Mueller im­pan­els grand jury to probe Rus­sia elec­tion role

Can com­pel tes­ti­mony on Trump son’s meet­ing with lawyer

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE AND S.A. MILLER

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller has im­pan­eled a grand jury to is­sue sub­poe­nas and com­pel wit­ness tes­ti­mony as he probes Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, in­clud­ing a June 2016 meet­ing be­tween Don­ald Trump Jr. and a Rus­sian lawyer, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

The move is not sur­pris­ing, said le­gal an­a­lysts, de­scrib­ing it as a nat­u­ral step that al­lows Mr. Mueller to have ac­cess to ev­i­dence needed for a crim­i­nal probe.

“In a case like this, where you have a lot of doc­u­ments that are go­ing be nec­es­sary, grand jury sub­poe­nas are a pretty early phe­nom­e­non,” said Philip Allen La­co­vara, a for­mer U.S. deputy so­lic­i­tor gen­eral who served as coun­sel to Water­gate spe­cial pros­e­cu­tors.

The grand jury is sit­ting in Wash­ing­ton and has been ac­tive for sev­eral weeks, The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported.

In re­sponse, Mr. Trump railed against the ac­cu­sa­tions of col­lu­sion, telling a rally in West Virginia that the en­tire Rus­sia nar­ra­tive was a ruse by Democrats try­ing to re­verse their un­ex­pected losses in Novem­ber.

“Demo­crat law­mak­ers will have to de­cide. They can con­tinue their ob­ses­sion with the Rus­sian hoax, or they can serve the in­ter­ests of the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” the pres­i­dent told the thou­sands of sup­port­ers who filled an arena in Hunt­ing­ton.

“They are ty­ing to cheat you out of the lead­er­ship you want with a fake story that is de­mean­ing to all of us and most im­por­tantly de­mean­ing to our coun­try and de­mean­ing to our Con­sti­tu­tion,” he said. “I just hope that the fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion is a truly hon­est one, which is what the mil­lions of peo­ple who gave us our big win in Novem­ber de­serve.”

Reuters re­ported that the spe­cial coun­sel has al­ready used the grand jury to sub­poena records re­lated to Mr. Trump’s el­dest son and his meet­ing with Rus­sian lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Grand ju­ries con­duct their work in se­cret, with news of their ac­tions typ­i­cally break­ing only when they re­turn crim­i­nal in­dict­ments. While pros­e­cu­tors ask grand ju­ries to con­sider whether there is ev­i­dence to in­dict some­one of a crime, an­a­lysts say, the im­pan­el­ment of one in the Rus­sia case is not an in­di­ca­tion that an in­dict­ment is likely or im­mi­nent.

Spe­cial coun­sel spokesman Joshua Stueve de­clined to com­ment on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Jay Seku­low, an at­tor­ney for Pres­i­dent Trump, said a grand jury was not a cause for alarm.

“With re­spect to the im­pan­el­ing of the grand jury, we have no rea­son to be­lieve that the pres­i­dent is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said in a state­ment to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The White House con­firmed this week that Mr. Trump helped craft his son’s state­ment that in­di­cated the meet­ing was about Rus­sian adop­tions and not the cam­paign or other re­lated is­sues.

The pres­i­dent’s son later re­leased email cor­re­spon­dence that showed he agreed to the meet­ing af­ter be­ing promised com­pro­mis­ing in­for­ma­tion on Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Be­fore Mr. Mueller was ap­pointed to over­see the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a grand jury was as­sem­bled in Alexan­dria, Virginia, to con­sider ev­i­dence against for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn. It is un­clear what hap­pened to that grand jury or why Mr. Mueller opted to use a panel in Wash­ing­ton.

The shift could be one of con­ve­nience — Mr. Mueller and his team have of­fice space in Wash­ing­ton — or it could be that ac­tions un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, such as Mr. Trump’s dis­missal of FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey, took place in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal and make it the right venue to pur­sue po­ten­tial crimes.

Ty Cobb, spe­cial coun­sel to the pres­i­dent, said he wasn’t aware that Mr. Mueller had started us­ing a grand jury.

“Grand jury mat­ters are typ­i­cally se­cret,” Mr. 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.”

He noted that Mr. Comey said three times that the pres­i­dent was not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and Mr. Trump’s team has no rea­son to be­lieve that has changed.

But Democrats saw the news as con­fir­ma­tion that the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion is not a “witch hunt,” as Mr. Trump has called it.

“As the in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­ceeds, it is more im­por­tant than ever that all of our lead­ers draw a line in the sand and make clear to the pres­i­dent that he must re­spect the rule of law and re­frain from con­tin­u­ing the pat­tern of threats and in­ter­fer­ence he has en­gaged in over the past sev­eral months,” said Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee CEO Jess O’Con­nell. “The Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve an­swers, and they de­serve a pres­i­dent who will al­low our sys­tem of jus­tice to pro­duce them.”

A bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers did take ac­tion Thurs­day to pro­tect the in­tegrity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sens. Thom Til­lis, North Carolina Repub­li­can, and Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Demo­crat, in­tro­duced a bill that would write into law current depart­ment guide­lines govern­ing who can fire a spe­cial coun­sel and make them retroac­tive to this year’s ap­point­ment of Mr. Mueller.

The bill also would cre­ate a ju­di­cial re­view should a pres­i­dent try to re­move a spe­cial coun­sel. That way, if Mr. Mueller or any fu­ture spe­cial coun­sel is fired, then the de­ci­sion could be chal­lenged be­fore a spe­cial panel of three fed­eral judges.

“It is crit­i­cal that spe­cial coun­sels have the in­de­pen­dence and re­sources they need to lead in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” Mr. Til­lis said. “A back-end ju­di­cial re­view process to pre­vent un­mer­ited re­movals of spe­cial coun­sels not only helps to en­sure their in­ves­ti­ga­tory in­de­pen­dence, but also reaf­firms our na­tion’s sys­tem of check and bal­ances.”

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