(WASHINGTON) — Just prior to the Department of Justice’s public announcement that former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to continue the investigation into Russian election interference, a group of senior White House staff members joined President Donald Trump in the Oval Office where he offered a measured response, according to a senior White House official.
The official said that the White House had “absolutely no indication” the appointment was coming. White House Counsel Don McGahn personally delivered the news to Trump after receiving a call from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who previously recused himself from issues pertaining to the election, was at the White House at the time, but it is unclear if he had any interaction with Trump.
The senior advisers, which included Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks and Director of Social Media Dan Scavino, convened with Trump after McGahn shared the development to formulate a response.
According to the senior official with knowledge of the situation, Trump explained how the administration should respond and told his aides that it was an opportunity to focus on their agenda. The advisers then drafted a statement which was refined by the president before it was released.
It read, in part, “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.”
The official indicated that, in some ways, the staff feels united by Mueller’s appointment and that the inquiry allows for an easier response to questions about Russia — staff can simply comment that it is under investigation.
Trump is still expected to hold a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday, but sources say he will not answer questions about the special counsel.
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