Rus­sia grand jury con­vened

Mueller assem­bles a crim­i­nal panel to look into in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By David S. Cloud­

WASH­ING­TON — Spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III has con­vened a crim­i­nal grand jury to in­ves­ti­gate Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and is fo­cus­ing on Don­ald Trump Jr.’s meet­ing last year with a Rus­sian lawyer who promised dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Democrats, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the in­quiry.

The im­pan­el­ing of a new grand jury in Wash­ing­ton in­di­cates that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged links be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign aides and Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence is en­ter­ing a new stage that is likely to in­clude calling wit­nesses to tes­tify un­der oath, the per­son said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing for Mueller, who was ap­pointed in May, have con­tacted and re­ceived records from sev­eral of the eight peo­ple who at­tended a meet­ing at New York’s Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.

In ad­di­tion to Trump’s old­est son, the group in­cluded the pres­i­dent’s sonin-law and now se­nior ad­vi­sor, Jared Kush­ner; Trump’s cam­paign man­ager at the time, Paul Manafort; and a Rus­sian lawyer, Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya.

In a rally Thurs­day night in Hunt­ing­ton, W.Va., the pres­i­dent again de­nounced what he called the “to­tally made-up Rus­sia story.”

He re­it­er­ated his charge that Democrats are stok­ing the Rus­sia al­le­ga­tions as “just an ex­cuse for the great­est loss in the his­tory of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.”

“What the pros­e­cu­tors should be look­ing at are Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 33,000 deleted emails,” the pres­i­dent said, pro­vok­ing whoops and chants of “Lock her up.” He con­tin­ued by say­ing pros­e­cu­tors should also ex­am­ine her paid speeches and fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests.

The House and Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion and whether there was col­lu­sion with Trump’s cam­paign.

Mueller “be­lieves there is a need to im­panel a grand jury so he can read­ily is­sue sub­poe­nas, gather tes­ti­mony, and com­pel in­di­vid­u­als to tes­tify re­gard­ing what they know about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion, the Trump cam­paign, and likely a host of fi­nan­cial mat­ters,” Sen. Jack Reed (DR.I.), a mem­ber of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said late Thurs­day.

“Th­ese are gravely se­ri­ous is­sues,” he added.

The Wall Street Jour­nal first re­ported Thurs­day that Mueller had con­vened a grand jury. It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear whether it has taken over from a sep­a­rate grand jury in Virginia that was known to be in­ves­ti­gat­ing con­tacts be­tween Rus­sia and Michael Flynn, who re­signed as Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor in Fe­bru­ary.

Reuters sub­se­quently re­ported that the new grand jury re­cently is­sued sub­poe­nas in con­nec­tion with the Trump Tower meet­ing.

Con­ven­ing a grand jury does not mean Mueller is pre­par­ing crim­i­nal charges or is close to do­ing so. It may in­di­cate he be­lieves it is the proper venue for an ex­pand­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion fo­cus­ing on sev­eral mem­bers of Trump’s fam­ily, as well as current and for­mer aides.

It may also in­di­cate that Mueller be­lieves the Demo­cratic-lean­ing cap­i­tal of­fers a more sym­pa­thetic jury pool if he ul­ti­mately opts to bring charges.

Ty Cobb, a lawyer for the pres­i­dent, said in a state­ment re­leased by the White House that he was un­aware of 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.”

He added, “The White House is com­mit­ted to fully co­op­er­at­ing with Mr. Mueller.”

Cobb’s state­ment also said that for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in May, said three times that the pres­i­dent was not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion “and we have no rea­son to be­lieve that has changed.”

Trump has made clear his anger that Atty. Gen. Jeff Ses­sions re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Fe­bru­ary af­ter it was re­vealed he had met sev­eral times with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador last year.

Rod Rosen­stein, the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, then took charge of the in­quiry. But shortly af­ter Trump fired Comey for what the pres­i­dent later called “this Rus­sia thing,” Rosen­stein ap­pointed Mueller to limit the abil­ity of the White House to in­ter­fere with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Cor­nell Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Jens David Oh­lin said the con­ven­ing of the grand jury in­di­cated that Mueller’s in­quiry was grow­ing more se­ri­ous.

“This sug­gests the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will end with in­dict­ments,” Oh­lin said.

“If there was any sug­ges­tion that Mueller was go­ing to sim­ply sub­mit a re­port to Congress and al­low the po­lit­i­cal process to di­gest his find­ings, that seems un­likely now,” he added. “This is a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the fullest sense of the term.”

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