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Charles Dharapak / AP

Former FBI director Robert Mueller will serve as special counsel in the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller, who led the FBI from 2001-2013 under presidents from both parties, is one of the most highly respected figures in U.S. law enforcement and is considered an ally of James Comey's.

He was selected by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Rosenstein had authority in the matter because Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, and this move may not go over well in the White House.

Congressional Republicans and Trump aides had resisted the idea of appointing a special prosecutor, contending that the House and Senate investigations were sufficient. Mueller's appointment is a sign of how untenable things had become, particularly after reports that President Trump tried to convince Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Trump in the dark: He was not aware that a special prosecutor would be named until less than an hour before the announcement, a White House official confirmed to Politico's Josh Dawsey.

From Rosenstein's letter: "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."

Mueller's statement: "I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability."

Trump 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."

Dem response: Nancy Pelosi said "a special prosecutor is the first step, but it cannot be the last," calling for an independent commission.

Next question: Will the Congressional investigations continue in parallel to Mueller's?

Next: Read Rosenstein's full statement.

Other: Senate wants Comey memo, any White House tapes.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - World

500 Hong Kong police officers raid pro-democracy newspaper

Chief Operations Officer Chow Tat Kuen (front 2nd R) is escorted by police from the Apple Daily newspaper offices before being put into a waiting vehicle in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Apple Daily said 500 police officers searched the pro-democracy newspaper's offices and arrested five senior executives on Thursday.

Why it matters: The arrests of the paper's chief editor, Ryan Law, along with its chief operating officer, two other editors and the CEO of Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily, were made under China's national security law — which gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom.

World Bank rejects El Salvador's request to help implement bitcoin

President Nayib Bukele, giving a speech in El Salvador's legislative assembly in San Salvado earlier this month, pushed for bitcoin to become legal tender. Photo: Emerson Flores/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images

The World Bank has rejected the government of El Salvador's request to help the country implement Bitcoin as legal tender, Reuters first reported late Wednesday.

Why it matters: The international lender's rejection could hamper the government's goal of making the digital currency accepted across the country within three months.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

China launches first astronauts to new space station

The manned Shenzhou-12 spacecraft from China's Manned Space Agency onboard the Long March-2F rocket launches at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China, on Thursday morning Beijing time. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China's Shenzhou 12 mission carrying three astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning Beijing time.

Why it matters: Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are set to occupy China's new space station. This will be the country's longest crewed space mission ever and the first in almost five years.