Robert Mueller establishes grand jury in Russia probe
Thursday - 03/08/2017 19:16
SPECIAL counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate allegations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, citing two unnamed people familiar with the matter.
The grand jury began its work in recent weeks and is a sign that Mueller’s inquiry into Russia’s efforts to influence the election and whether it colluded with President Trump’s campaign is ramping up, the Journal said.
Mueller impaneling a grand jury is a sign the Russia inquiry is ramping up and will likely continue for monthshttps://t.co/VCl448Dz7k
A formal statement from the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says Ty Cobb, the special counsel to the president, “wasn’t aware” that a grand jury was being used.
“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” he said. “The White House favours anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly ...”
The White House statement repeated its previous assertions that “Former FBI Director Jim Comey said three times the Presdient is not under investigation and we have no reason to believe that has change.”
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT
It’s being reported that the grand jury has already issued subpoenas related to the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr, a Russian lawyer, and a representative of a Russian billionaire. In May, subpoenas were issued to associates of former national security adviser, and key Trump campaigner, Michael Flynn.
CNN reports the federal investigator is focusing on the financial trail between Trump, his associates and Moscow.
Unnamed sources reportedly say the money trail provides a more ‘concrete path’ towards a potential prosecution than ‘murkier’ allegations of collusion.
Trump has publicly warned Mueller that his financial dealings should be out of bounds and investigating them would cross a red line.
PATH TO IMPEACHMENT
The establishment of a grand jury will allow Mueller — a former FBI director — to subpoena documents and get testimony under oath, as well as issue possible indictments.
“It’s a significant escalation of the process,” national security lawyer Bradley Moss told AFP.
“You don’t empanel a grand jury unless your investigation has discovered enough evidence that you feel reflects a violation of at least one, if not more, criminal provisions,” he said.
“If you secure an indictment, your next step is to arrest the defendant.”
The FBI initiated the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 US election a year ago. Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to pursue the evidence earlier this year. FBI investigations of cyber breaches in US political organisations began as early as 2015.
President Trump has been reluctant to reveal details of his business detailings, refusing to release his tax returns in what has been a longstanding US presidential tradition.
RUSSIA RELATIONS AT ‘DANGEROUS LOW’
It comes as Mr Trump tweeted that relations between Washington and Moscow had hit an all-time and “very dangerous” low after he approved sanctions against Russia passed by Congress.
“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare!
“You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”, he added in reference to a recent defeat in the Senate on his health reform plans.
Yesterday, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev posted inflammatory statements to social media in response to the passing of tough new sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow for interfering with the 2016 US election.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has attacked Donald Trump. Picture: APSource:AP
The President reluctantly signed the sanctions into law overnight after the US Congress passed the motion by a margin Mr Trump could not overrule.
“It ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration,” Mr Medvedev states, targeting Mr Trump’s repeated assertions that he wishes to do exactly that.
“Second, it’s a declaration of a full-fledged economic war on Russia,” he adds.
The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way
But Mr Medvedev’s sting was in an attack on the US democratic process — and Mr Trump’s ego.
“The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way. This changes the power balance in US political circles.”
“The US establishment fully outwitted Trump; The President is not happy about the new sanctions, yet he could not but sign the bill.”
Mr Medvedev states the move was a “way to knock Trump down a peg”.
“New steps are to come, and they will ultimately aim to remove him from power.”
BIPARTISAN MOVE TO SAVE MUELLER FROM BEING FIRED
Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s job, putting forth new legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations.
Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation today.
The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.
The bill would be retroactive to May 17, 2017 — the day Mr Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Mr Trump’s campaign.
“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Sen. Tillis said in a statement. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”
Mr Mueller was appointed as special counsel following Mr Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Mr Mueller, who was Comey’s predecessor as FBI director, has assembled a team of prosecutors and lawyers with experience in financial fraud, national security and organised crime to investigate contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Mr Trump has been critical of Mr Mueller since his appointment, and the president’s legal team is looking into potential conflicts surrounding the team Mr Mueller has hired, including the backgrounds of members and political contributions by some members to Hillary Clinton.
He has also publicly warned Mr Mueller that he would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family’s finances.
Mr Mueller has strong support on Capitol Hill. Senators in both parties have expressed concerns that Mr Trump may try to fire Mr Mueller and have warned him not to do so.
“Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation,” Sen. Coons said.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another member of the Judiciary panel, said last week that he was working on a similar bill that would prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review.
Sen. Graham said then that firing Mr Mueller “would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions.”
The Tillis and Coons bill would allow review after the special counsel had been dismissed.
If the panel found there was no good cause for the counsel’s removal, the person would be immediately reinstated.
n addition, only the Attorney-General or the most senior Justice Department official in charge of the matter could fire the special counsel.
In the case of the current investigation, Rosenstein is charged with Mr Mueller’s fate because Attorney-General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters having to do with the Trump-Russia investigation.