By Chris Strohm , Shannon Pettypiece , David Voreacos , and Laura Litvan
Special counsel Robert Mueller is using a federal grand jury in Washington to help collect information as he probes Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates, according to three people familiar with the investigation.
Mueller is turning to the Washington grand jury in addition to one in Alexandria, Virginia, that’s already been involved in the inquiry, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a sensitive legal matter. During a speech at a rally in West Virginia later Thursday, the president would lash out once again at the investigation, calling it a “total fabrication.”
A grand jury helps prosecutors determine whether to bring criminal charges or indictments against a defendant. It can issue subpoenas for documents, and witnesses who testify are under oath and can be prosecuted for not being truthful. It’s not clear whether the Washington grand jury has begun hearing from witnesses.
Mueller’s office declined to comment, his spokesman, Joshua Stueve, said in an email. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday 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 also said,“President Trump is not under investigation.”
In recent weeks, Mueller expanded the focus of his probe 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 probe.
Investigators also are looking into the business dealings of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, according to two other people familiar with the investigation. All of the people 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 during which 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.
The Russia investigation has infuriated Trump, frequently provoking outbursts on Twitter and in remarks. At a rally Thursday night in West Virginia, he told a cheering crowd that the allegation about collusion with Russia is a “total fabrication” and that it’s being pushed by Democrats angered by their loss in the November election.
“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 said. “They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you won with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and, most importantly, demeaning to our country and to the Constitution.”
But it’s not just Democrats raising the issue. Concerns that Trump wants to replace Mueller prompted bipartisan efforts in the Senate to sponsor legislation “allowing judicial review” if a special counsel is removed. According to one measure sponsored by Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Chris Coons, 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 Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat.
Coons told reporters that he will contact Graham, Booker and leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee about working on a combined measure.
In the meantime, Coons said the Senate’s plan to hold “pro-forma” sessions during the August recess might allow action on legislation if the president were to act against Mueller while lawmakers are away.
Lawmakers in both parties have grown alarmed after Trump became publicly critical of Mueller. The president’s legal team is looking into potential conflicts involving some of Mueller’s investigators, including whether they made donations to the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump has also publicly warned that it would be inappropriate if Mueller digs into his family’s finances.
— With assistance by Billy House, Justin Sink, Tom Schoenberg, and Jennifer Jacobs