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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Russia meddling in US election: Grand jury approves charges in Mueller probe, arrests could follow, says report

A Washington grand jury has approved the first charges in a probe led by independent prosecutor Robert Mueller into alleged Russia meddling in Trump’s election

world Updated: Oct 28, 2017 22:04 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 Summit in July  2017 in Hamburg.
US President Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 Summit in July 2017 in Hamburg. (AP File Photo)

First charges were reportedly filed on Friday by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections and allegations of collusion by members of then Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign team.

The CNN, which first reported the development that was picked up by other outlets despite no official confirmation yet, did not describe the charges or identify the target, or targets.

The charges were approved by a grand jury hearing testimony in the probe in a Washington DC federal court. The indictment (a list of charges) was delivered in a sealed envelope and officials made no announcements.

There were reports that arrests, also the first in this case, could follow neat week, as early as Monday or Tuesday.

These reports were based on unexpected flurry of activity at the federal court, and included the presence of top members of Mueller’s team.

Mueller, a highly-respected former FBI director, was appointed special counsel by the US justice department in May after President Trump fired then FBI director James Comey after asking him to back off on Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser sacked for lying about his interactions with Russian officials.

Mueller’s mandate is to look not only into the Russian meddling and allegation of Trump campaign collusion, but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”, which has been a matter of serious concern for the White House and the president himself, who have accused the special counsel, in what is clearly a pre-emptive manoeuvre, of conducting a “witch-hunt”.

There have been reports that the president could fire the special counsel, who was appointed by his administration, and shut down the probe, which has caused bipartisan disquiet on Capitol Hill, home to US legislature, and lawmakers have moved legislation to prevent Trump from doing that.

Trump has also explored the prospect of using his presidential pardon to protect those indicted or charged from being prosecuted and tried, including himself, according to reports. The pardon cannot protect him from impeachment, but pretty much anything else.

The president has been frustrated by the Russia probe and the shadow it has cast on his administration almost from the start, and he has denied any collusion. He had even appeared to be sceptical about the meddling at all, that had been confirmed by the country’s intelligence community.

The intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia interfered in the elections to try and help Trump defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton through a campaign of hacking and releasing embarrassing emails, and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her campaign.

CNN quoted its sources as saying that plans were prepared on Friday for “anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday”. The report said it was “unclear what the charges are”.

A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined to comment.

The Kremlin had in the past denied the charges of interfering in the US elections.

Under regulations for special investigations, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein would have been made aware of any charges before they were taken to the grand jury for approval, CNN quoted unnamed officials as saying.

On Friday, top lawyers helping to lead the probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the courtroom at the Washington federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony emanating from the investigation.

Shortly after President Trump fired Comey in May, Rosenstein appointed Mueller to head the investigation. Comey had launched the investigation in July 2016, when the campaign for the presidential election was still underway.

Trump initially said he moved against Comey because his leadership of the FBI was inadequate and hurt morale, but in a later interview with NBC, the president cited “this Russia thing” as his reason.

Investigators have scrutinised the financial ties of Trump and his associates to Russia.

Mueller’s team has also investigated foreign lobbying conducted by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as Flynn and others.

The team has sought documents and testimony from people close to Manafort and others involved in a Trump Tower meeting between the Russians and campaign officials.

Last year, the FBI investigation had secured approval from a secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of Manafort and former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Oct 28, 2017 09:30 IST

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