Congress reacts to Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel

FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on national security matters.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON -- Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill praised the pick of former FBI director Robert Mueller to be special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation -- but some Democrats are worried Mueller's selection doesn't go far enough.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced Mueller's selection in a sudden announcement Wednesday, amid calls in Congress -- particularly from Democrats -- to appoint a special prosecutor in the FBI's investigation into Russian election meddling and any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. As special counsel, Mueller will have broad authority to investigate Russian interference in the election, any ties between Russia and Trump associates, among other related matters. He also has the authority to prosecute crimes if he finds any wrongdoing has taken place. 

"The appointment of former FBI Director and respected lawyer Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a positive development and will provide some certainty for the American people that the investigation will proceed fairly and free of political influence," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner said in a joint statement. "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will continue its own investigation and to the extent any deconfliction is required, we will engage with Director Mueller and our expectation is that he will engage with the committee as well."

The announcement came 24 hours after a report that President Trump told then-FBI director James Comey to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn's ties to Russia and Turkey, and 48 hours after a report that Mr. Trump shared sensitive information with Russian diplomats last week after firing Comey. 

Democrats mainly expressed confidence in Mueller, who led the FBI for 12 years from 2001 to 2013.   

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said special counsel "cannot take the place of a truly independent, outside commission that is completely free from the Trump administration's meddling."

Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree tweeted that an independent commission is necessary to have "full confidence" in the FBI's probe. 

Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus expressed similar concerns.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons called Mueller a "strong choice," saying he "has exercised independent judgment in standing up to administration pressures before, and that's exactly what is required for this important position."

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Mueller "respected" and "talented." 

"The appointment of Bob Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a good first step to get to the bottom of the many questions we have about Russian interference in our election and possible ties to the president," Feinstein said in a statement. "Bob was a fine U.S. attorney, a great FBI director and there's no better person who could be asked to perform this function. He is respected, he is talented and he has the knowledge and ability to do the right thing."

Republicans, who have been under increasing pressure to criticize or at least scrutinize Mr. Trump, took a little longer to respond than Democrats. 

"The decision by the deputy attorney general to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel confirms that the investigation into Russian intervention into our election will continue, as stated last week by Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will also continue its investigation into this matter."

Some Republicans expressed confidence in Mueller, if less enthusiasm, than their Democratic counterparts. 

"I don't think it was necessary," New York Republican Rep. Steve King told CBS News of Mueller's appointment. "I don't as a general rule believe in special counsels, I think they can go off on their own. Having said that, I have a lot of confidence in Bob Mueller. If there has to be a special counsel -- they made an excellent choice."

King also said the Comey memo doesn't constitute obstruction of justice. 

"The fact that Comey didn't tell anybody about it, didn't report it, that his own deputy director didn't think the investigation was being impeded in any way," King said. "No, to me there was no evidence of obstruction of justice."

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan told CBS News he has an "open mind" about the appointment of a special counsel. 

"That's who the Department of Justice named," Jordan said of Mueller. "I think that's fine. The key is getting the facts. So that's why I'm hopeful."

Other Republicans were more upbeat about Rosenstein's pick to head the Russia investigation. 

"It is a very positive development," Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbello said. "It's evidence that the administration is taking this seriously. It's good news."

South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan called Mueller a "great choice."

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, one of the first Republicans to react to the news, called Mueller an "excellent choice."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted a reaction that many can relate to, in the middle of this week full of rapid-fire developments -- "and it's only Wednesday."