■ During a brief photo opportunity with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in the Oval Office, the president said he’s “very close” to choosing a new F.B.I. director.
■ The Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as a special counsel to oversee its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, announced on Wednesday.
■ Senators leaving a closed meeting with Mr. Rosenstein said that he had written his memo recommending the firing of James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, after learning that President Trump intended to fire him.
■ Mr. Trump is holding a joint news conference with Mr. Santos.
Watch live: Trump is holding a news conference with the Colombian president
Rosenstein knew Comey would be fired before he wrote memo
Mr. Rosenstein knew that Mr. Comey was going to be fired before he wrote his memo, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, said after leaving a closed briefing with the deputy attorney general. She said Mr. Rosenstein had been “very careful about not going into details about the removal,” expressing a desire not to undermine Mr. Mueller’s investigation.Continue reading the main story
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Asked about the likelihood of Joseph I. Lieberman, the former senator from Connecticut, being named Mr. Comey’s successor as F.B.I. director, Ms. McCaskill indirectly criticized his candidacy for the job. “We need a law enforcement professional that’s never campaigned for political office,” she said.
— Rebecca Ruiz on Capitol Hill
Trump says he’s ‘very close’ to settling on a new F.B.I. director
During a brief photo opportunity with Mr. Santos in the Oval Office, the president said he was “very close” to choosing a new F.B.I. director.
Asked if Mr. Lieberman was among the finalists for the job, he answered with an emphatic “yes.”
Inquiry now considered a criminal investigation, Graham says
Mr. Rosenstein’s closed briefing with senators ended around 3:15 p.m., and some of the attendees stopped to talk to reporters afterward.
“It was a counterintelligence investigation before now,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said after he exited the briefing. “I think it’s now being considered a criminal investigation.”
Mr. Graham said Mr. Mueller, in his new role as special counsel, was likely to “jealously guard” information. “One of the big losers in this discussion is the public,” he said. He called whomever Mr. Trump may select as the new F.B.I. director “one of the winners,” for not having to worry about the inquiry.
— Rebecca Ruiz on Capitol Hill
More requests from Congress for documents
The top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said on Thursday that they, too, had asked the Justice Department and the F.B.I. for more documents related to the investigation into Russian election meddling — including the so-called Comey memo detailing discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.
The committee’s statement noted that the request was made on Wednesday. Add it to the pile: The Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Oversight Committee were among the congressional panels that made similar requests, though they also asked Mr. Comey to testify.
— Emmarie Huetteman on Capitol Hill
‘Single greatest witch hunt’
Mr. Trump lashed out on Thursday morning, saying he was the target of an unprecedented witch hunt.
In a pair of early morning tweets, Mr. Trump cited, without evidence, what he called the “illegal acts” committed by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the campaign of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton — and said they never led to the appointment of a special counsel.
“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!” Mr. Trump wrote, misspelling counsel.
Moments later, Mr. Trump added, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
Aides urge Trump to hire an outside lawyer
Several White House advisers and personal associates of Mr. Trump have urged him to hire an experienced outside lawyer to help him deal with issues arising the surging Russia controversy, according to several people briefed on the conversations.
The recommendations came even before a special counsel was named on Wednesday to lead the investigation into any collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials.
How Trump found out
The president learned of Mr. Rosenstein’s decision around 5:35 p.m. on Wednesday when the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, walked into the Oval Office to tell him.
Mr. Trump, who was looking through papers, reacted calmly but defiantly at first, according to two people familiar with the events, saying he wanted to “fight back.” Realizing the seriousness of the situation, he quickly summoned his staff, including Sean Spicer, the press secretary; Michael Dubke, the communications director; Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; Reince Priebus, the chief of staff; Hope Hicks, a longtime aide; Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser; and Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist.
Most of those gathered recommended that the president adopt a conciliatory stance and release a statement accepting Mr. Rosenstein’s decision and embracing a swift investigation that would clear the cloud of suspicion hovering over the West Wing.
Mr. Kushner — who had urged Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Comey — was one of the few dissenting voices, urging the president to counterattack, according to two senior administration officials. After a brief discussion, however, calmer heads prevailed, and Mr. Trump’s staff huddled over a computer just outside the Oval Office to draft the statement that was ultimately released, asserting the president’s innocence and determination to move on.
By the end of the process, Mr. Trump was calm, determined to push his agenda and uncharacteristically noncombative, according to people close to the president.
— Glenn Thrush in Washington
A daunting moment for the president
For a president who, in most polls, has never commanded the support of a majority of the public, the accumulated toll of self-inflicted wounds has been a challenge from the start. Now he faces perhaps the most daunting moment of his young administration after his decision to fire the F.B.I. director, his disclosure of sensitive information to the Russians and a report that he tried to shut down an investigation of his former national security adviser.
How a special counsel alters the Russia investigation
Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to appoint Mr. Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation has transformed the inquiry and increased the potential risk it poses to the Trump administration.
Mr. Rosenstein, who was overseeing the investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, had resisted pressure to take that step. But recent events — including the firing of Mr. Comey, in which Mr. Rosenstein played a role — made that resistance increasingly untenable.
More coverage from The Times
■ Mr. Mueller, as head of the F.B.I. for 13 years and as a federal prosecutor, cultivated a reputation as an unflinching advocate for facts.
■ Weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Michael T. Flynn is said to have told the transition team that he was being investigated for working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey. But he was named national security adviser anyway, giving him wide access to American intelligence.
■ Joseph I. Lieberman, the former senator from Connecticut, was one of four people the president interviewed as a potential F.B.I. director.
■ The S. & P. 500 and the Dow both took a dive, falling 1.8 percent each as investors appeared shaken by the drama around Mr. Trump.
■ In the conservative news media, Mr. Trump’s supporters have used unfounded allegations, diversions and conspiracies to keep his troops behind him.
■ The president has groused to friends that he is not looking forward to his first foreign trip in office, and his preparation has been hit-or-miss.