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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump, followed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, arrives for their joint news conference Thursday at the White House. Trump, who makes his ÿrst overseas trip today to Saudi Arabia, called the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation of possible Russian meddling in last year’s election “a very, very negative thing.”

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Thursday denounced the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign's possible ties with Russia, repeatedly calling it a "witch hunt" that "hurts our country terribly."

His fellow Republicans, meanwhile, expressed hope that the move would restore some calm to the capital plunged into near chaos over recent events.

A day after appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the independent probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified in private before the full Senate. Lawmakers of both parties sought to question him about Trump's firing last week of FBI Director James Comey, which was followed by news that Trump had shared secrets with top Russian diplomats and tried to stop Comey from investigating former presidential adviser Michael Flynn.

"We'll get rid of the smoke and see where the actual issues lie," said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. "I do think that the special prosecutor provides a sense of calm and confidence perhaps for the American people, which is incredibly important."

[INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: Events leading up to Comey’s firing]

Trump strongly disagreed. The appointment, he said in a briefing with news anchors, "hurts our country terribly."

He said it "shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not unified country" and is "a very, very negative thing."

He leapt to make the point again at a joint news conference with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, describing the development as a distraction.

"I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt," he said, insisting there had been "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia.

[PRESIDENT TRUMP: Timeline, appointments, executive orders + guide to actions in first 100 days]

"I'm fine with whatever people want to do," he added. "But we have to go back to running this country really, really well."

The president then pivoted to listing what he called the achievements of his administration, from creating jobs to restoring America's standing in the world, and noted he was embarking today on the trip to the Middle East.

Trump reiterated his vow to stamp out the drug trade and to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Standing next to Santos in the East Room, Trump noted that coca leaf production in his country was at record levels, despite Colombia's efforts to crack down on drug trafficking.

Santos looked for areas of common ground, noting the cooperation between Colombia and the United States in fighting drug trafficking. "We believe in the same principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law," he said.

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Mueller has been given sweeping power to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, including potential links between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Despite initially opposing appointment of an independent counsel, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that the development "helps assure people and the Justice Department that they're going to go do their jobs independently and thoroughly, which is what we've called for all along."

Trump, after issuing a measured statement when the news first broke Wednesday evening, turned to Twitter on Thursday morning to vent.

"This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" Trump wrote.

"With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!" he added later, without providing examples.

Trump is leaving today for his first foreign trip, to the Mideast and beyond, which aides hope can have the effect of refocusing a White House in disarray.

Rosenstein testifies

The president's tweets and comments to the TV anchors drew little reaction from fellow Republicans, who instead joined Democrats in heaping praise on Mueller, who served 12 years under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, preceding Comey as head of the FBI. Now Mueller will have nearly unfettered access to witnesses and information, and the ability to bring criminal charges.

His appointment raises the stakes dramatically on the long-simmering allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and had connections with members of the Trump campaign.

Democratic senators had been prepared to press Rosenstein on Thursday to take the step of appointing a special prosecutor, but they were left praising him instead before his private briefing began.

"This was a very good first step. Mr. Rosenstein has done the right thing," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor. "I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead."

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said that Rosenstein told the senators that he knew on May 8, the day before Comey was fired, that Trump was going to fire the FBI director. He also told them that he was not pressured into writing his memo.

"He learned the president's decision to fire him and then he wrote his memo with his rationale," Durbin said.

At least three congressional committees are continuing their investigations, leading to some turf warfare and sniping as the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee both sought to lay claim to testimony from Comey, while the House Oversight Committee also hoped to hear from the former director.

On a day of fast-moving developments, the House Intelligence Committee announced that it, too, had asked for documents, in this case from the FBI and the Justice Department.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said he is supportive of investigations in Congress but expressed concern about the "proliferation" of hearings. "I hope that we don't inadvertently trip up or damage the independent investigation of the special counsel," he said.

There was confusion during the day surrounding Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser who has emerged as a central figure because of his own ties to Russia, which led to his dismissal early on in the Trump administration. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr indicated at one point that Flynn was resisting the committee's document subpoenas, but Burr later clarified that he hadn't actually heard from Flynn's lawyer to that effect and he would welcome "their willingness to cooperate." It was not clear what caused the mix-up.

Ryan: Enough drama

Eager to move past distractions, Ryan said the many layers of controversy facing Trump will not impede House Republicans from pursuing their agenda.

"It's always nice to have less drama," he acknowledged during a news conference. "I realize there's a lot in the media these days. That doesn't seize up Congress. That doesn't stop us from doing our jobs.

He gave tax legislation, a major GOP priority, as an example, vowing it would not slip into next year.

"Drama is not helpful in getting things done," Ryan said, "but we're still getting things done. ... I feel very comfortable we'll meet this goal."

Asked about private chatter among some Republicans that Vice President Mike Pence would be a better chief executive than Trump, Ryan projected disgust.

"I'm not going to give credence to that," he said. "I'm not even going to comment on that. There's not even a point making a comment on that."

Attention on Capitol Hill quickly returned Thursday to Comey's firing, as committees awaited a response to invitations for him to testify.

"Mr. Comey was central to the events of the past few weeks," Schumer said Thursday morning on the Senate floor. "We still need to hear from him."

Comey has received invitations to testify from the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He has not stated publicly whether he will appear.

The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday became the latest panel to request documents from the Justice Department about the Russia investigation and Comey's conversations with Trump. The Senate Intelligence Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have already made similar requests.

"We're going to keep doing our jobs -- keep our Russia investigations going," said Ryan, who had rejected calls for a special counsel.

The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena last week to force Flynn to turn over documents relevant to its Russia probe. Burr stated Thursday that Flynn's attorneys had not yet "indicated their intentions" but expressed hopes they would cooperate.

"Michael Flynn has not cooperated with the committee up to this point," Burr told reporters on Capitol Hill. "We have not gotten the definitive answer."

Congressional committees have sent multiple requests to the FBI and the White House to obtain any records of Trump's conversations with Comey, as well as other Russia-related documents.

Another pressing concern for lawmakers is the search for Comey's replacement.

"The next FBI director must be someone who is nonpartisan, independent, fearless and unimpeachable," Schumer said Thursday, ruling out a politician for the job. "Anyone who suggests a lack of impartiality should not be considered."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not mention any of these issues during his morning remarks on the Senate floor, focusing instead on health care.

"The entire Senate Republican Conference has been at work debating ideas and making progress," McConnell said. "I hope our friends on the other side of the aisle will join us in bringing some relief to all these families who desperately need it."

Information for this article was contributed by Erica Werner, Darlene Superville, Deb Riechmann, Eileen Sullivan, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press; by Elise Viebeck, Karoun Demirjian, Sean Sullivan, David Weigel, Sari Horwitz and Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post; and by Mark Landler and Glenn Thrush of The New York Times.

A Section on 05/19/2017

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arrives Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington for a closed meeting with senators a day after appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the investigation into possible ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Print Headline: Trump blasts Russia probe as 'witch hunt'

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  • WGT
    May 19, 2017 at 7:12 a.m.

    Hmmph! We'll see. This is the path of a downward spiral to the crushing end of a "sad" tragedy of a man who has no idea what he is doing.

  • Wowy
    May 19, 2017 at 7:49 a.m.

    Trump is the Truth, Trump is the Light and Trump is the only hope for America and for the World. Trump brings his message from God and is the answer to the prayers of millions of God loving people all over the World. When the hypocritical, gay-loving communists see his light and hear his words their skin is burned and their blood begins to boil. It is like an acid to those dim-witted communists who live only on fake news and babel.

  • hurricane46
    May 19, 2017 at 8:02 a.m.

    Quit trolling Wowy and take your meds.

  • wildblueyonder
    May 19, 2017 at 8:11 a.m.

    You nailed it Wowy!

  • TimberTopper
    May 19, 2017 at 8:21 a.m.

    Just may go down in history as the quickest impeached POTUS. What a fitting legacy.

    May 19, 2017 at 8:30 a.m.


  • mozarky2
    May 19, 2017 at 9:24 a.m.

    From Kurt Schlichter in today's Townhall:
    "So the Menschian thinkers who usually scream “Treason!” are now screaming “Obstruction of Justice!” It’s adorable when they learn new terms and try to use them correctly; they’re so proud of themselves and their vocabulary building that you almost feel bad having to point out that they sound like idiots.
    It is nice, though, to have liberals finally come out against the abuse of executive power, misuse of classified material, and Russians. Welcome to the party, except we know you’re full of Schumer."
    Impeachment, TT? Never happen. I'd bet on it. You wouldn't. Who'll do it? The dims? BWAAAHAHAHA!

  • mrcharles
    May 19, 2017 at 9:31 a.m.

    Brooks' editorial today nails the orange man.

    Wowy is like the old outer limits show, something from another dimension crossing over but only communicating with static. He does channel sea bass from time to time, as knowing knowers know they are not real but just chain pullers!

    Mr. POTUS it this be thy witch hunt, what should we do with the witch? As in olden days , those days the conservatives want to go back to [ witches, demons, night vapors, curses, another " sacrifice" of a man-g-d, or g-dman, g-dnods, angels, slaves, rampant sex by aged old men for holy purposes, ignorance of desert dwellers { ignorance not the same as stupid} , anti-science due to ancient book concerns, making women second class citizens but upholding their dignity as you would a valuable race horse, etc, etc] -- did i mention segregated water fountains and having the black music top 40 separate from white music where musicians were stealing their riffs from former involuntary immigrants.

    Me, I believe it is them there gay loving muslims causing all this problem. They of course do not hear the "word" { voice in the head} properly, as any sensible talking ape should.

    You impeachers, please think this through-- this has been the plan of the right all along [ & of the deity since the world began] to get the mass deludes to vote his orange man into office, where pence couldn't have gotten that done, but knowing IT of childish ways would explode , their plot could as good patriots help remove his Craziness , with simple contrition of just saying Whoops! Google a few Pence speeches and see a Rev Floyd of Springdale and/or Pat Robertson/Jim Bakker channeling types who once if are enabled to come to power will make us like Iran, just using a different descendant of a holy man who would cut the throat of his own son and burn him for a most "pleasin odor" to the G-ds.

    Of course some of the smart butt men of the holy coffee drinkers divines, which I am sad to say are of the right wing, stated that if MT is accused of being a witch they would like to volunteer to be the ones to check her all over for signs of a witch. guess you cant really call them perverts considering her husband's words of the joy of grabbing someones daughter.

    but I must say in spite of trumps divinity to the mindless, not even the deluded supporters or IT, the anointed Orange man knows the day or the hour of the coming of the indictment - be on guard. That is my translation.

  • 3WorldState1
    May 19, 2017 at 10:54 a.m.

    I just appreciate how smart Kanye is and all the best people he knows and the really good words he uses.

  • RBear
    May 19, 2017 at 11:23 a.m.

    moz, you political neophyte. Try Republicans who are afraid of getting mid-termed. If the evidence from a special investigation starts mounting against Trump and leads to the potential of convictions, I would not want to be a Republican supporting Trump and facing a voter base. Those healthcare town halls will be love fests compared with what they would face then.