, Flynn dismissed not long after the inauguration when it became known that he had had Russian contacts and had misled the Trump team about them.

On a day of fast-moving developments, the House intelligence committee announced that it, too, had asked for documents, in this case from the FBI and the Justice Department.

The broad federal probe under Mueller, a lawman who engenders deep bipartisan respect, was just getting underway.

His appointment, by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, was a striking shift for the Justice Department, which had resisted increasingly insistent calls from Democrats for an outside prosecutor.

It immediately escalated the legal stakes - and the potential political damage - for a president who has tried to dismiss the matter as partisan witch hunt and a "hoax."

The announcement, the latest in the shock-a-day Washington saga, was made a day ahead of Rosenstein's scheduled closed-door appearance today before the Senate.

Democratic senators had been prepared to press him to appoint a special prosecutor, and his decision defused their complaints, leading to praise instead.

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