U.S. grand jury in use by Mueller
D.C. panel second he enlists to get Russia-inquiry data
WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller is using a federal grand jury in Washington to help collect information as he investigates Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates, several people familiar with the investigation confirmed Thursday.
Mueller is using the Washington panel in addition to one in Alexandria, Va., that’s already been involved in the inquiry, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive legal matter. The grand jury in Alexandria has been used to gather information on Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Grand juries are common vehicles to subpoena witnesses and records, although their use does not suggest any criminal charges are near.
Mueller’s office declined to comment, his spokesman, Joshua Stueve, said in an email. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the special counsel’s use of a Washington grand jury.
Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said in a statement issued by the White House that he wasn’t aware that Mueller was using a Washington grand jury.
“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly” and “is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.” He said “we have no reason to believe” that Trump is under investigation personally.
John Dowd, an outside lawyer for Trump, said he hasn’t received any communication from a grand jury and that “President Trump is not under investigation.”
In recent weeks, Mueller expanded the focus of his investigation to examine a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the inquiry.
Investigators also are looking into the business dealings of Trump’s son-inlaw, Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and his
former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, according to two other people familiar with the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the continuing probe.
Mueller also has asked the White House to preserve all communications related to a June 2016 meeting where the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort met with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin.
Mueller was appointed special counsel in May by the Justice Department after the firing by Trump of FBI Director James Comey. Mueller 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 a federal courthouse there would provide a closer hub than Alexandria for presenting evidence.
‘FABRICATION,’ TRUMP SAYS
At a Thursday night rally in Huntington, W.Va., Trump dismissed allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia as “a total fabrication,” blaming the ongoing controversy on Democrats who still can’t get over the 2016 election results.
The Russia investigation has infuriated Trump, frequently provoking outbursts on Twitter, where he has railed against the probe as a “phony Russian witch hunt” and “fake news.”
“The reason why Democrats only talk about the totally made-up Russia story is because they have no message, no agenda and no vision,” Trump declared to an arena filled with supporters. “The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about.”
The rally kicked off with West Virginia’s Democratic governor, Jim Justice, informing the crowd that he was switching parties to join the GOP, citing his and Trump’s shared goal of getting things done. “He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia,” Justice said.
Trump made no mention of Mueller in his remarks, but appeared to refer to his and congressional investigations into the matter, saying: “I just hope the final determination is truly an honest one.”
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.
In the Senate, concerns that Trump might want to replace Mueller prompted bipartisan efforts to sponsor legislation, presented Thursday, “allowing judicial review” if a special counsel is removed. According to one measure sponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., if a panel of judges finds no good cause for the removal, the individual would be immediately reinstated as special counsel.
“This reflects in my view a broader bipartisan concern that the president may take inappropriate action to interfere with the ongoing, important work of Bob Mueller,” Coons told reporters.
A separate bill would allow only the attorney general or acting attorney general to fire a special counsel for proper cause, and provides for such action to be reviewed by a panel of federal judges. It was introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Coons told reporters that he would contact Graham, Booker and leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee about working on a combined measure.
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.”
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 in recent weeks had also berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from issues related to the Russia probe, saying he wouldn’t have picked the former Alabama senator for the job if he thought Sessions would make that decision.
But new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Sessions in a phone call over the weekend that Trump doesn’t intend to fire him and that his position is safe, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
FLYNN, FIRM TIES
Flynn, whose business deals and foreign connections are under investigation in relation to the Russia investigation, revealed a brief advisory role with a firm related to a data
analysis company that aided the Trump campaign, The Associated Press has learned.
The disclosure of Flynn’s link to Cambridge Analytica came late Thursday in an amended public financial filing in which the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general also discloses income that includes payments from the Trump transition team, according to a person close to Flynn who spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday to describe details of the filing to be made to the White House.
Democratic lawmakers and Trump critics have seized on Cambridge Analytica’s role as they’ve pushed congressional investigators to scrutinize the Trump campaign’s data operation as part of the Russia probe.
The amended disclosure shows that just before the end of the presidential campaign, Flynn entered into a consulting agreement with SCL Group, a Virginia company related to Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining and analysis firm that worked with Trump’s campaign.
Cambridge Analytica was heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund manager who also backed the campaign and other conservative candidates and causes. Cambridge Analytica also worked for the successful pro-“Leave” campaign in 2016 to pull Britain out of the European Union. Trump administration chief strategist Steve Bannon was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica before he joined the Trump campaign.
The AP source said Flynn didn’t perform work or accept payment as part of the agreement with SCL Group. The details of Flynn’s role with SCL weren’t specified, the person said, noting that Flynn terminated his involvement shortly after Trump won the presidency.
Flynn’s amended filing comes about six months after he was ousted from the White House for misleading the vice president about conversations he had with the former Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Flynn’s previous filing, submitted to the White House and Office of Government Ethics in March, listed some $1.3 million in earnings, including between $50,000 and $100,000 from his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group Inc.
The person close to Flynn said he is disclosing the information in an amended filing to make sure the “public record is accurate and transparent.”
Information for this article was contributed by Chad Day, Eric Tucker, Stephen Braun, John Raby and Bill Barrow of The Associated Press; by Chris Strohm, Shannon Pettypiece, David Voreacos, Laura Litvan, Billy House, Justin Sink and Tom Schoenberg of Bloomberg News; and by John Wagner of The Washington Post.