Democrats on Capitol Hill wasted no time Wednesday hailing the Justice Department’s decision to tap former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead an investigation into Russian election meddling and its ties to President Trump's campaign.
Mueller, who served as FBI director for 12 years in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, has built a reputation as a straight-shooting non-partisan. And lawmakers from both parties praised the latest development in the ever-evolving story linking Moscow to Trump.
"I'm surprised and thrilled. I can't think of anybody with more integrity and who will have as much credibility within the FBI as Bob Mueller,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Barbara Comstock, a vulnerable Northern Virginia Republican whose been calling for an independent commission to lead its own investigation, was also supportive. Mueller, she said, ”has the full confidence of the FBI and the Justice Department."
Mueller’s appointment came just eight days after Trump former FBI Director James Comey, sparking a firestorm on Capitol Hill and fueling the effort of Democrats — and a handful of Republicans — to launch an independent investigation.
In the Senate, Democrats had threatened to block Comey’s replacement until a special counsel was named.
The decision fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had stirred a political storm of his own last week when he provided Trump — at the president’s request — a justification for Comey’s firing.
Democrats howled, questioning Rosenstein’s integrity and dedication to the law. But on Wednesday, after the Mueller announcement, the Democrats were singing a different hymn.
“This is a master stroke, I think, by the deputy attorney,” Himes said.
The Justice Department announcement came on the same day that House Democrats launched a discharge petition on legislation to create an independent, outside commission — similar to the panel that investigated the 9/11 attacks — to examine Russian meddling in the presidential election and the ties between Moscow and Trump’s team.
Democrats quickly emphasized that Mueller’s appointment in no way mitigates the need for that commission.
“It’s half the solution,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of the legislation creating the outside panel. “This should motivate them to realize the gravity of what is happening right now.”
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) agreed.
“I think we need to do both,” he said.
But some Republicans suggested that the launch of Mueller’s investigation eliminates the need for yet another outside investigation.
“If we want to start popping up all kinds of different investigations everywhere, this is never going to get solved,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who applauded Mueller’s appointment. “And it’s literally just going to be that: a political talking point for the next [election] cycle.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who wrote the Democrats’ bill with Swalwell, acknowledged that Mueller’s appointment might very well erode potential Republican support for his legislation.
"That's quite possible," said Cummings, senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"This has taken some of the pressure off them."