IT’S SERIOUS

With Washington at a fever pitch, the Department of Justice, appoints a special counsel with the powers of a prosecutor to lead the Trump-Russia investigation.

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WASHINGTON – The nation’s capital went into full-blown crisis mode Wednesday night – just prior to the Florida Courier’s press time –  as the Justice Department named a special counsel to look into Russia’s influence on the 2016 election and Congress grappled with growing unease over whether President Donald Trump had tried to quash the investigation.

In this file photo, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee in 2012.
(JAMES BERGLIE/ZUMA PRESS/TNS)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped former FBI Director Robert Mueller for the post, a subject of growing clamor since Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey a week ago. The appointment took the White House by surprise.

Broad powers
Mueller will have access to all the information the FBI and Justice Department have compiled. He can convene grand juries and seek federal criminal indictments.

His appointment capped a day that saw calls crescendo for the appointment of a special prosecutor or some other independent investigation to look at a range of issues: possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, the firing of FBI Director James Comey and whether the president had committed a crime when he asked Comey to drop a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Wall Street showed its concern that Trump’s troubles would cripple plans to ease regulations and cut taxes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 373 points as the storm gathered around the president. The 1.78 percent decline was one of the average’s worst days since Trump’s inauguration. Other averages also closed lower: The NASDAQ was down by nearly 2.6 percent and the S&P 500 off 1.82 percent.

Not his fault
The president, meanwhile, defended himself in a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy, continuing to push his deeply held notion that he is blameless and his troubles are the doing of others.

“No politician in history – and I say this with great assurity (sic) – has been treated worse or more unfairly,” he said.

With Trump scheduled to embark on his first foreign trip Friday, fears were high that another shoe might drop. Some experts suggested the president cancel his travels, but there was no indication such a dramatic step was being considered.

Comey to speak?
In the wake of a New York Times report that Comey had written contemporaneous memos detailing his meetings with Trump about the investigation of Flynn, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that it had asked Comey to testify. No schedule for the appearance was set, but Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee’s chair, said he expected Comey to agree to testify voluntarily.

The committee also asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to surrender any notes or memos that Comey might have written about the investigation. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also has asked the FBI for memos Comey might have written involving his dealings with Trump and President Barack Obama.

Along with the committee’s ranking member, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Grassley also asked the White House for any records, including recordings, involving its dealings with Comey.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he too had asked for any memos. Every Democrat on the House Oversight and Judiciary panels signed a letter asking their Republican chairmen to launch an investigation into Trump.

GOP shaken
Republicans, who have largely turned a blind eye to Trump’s unorthodox and controversial behavior, began to feel the ground beneath them crack. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., urged them not to panic. But he acknowledged that the push for a more aggressive investigation may be irresistible.

“We need the facts,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. “It is obvious that 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. And that means before rushing to judgment we get all the pertinent information.”

But whether it was their fears about a massive blowout in the 2018 midterm elections because of Trump or just a creeping realization that the president is in over his head and that could be dangerous to the republic, the mood among GOP lawmakers appeared to be shifting.

‘Aggressive’ press
Indeed, the atmosphere on Capitol Hill has slowly turned dark, according to aides. The corridors are thick with reporters. Senate Press Gallery officials sent out a letter Wednesday warning that “the press following senators have become large and aggressive. We are concerned someone may get hurt.”

Health care and tax overhauls, as much as GOP leaders try to talk about them, get suffocated by the blanket of questions about the president and the many investigations.

At a moment when Republicans control the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House and should be capable of pushing through their agenda with ease, they are like riven by infighting and led by an erratic and unskilled president.

While partisanship is never far from most congressional debates, including this one, the Trump controversies have gradually taken on a different tone, as each new development creates a fresh headline and fuels the unending political talkfest on cable. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle fret.

Events moving quickly
The parade of revelations has been nonstop. Word that Comey had accused Trump of asking him to drop the Flynn probe came less than a week after Trump fired him as FBI director over his irritation with the Russia investigation and only a day after it had been revealed that Trump had disclosed top-secret information to two Russian diplomats during an Oval Office meeting.

The memo revelation also came just a few days after Trump had suggested in a tweet that he had taped Comey during a White House dinner, in what many saw as a threat to prevent Comey from leaking information.

That had everyone asking whether such tapes even exist. The White House refused to say.

All this has turned the capital into a political potboiler, with everyone braced for the next tweet, leak or headline that sends the government and news media into another tailspin.

David Goldstein and Lindsay Wise of the McClatchy Washington Bureau / TNS contributed to this report.

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