Mueller us­ing grand jury in D.C. for Rus­sia in­quiry Trump’s calls with two for­eign lead­ers were con­tentious,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chad Day and Eric Tucker

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller is us­ing a grand jury in Wash­ing­ton as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the probe.

The use of a grand jury sug­gests that Mueller and his team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors are likely to hear from wit­nesses and de­mand doc­u­ments in the coming weeks. The per­son who con­firmed that Mueller had turned to a grand jury was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by name and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The Wall Street Jour­nal first re­ported about the grand jury, quot­ing un­named peo­ple it said were fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­tiga- Hav­ing a grand jury sug­gests spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s team will hear from wit­nesses. Lawyers for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said they were not aware a grand jury had been im­pan­eled.

tion as say­ing Mueller had specif­i­cally im­pan­eled it for the pur­pose of the Rus­sia probe.

Grand ju­ries are com­mon ve­hi­cles to sub­poena wit­nesses and records, though they do not sug­gest any crim­i­nal charges are near. It was not im­me­di­ately clear how or whether the Wash­ing­ton grand jury was con­nected to the work of a sep­a­rate one in Alexan­dria, Va., that has been used to gather in­for­ma­tion on Michael Flynn, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

Mueller was a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor in Wash­ing­ton be­fore be­com­ing FBI di­rec­tor, where he spent 12 years be­fore step­ping down in 2013.

Mean­while, lawyers for Trump said they were un­aware of the ex­is­tence of a grand jury and had no in­for­ma­tion to sug­gest the pres­i­dent him­self was un­der fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“With re­spect to the news of the fed­eral grand jury, I have no rea­son to be­lieve that the pres­i­dent is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” de­fense at­tor­ney John Dowd said.

Ty Cobb, spe­cial coun­sel to the pres­i­dent, said he wasn’t aware Mueller had started us­ing a new 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.”

Mueller was ap­pointed spe­cial coun­sel in May by the Jus­tice Depart­ment fol­low­ing Trump’s fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey.

He has since as­sem­bled a team of more than a dozen in­ves­ti­ga­tors, in­clud­ing current and for­mer Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tors with ex­pe­ri­ence in in­ter­na­tional bribery, or­ga­nized crime and fi­nan­cial fraud. That team has been work­ing at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in Wash­ing­ton, so pre­sent­ing ev­i­dence in­side a fed­eral court­house in Wash­ing­ton could be more con­ve­nient for the group of in­ves­ti­ga­tors than work­ing out of Alexan­dria.

News of the grand jury came as sen­a­tors in­tro­duced two bi­par­ti­san bills aimed at pro­tect­ing Mueller from be­ing fired by Trump, with both par­ties sig­nal­ing re­sis­tance to any White House ef­fort to de­rail the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in last year’s elec­tion.

Trump’s de­fense team has been look­ing into po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est among mem­bers of Mueller’s team, such as past po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions to Democrats in­clud­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton, and Trump has warned that any ef­fort by Mueller to look into his fi­nances would fall out­side the scope of Mueller’s ap­point­ment.

Any fir­ing of Mueller would have to be done by Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein, who ap­pointed Mueller and who has said he has seen no ba­sis for dis­missal.

Trump at­tor­ney Jay Seku­low told Fox News on Thurs­day that “the pres­i­dent is not think­ing about fir­ing Robert Mueller so the spec­u­la­tion that’s out there is just in­cor­rect.”

He also down­played the sig­nif­i­cance of the grand jury, calling it “a stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure when you’ve got a sit­u­a­tion like this.”

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