Special counsel appointed in Trump-Russia probe … Post: McCarthy quipped that Putin was paying Trump

CNN Politics:  Nightcap
May 17, 2017   |   by Eric Bradner and Daniella Diaz

Special counsel appointed in Trump-Russia probe

From CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Laura Jarrett: The Justice Department today appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller  — a figure respected by Democrats and Republicans — as special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between President Donald Trump‘s campaign associates and Russian officials.

This bombshell means the investigation could drag out for months or even years and could dominate the 2018 midterm cycle. It guarantees that Trump won’t get what he wanted when he fired FBI Director James Comey — a quick end to an investigation he believes calls the legitimacy of his victory into question. Trump could need to hire a personal lawyer right away. 

How it happened: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to the position in a letter, a copy of which was obtained by CNN. Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously recused himself from any involvement in the Russia investigation due to his role as a prominent Trump campaign adviser and surrogate.

Little notice: The White House found out less than an hour before Mueller’s appointment was announced. Rosenstein had already signed the letter before he told Sessions — and before the Justice Department told the White House. 

Trump’s statement: “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”


“I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”


— Robert Mueller, the former FBI director named special counsel in the Trump-Russia investigation tonight.


Post: McCarthy quipped that Putin was paying Trump

On any other day, this story would be dominating the political world: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California — the No. 2 Republican in the House — last year quipped to colleagues: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” (Rohrabacher is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, another California Republican who has advocated closer ties with Russia.)

The Washington Post’s Adam Entous broke the story — and got hold of a recording. He writes: “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy. … Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: ‘Swear to God.’ Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: ‘No leaks. … This is how we know we’re a real family here.'” 

McCarthy’s defense tonight: “It was a bad attempt at a joke.” That’s what he told reporters on Capitol Hill tonight. “That’s all there is to it,” McCarthy added. “No one believes it to be true.”

The part that has Washington buzzing: Entous writes: “When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: ‘That never happened,’ and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: ‘The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.’ After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: ‘This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.'”


Smile and wave: President Donald Trump was all smiles when he landed and walked off Air Force One in Connecticut on Wednesday to speak at the commencement of the United States Coast Guard Academy. But he wound up delivering a speech focused largely on himself and his own problems. 

The video you need to see: CNN’s Jake Tapper explains that Trump’s problems are all of his own making.


3 things you might have missed today

US renews hold on Iran nuclear sanctions, implements missile sanctions: The United States will continue to waive certain economic sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program while simultaneously implementing a new set of sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program, the State Department said on Wednesday. More from CNN’s Laura Koran.

Trump will not announce promised embassy move during Israel trip: President Donald Trump has decided he will not announce plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem during his trip to Israel next week, administration officials told CNN. More from CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Elise Labott.

Milwaukee County Sheriff Clarke says he’s accepted DHS job — but was it offered? Controversial Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said he has accepted a position within the Trump administration to serve as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. One problem: The department won’t say the job was offered — and even refuted the claim in a tweet. More from CNN’s David Shortell.


US intelligence believes ISIS is bringing together all its experts on chemical weapons from Iraq and Syria into a new “chemical weapons cell.” … Joe Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate-turned-independent, is on President Donald Trump‘s FBI director short list. … Ivanka Trump, amid building controversy and chaos in the West Wing, hosted an anti-human trafficking roundtable discussion at the White House.
Thanks for reading the CNN Politics Nightcap. Your bartenders are Eric Bradner and Daniella Diaz. The tip jar: nightcap@cnn.com.
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