Trump slams Rus­sia probe as ‘witch hunt’ af­ter jury move


The Nation - - WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON was abuzz over re­ports that a grand jury has charged at least one per­son stem­ming from the US probe of Rus­sia’s at­tempts to tilt the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Don­ald Trump’s favour.

But Trump, in a rapid burst of tweets, again de­nounced the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a “witch hunt” and re­peated his de­nials of any col­lu­sion with Rus­sia.

For­mer Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion chief Robert Mueller, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case, is em­pow­ered to pur­sue not only Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence but any other crimes his large team of pros­e­cu­tors should un­cover.

But Chris Christie, a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor close to Trump, said on Sun­day on ABC that “the im­por­tant thing for the Amer­i­can peo­ple to know is the pres­i­dent is not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And no one has told him that he is”.

It was not clear the New Jersey gov­er­nor would know whether Trump is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated; he may have been re­fer­ring to ear­lier com­ments by for­mer FBI chief James Comey.

But Christie told CNN that any­one who has been ad­vised by Mueller’s of­fice that they are a tar­get of the in­quiry “should be con­cerned”.

Typ­i­cally, such a wide- rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion would first tar­get low­er­level peo­ple while build­ing a case against those higher up. Some­times early in­dict­ments are used to pres­sure po­ten­tial wit­nesses into turn­ing against others.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, de­murred when asked whether Trump was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “I can’t an­swer that one way or the other,” he told ABC on Sun­day (yes­ter­day Thai­land time).

But he men­tioned two pos­si­ble tar­gets on whom much spec­u­la­tion has fo­cused: for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn and for­mer Trump cam­paign di­rec­tor Paul Man­afort, both of them once in­volved in un­de­clared lob­by­ing for for­eign in­ter­ests.

Buz­zfeed re­ported on Sun­day that the FBI is prob­ing a se­ries of wire trans­fers linked to Man­afort that saw off­shore com­pa­nies move more than $3 mil­lion (Bt99.6 mil­lion) be­tween 2012 and 2013. Flagged as sus­pi­cious by US fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, some of the 13 trans­fers Buz­zfeed ob­tained de­tails of in­volved wires of large sums from Ukraine.

Ac­cord­ing to the news site, fed­eral law en­force­ment was aware of such trans­fers as far back as 2012, when they be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Man­afort com­mit­ted tax fraud or helped the Ukrainian regime – close to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin – laun­der money.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb told The New York Times that Trump felt con­fi­dent that nei­ther Flynn nor Man­afort had dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion to of­fer pros­e­cu­tors.

“The pres­i­dent has no con­cerns in terms of any im­pact, as to what hap­pens to them, on his cam­paign or on the White House,” Cobb said in an in­ter­view. He as­serted that Trump’s lat­est tweets were “un­re­lated to the ac­tiv­i­ties of the spe­cial coun­sel, with whom he con­tin­ues to co­op­er­ate”.

Step­ping up at­tacks

As the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion nears a dra­matic new phase, Repub­li­can of­fi­cials and con­ser­va­tive me­dia have stepped up at­tacks on Democrats – above all on Trump’s for­mer ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton – which Democrats dis­miss as bla­tant at­tempts to di­vert at­ten­tion.

Trump, in his tweets on Sun­day, again com­plained of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s han­dling of emails while sec­re­tary of state, of Demo­cratic Party fund­ing of what he said was a “fake” dossier on Trump’s back­ground, and of a US sale dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of ura­nium rights to Rus­sia.

“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clin­ton, and now the facts are pour­ing out. DO SOME­THING!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s men­tion of the “fake” dossier ap­peared to re­fer to rev­e­la­tions that the Clin­ton cam­paign and Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee had funded part of the re­search by a for­mer Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence agent into pos­si­ble links be­tween Trump, his col­lab­o­ra­tors and Rus­sia.

In the ura­nium case, Rus­sian nu­clear en­ergy agency Rosatom sought in 2010 to buy a share in Toronto-based Ura­nium One, which has min­ing stakes in the United States. A panel of nine US gov­ern­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing the State De­part­ment, ap­proved the sale, though Clin­ton says she was “not per­son­ally in­volved”.

As Mueller’s in­quiry ad­vances, there have been calls from a few Repub­li­cans – and from the con­ser­va­tive ed­i­to­rial board of The Wall Street Jour­nal – for him to re­sign. Christie cau­tioned on Sun­day that the for­mer FBI chief should be “very, very care­ful” about pro­ceed­ing with trans­parency and cred­i­bil­ity. Democrats mean­time have warned that if Trump were to fire Mueller – or is­sue pre­emp­tive par­dons to any­one caught in his net – it would be cross­ing a dan­ger­ous line, po­ten­tially spark­ing a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump meets with chil­dren of mem­bers of the press for Hal­loween in the Oval Of­fice of the White House in Wash­ing­ton, DC. In his tweets on Sun­day, Trump again com­plained of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s han­dling of emails while she was sec­re­tary...

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