No, they didn't think a special counsel was necessary. No, they didn't think there would need to be any other kind of independent investigations. The ones going on in Congress (and the leaderless FBI) were sufficient enough, thank you.
It turns out Trump's own administration didn't agree. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced Wednesday that he was appointing a special counsel — Robert S. Mueller III, head of the FBI from 2001 to 2013 — to investigate Russian meddling in the presidential election. Mueller will have wide latitude to investigate Russia's involvement, whether the Trump campaign helped, Trump's interactions with the FBI and anything else he wants.
"In my capacity as acting attorney general I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter," Rosenstein said in a statement. (Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump ally, has recused himself from all Russia investigations.)
This is exactly the opposite of what most Republicans in Congress had been saying needed to happen.
At the time Rosenstein appointed a special counsel, only five Senate Republicans had publicly said they were open to the idea of a more independent investigation than what Congress and the FBI were undertaking. None of them explicitly supported a special counsel. (Only the Justice Department has the authority to appoint an independent investigator, but many Democrats have been publicly urging the department to do it.)
For months, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had been saying Congress should set up a special congressional committee dedicated solely to investigating Russia, but he did not touch on the idea of a special counsel.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he'd support a special counsel only if there was a criminal matter: "If it ever becomes a criminal investigation," he said on Fox News after Trump fired Comey, "then we'll talk about a special prosecutor. You don't need a special prosecutor for counterintelligence."
(Side note: A special counsel is answerable to the Justice Department. A special prosecutor would be totally independent from the government, but a law to set up a special prosecutor expired in 1999. But the terms are often interchanged colloquially.)
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) told reporters there should be a special counsel only "if" the committees in the Senate and House investigating Russia "cannot get to answers."
Those are hardly ringing endorsements for what the Justice Department just decided to do.
In fact, up until this point, Republican leaders in Congress were saying no extra investigations were necessary:
"Today we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor the day after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, "which could only serve to impede the current work being done.”
"We have a bipartisan commitment to get to the bottom of this Russian investigation,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the Senate's No. 2, said on Fox News the same day. “Nothing will change by virtue of Director Comey's termination.”
Even Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is leading the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russia and said he was "troubled" by the firing of Comey, didn't make a move toward supporting a special counsel.
In the House of Representatives, we count 10 GOP lawmakers who were open to an independent investigation or special counsel, but almost all of them had already supported one before.
In other words: The majority of Republicans saw no need to escalate investigations into Russia — and, inevitably, to risk escalating their tensions with Trump — by supporting more investigations.
This is all despite the fact numerous polls found that a solid majority of Americans don't trust Congress to conduct its investigations fairly. A late-April NBC-WSJ poll found that 73 percent of Americans want an independent investigation.
Of course, now that the decision has been made for them, Republicans suddenly seem supportive of the idea of an independent lawyer with license to investigate what he wants for however long he wants.
As the news broke, Burr told reporters: "I think this is a good decision. By having someone like Bob Mueller head whatever investigation assures the American people that there’s no undue influence, be it here or be it at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, or within the Justice Department or FBI.”
Perhaps the most vivid 180: Just hours before the announcement, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) was chatting with a Post reporter about why he thought a special counsel could be counterproductive. (Curbelo supports a special congressional committee dedicated to only Russia.): "What if you get someone like Ken Starr, who is erratic and really takes away credibility from the process?" he asked. "That’s very dangerous.”
Minutes after the announcement, Curbelo was on MSNBC with this: "This is something every American should be celebrating today. This will get us many steps closer to the truth."
That's not how a majority of Republicans in Congress felt before Wednesday's announcement.