U.S. special counsel’s Russia probe entering new phase with first charges
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election will enter a new phase as early as today, when the first charges resulting from the probe could be unsealed and a target taken into custody.
A federal grand jury approved the indictment on Friday and a federal judge ordered it sealed, a source briefed on the matter has told Reuters, adding it could be unsealed as soon as Monday.
The indictment could mark a dramatic turn in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 race and any possible links with officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign.
The Russia investigation has cast a shadow over Trump’s 9-month-old presidency and widened the partisan rift between Republicans and Democrats.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia interfered in the election to try to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her.
Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has been looking into possible links between Trump aides and foreign governments, as well as potential money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes, according to sources familiar with the probe. He also is exploring whether Trump or his aides have tried to obstruct the investigation.
Mueller was appointed to lead the investigation a week after Trump’s May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was heading a federal probe into possible collusion with Russia. Trump initially said he fired Comey because his leadership of the FBI was inadequate. In a later interview with NBC, he cited “this Russia thing” as his reason.
Trump has denied the allegations of collusion with the Russians and called the probe “a witch hunt.” The Kremlin also has denied the allegations.