Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is a former FBI Director, has impanelled a grand jury to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential polls, media reports said.
The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report the news, said this is a sign his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase. The CNN in another report said that Mueller’s investigation has now widened to focus on possible financial crimes.
In a statement, Ty Cobb, special counsel to the President, said he wasn’t aware that Mueller had started using a new grand jury.
“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said. “The White House favours anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly… The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr Mueller,” he said.
“Former FBI Director Jim Comey said three times the President is not under investigation and we have no reason to believe that has changed,” he added.
Congressman Jimmy Gomez said that the reports of Mueller impanelling a grand jury demonstrates that there are serious questions about foreign adversaries trying to gain influence through the financial interests of the president, his close family members, and other associates.
“Congress must uphold its duty to defend the Constitution and investigate President Trump’s financial dealings. We must move forward with legislation like my bill, the BRIBE Act, to expose any foreign attempts to gain influence with the President, his family, or his administration,” he added.
“President Trump’s refusal to divest from his business holdings and release his tax returns create the possibility of foreign corruption and we must follow the money to ensure that his foreign entanglements do not constitute a national security challenge to the United States,” Gomez said.
In a statement, Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’ Connell said Mueller impanelling a grand jury is further confirmation that this is a serious investigation and not a “witch hunt.”
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Senators yesterday introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a judicial check on the executive branch’s ability to remove a special counsel.
The Special Counsel Independence Protection Act (SCIPA) ensures that any action by the Attorney General or Acting Attorney General to remove a special counsel from office must first be reviewed by a panel of federal judges.
“Special counsels must act within boundaries, but they must also be protected. Our bill allows judicial review of any decision to terminate a special counsel to make sure it’s done for the reasons cited in the regulation rather than political motivation,” said Senator Lindsay Graham, a co-author of the bill.
“This bill would subject any decision to fire a special counsel to a review by a panel of federal judges, ensuring any removal is for legitimate reasons instead of political motivations,” said Senator Cory Booker.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said that the President and his White House want nothing more than to end Mueller’s investigation and avoid the consequences it may yield.
(With inputs from agencies)