Special counsel appointed in Trump-Russia probe

In a further blow to US President Donald Trump, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has named a special counsel to take over Russian investigation, led by former FBI director Bob Mueller.

NBC reports Mr Mueller will take command over prosecutors and FBI agents who were working on the probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence services, and Russia's efforts to derail the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats have long been calling for an independent prosecutor to take over the case, and this week some Republicans joined them. 

Mr Mueller served as FBI head for 12 years under George W Bush and Barack Obama, directly before James Comey, whom President Donald Trump sensationally fired last week.

The surprise decision was made by Rod Rosenstein, the second-in-command at the DOJ.

"In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter," Mr Rosenstein said in a statement.

"My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

The White House was reportedly only told half-an-hour before the news was made public, and only after Mr Rosenstein authorised the counsel's creation.

As recently as Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said there was no need for a special counsel.

The Daily Beast reported the news as an "official concession from the Justice Department that the Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election was an extraordinary circumstance".

CNN said it "aims to quell the wave of criticism that President Donald Trump and his administration have faced since Trump fired FBI director James Comey last week in the middle of the FBI's intensifying investigation into contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials".

Speculation Mr Trump may face impeachment has intensified this week, after reports that Mr Comey wrote a memo after a meeting with Mr Trump in February, in which he claims the President asked him to drop the Russia investigation.

Mr Mueller led the FBI through the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and retired in 2013.