WASHINGTON — The special counsel appointed to look into links between Russian officials and US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign is conducting a criminal investigation, including whether there was any obstruction of justice, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on Thursday.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named on Wednesday as a special counsel to lead the probe, is conducting an investigation “of criminal allegations that are extremely serious, including possible obstruction of justice,” Blumenthal told reporters after senators met Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Rosenstein was questioned on Thursday by US senators desperate for details about his appointment of Mueller to investigate Russia’s connections with Trump’s campaign team.
They also grilled him on the timeline of his controversial memo that Trump used as a rationale for sacking FBI Director James Comey last week.
Two senators said Rosenstein acknowledged he knew before writing his brief that Trump was going to fire Comey.
“He knew the day before” the May 9 firing, Senate Democrat Dick Durbin told reporters as he exited the secure briefing in the basement of the Capitol where all 100 senators had been invited.
“On May 8th he learned that the president was going to terminate Comey,” Durbin added. Democrat Claire McCaskill corroborated Rosenstein’s remarks.
Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Trump on May 8, when the president asked them to put into writing their thoughts on Comey.
Initially it was Rosenstein’s memo—critical of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal last year—that was put forward as the justification for the dismissal.
Then Trump admitted he had been considering firing Comey for months.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he has “full confidence” in Mueller. “He’s going to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, of that I have no doubt.”
A number of lawmakers exited the meeting stressing that Mueller’s probe, while appropriately diving in to all possible Trump-Russia ties, may make it more difficult for current congressional investigations to access vital intelligence.
The Senate Intelligence Committee and House Government Oversight Committee have each requested Comey to testify before their panels.
To the White House and its supporters, the big story in Washington isn’t the investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. It’s about leakers working to undermine the president.
All administrations have to deal with leaks, from the release of the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam policy to Edward Snowden’s dump of national security files. But the scope and frequency experienced by the Trump White House is remarkable.
“This has all the markings of a coordinated, silent coup,” said Michael Caputo, who worked on Trump’s campaign and keeps in touch with administration officials. —AFP AND AP
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