President Donald Trump has hit out at the appointment of a special counsel to lead the Russia probe as "the single greatest witch hunt" in US history, hours after he said he looked forward to a thorough investigation.
- Former FBI director Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference in election
- Trump accuses Obama administration and Clinton campaign of illegal acts
- Russia's denies meddling in US election
In the face of rising pressure from Capitol Hill, the US Justice Department named former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Moscow.
Mr Trump had said "a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity".
But then in a pair of Twitter posts, Mr Trump made clear he was unhappy with the latest development to roil his administration.
"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 the word counsel as he referred to former president Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"
Mr Trump told a media conference later: "There is no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign and I can always speak for myself and the Russians — zero.
"I think it divides the country, I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things."
Mr Trump also responded with a direct "no, no" to a question about whether he asked former FBI director James Comey to shelve an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey associates this week revealed the existence of a memo Mr Comey wrote after a February 14 meeting with Mr Trump, in which he said the President asked him to shut down the FBI investigation into Mr Flynn.
Mr Trump sent Mr Comey a letter last week abruptly firing him.
Democrats, Republicans welcome special counsel
Mr Trump's latest comments on the Russia probe mirror a speech earlier this week, before Mr Mueller's appointment was announced, in which he said no politician in history "has been treated worse or more unfairly".
Russia has denied US intelligence agencies' conclusion that it interfered in the election campaign to try to tilt the vote in Mr Trump's favour.
Mr Trump has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his November election victory, and has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
The appointment of a special counsel to take over the Russia probe was widely praised by Democrats and Mr Trump's fellow Republicans.
Republican representative Charlie Dent said there was no question the Russians meddled in the election.
The goal of the special counsel probe, he said, was to determine whether there was collusion between Trump associates and Russia to do so.
"I believe that's why we're having this investigation — to find out if in fact there was collusion," Mr Dent told CNN.
"I certainly hope there wasn't any but if there is there are going to be very serious consequences."
Moments before Mr Trump weighed in on Twitter, Democratic senator Joe Manchin welcomed the special counsel investigation and said it was important to get facts in the Russia probe.
"I am not on a witch hunt. I am on a fact-finding mission," he said on CNN.