WASHINGTON – Catapulting the year-long probe of the Trump administration into a new phase, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is impaneling a grand jury in Washington to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Mueller is examining whether or not President Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin as part of that effort.
The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, is a sign that Mueller’s probe will likely continue for months, the Wall Street Journal revealed Thursday.
A January report from the U.S. intelligence community claims the Russian government influenced the 2016 election by hacking state election systems, leaking information from the Democratic National Committee and propagating negative stories about then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, the investigation has reportedly expanded to address possible financial crimes, CNN reported. The FBI is currently probing financial records belonging to the Trump Organization, President Trump, his family members (including Donald Trump Jr.) and his campaign associates.
“They’ve combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years,” CNN reported. “They’ve looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.”
It’s still unclear whether the FBI is also examining Trump’s tax returns.
Mueller’s decision to impanel a grand jury comes as Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced legislation Thursday that would make firing Mueller more difficult for President Trump.
The legislation would allow a special counsel to challenge the basis of a termination, with a three-judge panel ruling within 14 days on whether the firing was justified. The special counsel would resume his or her position if the panel of judges found no justifiable cause for removal.
The bill would need the president’s signature before it could become law.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a boisterous critic of President Trump, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced similar legislation Monday that would mandate the Justice Department seek approval from a federal judge before firing Mueller.
“Our bill allows judicial review of any decision to terminate a special counsel to make sure it’s done for the reasons cited in the regulation rather than political motivation. I think this will serve the country well,” Graham said in a statement.
Booker added that a special counsel should never be subjected to “interference or intimidation because of where an investigation takes them.”
Sen. Tom Coburn has come up with the answer to a Washington bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care about the Constitution or the American people: An Article V convention, which he describes in “Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government.”
The Trump White House has denied allegations of collusion with Russia and characterized Mueller’s inquiry a “witch hunt.”
The administration has also charged Mueller has conflict of interests, pointing out he is a friend of former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump in May, and the team of prosecutors Mueller has assembled are “Hillary Clinton supporters.”
“Well he’s very, very good friends with Comey. Which is very bothersome,” Trump told Fox News. “We’re going to have to see. But there has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey. And virtually everyone agrees on that.”
Comey, in fact, admitted he leaked information about private details of conversations with the president to a friend, with instructions to give it to the media in the hope of triggering the appointment of a special prosecutor, which it did.
“The people who have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters,” Trump said. “Some of them worked for Hillary Clinton. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous if you want to know the truth from that standpoint.”
Twelve attorneys from the Justice Department and FBI are working with the special counsel’s office, and three are from Mueller’s firm, WilmerHale. At least eight members of Mueller’s team have associations with the Democratic Party or have a track record of making donations to Democratic candidates, including the presidential campaigns of Obama and Clinton.
By employing a grand jury, Mueller will be able to subpoena documents, seek indictments and take witness testimony under oath.
Moscow has denied ever seeking to influence the election.
Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he wasn’t aware that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury.
“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly. … The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”
Prior to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, federal prosecutors used at least one grand jury, located in Alexandria, Virginia, to assist in their criminal investigation of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his work in the private sector on behalf of foreign interests.
While it is uncertain how long Mueller’s investigation will last, University of Texas law professor Stephen I. Vladeck contends that Mueller’s impaneling of a grand jury indicates that the special counsel is intent on engaging in a series of prosecutions.
“If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy,” Vladeck told the Wall Street Journal. “This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”
According to a recent Bloomberg News national poll, only 6 percent of respondents state that U.S. relations with Russia were the top priority. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they thought health care was the most important issue facing the country, 13 percent said unemployment was the top priority and 11 percent were most concerned about terrorism.
WND also reported just a day earlier that it appears Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh blasted intel officials for fabricating the story that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Listen (Warning: the interview contains obscenities):
The audio, almost certainly of Hersh, was first posted late Tuesday afternoon on a site called Big League Politics. It went viral after it was linked on Twitter by WikiLeaks.
Hersh did not disavow what he said about the Russia collusion narrative.
On the recording, the reporter called the entire story that the Trump presidential campaign and transition team colluded with Russia “a Brennan operation.”
Hersh accused former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and current NSA Director Michael Rogers of peddling “disinformation.”
And he added, “Trump’s not wrong to think they all f—ing lied about him.”
Hersh suggested Rogers falsely told the press that U.S. intelligence agencies knew who in the Russian military intelligence service “leaked it,” in apparent reference to the hacked DNC emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Hersh ascribed a simple motive to the alleged subterfuge by top spies: They wanted to keep their jobs by assuring Clinton won the presidential election.
“With Trump they’re gone. You know, they’re done – they’re going to live on their pensions, they’re not going to make it.”
Sen. Tom Coburn has come up with the answer to a Washington bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care about the Constitution, or American people: An Article V convention, which he describes in “Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government.”