White House braces for Mueller’s next move

The Korea Times - - WORLD - WASH­ING­TON (AP) WASH­ING­TON (Reuters)

— The White House is brac­ing for the probe of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to fire up again. Trump’s ad­vis­ers are pri­vately ex­press­ing wor­ries that the spe­cial coun­sel, who’s been out of the news for the past month, has been stealth­ily com­pil­ing in­for­ma­tion and could soon is­sue new in­dict­ments or a damn­ing fi­nal re­port.

Trump abruptly al­tered the chain of com­mand above Mueller on Wed­nes­day, putting his work un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a Repub­li­can loy­al­ist who has been openly skep­ti­cal of the spe­cial coun­sel’s au­thor­ity and has mused about ways to cur­tail his power. But Trump and his aides are con­cerned about Mueller’s next move with the work that is com­plete, ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial and a Repub­li­can with close ties to the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

They in­sisted on anonymity to com­ment on con­ver­sa­tions they were not au­tho­rized to de­scribe.

Mueller lay low for the past month as vot­ers were mulling their choices for this week’s elec­tions.

But a flurry of ac­tiv­ity dur­ing his quiet pe­riod, in­clud­ing weeks of grand jury tes­ti­mony about Trump con­fi­dant Roger Stone and ne­go­ti­a­tions over an in­ter­view with the pres­i­dent, hinted at pub­lic de­vel­op­ments ahead as in­ves­ti­ga­tors move closer to ad­dress­ing key ques­tions un­der­pin­ning the spe­cial coun­sel in­quiry: Did Trump il­le­gally ob­struct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion? And did his cam­paign have ad­vance knowl­edge of il­le­gally hacked Demo­cratic emails?

Trump has told con­fi­dants he re­mains deeply an­noyed by the 18-month-old Mueller probe, be­liev­ing it is not just a “witch hunt” but an ex­pen­sive and lengthy neg­a­tive dis­trac­tion. The lat­est in­di­ca­tion of the fury came Wed­nes­day when he forced out his at­tor­ney gen­eral, Jeff Ses­sions, whose re­cusal opened the door to Mueller’s ap­point­ment.

To this point, Trump has heeded ad­vice not to di­rectly in­ter­fere, though a new chap­ter in the rela- tion­ship with the probe may have be­gun with the ap­point­ment of Matthew Whi­taker as new act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral. Even if Whi­taker, Ses­sions’ for­mer chief of staff, does not cur­tail the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Trump could di­rect him to take a more ag­gres­sive stance in de­clas­si­fy­ing doc­u­ments that could fur­ther un­der­mine or mud­dle the probe, the White House aide and Repub­li­can of­fi­cial said.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­til now has been over­seen by Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein, who ap­pointed Mueller last year and granted him fairly broad au­thor­ity.

“It’s very sig­nif­i­cant be­cause Whi­taker’s po­si­tion on in­dict­ments or fu­ture in­dict­ments may be dif­fer­ent than Rosen­stein’s, and Rosen­stein had given Mueller a broad man­date to pur­sue var­i­ous crimes,” said Wash­ing­ton crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer Jef­frey Ja­cobovitz.

The Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion has so far pro­duced 32 crim­i­nal charges and four guilty pleas from Trump as­so­ci­ates. But the work is not done.

Democrats seek hear­ings

— Con­gres­sional Democrats on Thurs­day de­manded emer­gency hear­ings in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to in­ves­ti­gate Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ouster of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, call­ing the move an ef­fort to un­der­mine a fed­eral probe into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion.

Trump forced the res­ig­na­tion of Ses­sions on Wed­nes­day, a day af­ter elec­tions in which his fel­low Repub­li­cans lost con­trol of the House but in­creased their ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate.

In a let­ter say­ing the move placed the coun­try “in the throes of a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis,” House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Democrats de­manded ac­tion from the panel’s Repub­li­can Chair­man Bob Good­latte, and called for bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller from any ef­fort to stymie the probe.

A spokes­woman for Good­latte had no com­ment on the let­ter.

AP-Yon­hap

Protesters gather in front of the White House in Wash­ing­ton, Thurs­day, as part of a na­tion­wide “Pro­tect Mueller” cam­paign de­mand­ing that Act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew Whi­taker re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing the on­go­ing spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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