No end in sight for multiple investigations
WASHINGTON — Late last year, lawyers for President Trump expressed optimism that special counsel Robert Mueller was nearing the end of his probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
But if there was hope in the White House that Trump might be moving past an investigation that has dogged his presidency from the start, 2018 is beginning without signs of abatement. In fact, the new year set off a flurry of developments in the probes by Mueller and Congress ranging in importance from the minor to the ominous.
In a remarkable broadside against a fellow conservative, two Republican House members called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, criticizing his Justice Department for not cooperating with Congress and for leaks related to its Russia investigation.
Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio criticized Sessions in an opinion piece published Jan. 4 on the Washington Examiner’s website. The headline said: “It’s time for Jeff Sessions to go.”
They wrote that Sessions “has recused himself from the Russia investigation, but it would appear he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world.”
Sessions, who was part of Trump’s presidential campaign, stepped aside last year from the department’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sessions’ deputy, Rod Rosenstein, later appointed Mueller to take over the probe. A Sessions resignation would allow Trump to appoint a new attorney general, who would assume oversight of the probe from Rosenstein.
A day after the lawmakers’ opinion piece, it emerged that Trump had tried to keep Sessions from recusing himself. The report that Trump directed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to press Sessions just before he announced he would step aside added a new layer for the investigation.
The episode is known to Mueller and his team of prosecutors and is likely of interest to them as they look into whether Trump’s actions as president, including the May firing of FBI Director James Comey, amount to improper efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation. Investigators recently concluded a round of interviews with current and former White House officials, including McGahn.
Last week, it emerged that Mueller’s team has broached the prospect of an interview with Trump, prompting speculation about when, or if, that might happen and under what terms.
The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Mueller had indicated interest in eventually speaking with Trump as the team investigates possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign and the potential of obstruction of justice.
Although White House lawyers have pledged their cooperation in the past several months, Trump said last week that it “seems unlikely” that he’ll be interviewed and that “we’ll see what happens.”
In a sign that congressional probes are becoming ever more partisan, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee broke with the panel’s Republican chairman Tuesday by releasing on her own the transcript of a closed-door interview with Glenn Simpson. He is the cofounder of a political research firm that commissioned what became a dossier of allegations about Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she acted because “the American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves,” though committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called the move “confounding” and said it could undermine attempts to interview additional witnesses.
According to the transcript, Simpson said the former British spy who put together the dossier — essentially a compilation of memos — brought the document to the FBI in July 2016 because he was worried about “whether a political candidate was being blackmailed.” According to Simpson, ex-spy Christopher Steele flew to Rome to meet an FBI agent stationed there for his second debriefing before the November election. He said the FBI contact told Steele that there was renewed interest in his research because the bureau had corroborated some of the material. That testimony undercut Republican allegations that the dossier initiated the FBI’s Russia probe.
Trump has dismissed the dossier as false and a political hit job, and several Republican-led congressional committees are investigating the role the dossier played in the initial stages of the FBI’s investigation.
In a tweet Wednesday, Trump accused Feinstein of being “underhanded and a disgrace” for disclosing details of Simpson’s testimony about the dossier and its allegations about his ties to Russia during the presidential campaign.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has broached the prospect of interviewing President Trump, prompting speculation about when, or if, that might happen.