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Trump ‘being investigated for obstruction of justice’

The obstruction of justice investigation into Trump began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter, the Washington Post said.

world Updated: Jun 16, 2017 00:38 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Russia,US Probe
U.S. President Donald Trump attacked what he called a “phony story” on Thursday after a report that he is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice by the special counsel probing alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (AP File Photo)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading FBI’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible collusion by campaign aides of Donald Trump, has invited top intelligence officials for interviews this week, a move seen as an indication that he may be investigating possible obstruction of justice by the president.

While the office of Trump’s outside counsel, who is leading the the president’s defense team on Russia probe, rubbished the report as an “outrageous, inexcusable and illegal” leak on Wednesday, the president followed up with extra vitriol on Thursday, attacking Mueller, a man widely respected on both sides of the aisle.

Arguing that the “obstruction of justice” allegation was based on a “phony” story about collusion with the Russians, Trump tweeted, “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Though he did not name anyone, the reference was unmistakably to the special counsel who is understood to have put together a formidable team of prosecutors that has unnerved the White House, which was seen to be slow recently to dispute reports that Trump was considering firing Mueller.

Mueller wants to speak to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, National Security Agency director Mike Rogers and former deputy director of NSA Richard Ledgett about Trump’s alleged attempts to squash the FBI’s investigations into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia dealings.

It marks a significant “turning point”, as characterised by The Washington Post that first reported the move, with Trump personally coming under investigation now, contrary to assurances he had privately received from FBI director James Comey he fired for, among other reasons, not saying so publicly.

The allegation of “obstruction of justice” is different from collusion with Russian meddling, about which Trump had been cleared by Comey multiple times, including in his testimony to a Senate committee.

Trump cited those and other clean chits frequently to push back against the controversy that has dogged his presidency from the very start.

Though there was no announcement from Mueller’s office or the FBI about this new development, the office of Trump’s outside counsel dealing with the Russia probe did not deny it while rubbishing it in a statement. And the NSA has said it will “fully cooperate with the special counsel”.

Trump is reported to have had asked both Coats and Rogers to, one, try and influence and persuade the FBI to give up its Flynn probe and, two, publicly announce the president was not under investigation personally.

Both of them turned him down, as did Comey on both counts according to his testimony.

Coats and Rogers have refused to discuss their conversations with the president and did so despite coming under considerable pressure at a recent hearing of the senate intelligence committee, but refusing to participate in an FBI probe and refusing to answer questions are two completely different issues.

First Published: Jun 15, 2017 20:09 IST