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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Friday, December 15, 2017

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Washington anxious as first charges filed in Mueller’s probe

Former FBI boss Mueller was appointed in May as special counsel

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WASHINGTON, U.S. - A flurry of activity was noted at the DC federal court - where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in an investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Former FBI boss Mueller was appointed in May as special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey earlier this year.

Since his appointment, Mueller or his office have not made any official comments about the investigation however, several exposes have appeared in the media, driving his investigation into various directions, with his team probing all aspects of the alleged collusion.

On Friday,  reports revealed that a federal grand jury in Washington had approved the first charges in the investigation being led by the special counsel.

According to sources briefed on the matter, the indictment was still sealed under orders from a federal judge.

Later in the day, reports revealed that plans were prepared for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

However, it remained unclear what the charges are and a spokesman for the special counsel's office has declined to comment.

Sources also pointed out that under the regulations governing special counsel investigations, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, has oversight over the Russia investigation.

Soon after his appointment, Mueller took the reins of a federal investigation that Comey first opened in July 2016 in the middle of the presidential campaign.

According to Rosenstein's order, Mueller is authorized to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

The special counsel's investigation has focused on potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as obstruction of justice by the President, who might have tried to impede the investigation. 

In this case, experts have said that Rosenstein would have been made aware of any charges before they were taken before the grand jury for approval.

The local media also noticed a lot of activity at the courtroom in Washington, with top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, seen gathering in the grand jury room.

Officials have however not made any official announcements.

Investigators, who have in recent weeks, have been focussed on scrutinizing Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia, have also examined foreign lobbying conducted by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and others. 

Mueller’s team has issued subpoenas for documents and testimony to a handful of figures, including some people close to Manafort, and others involved in the Trump Tower meeting between Russians and campaign officials.

Meanwhile, Mueller has also been probing if the president or any of his aides tried to obstruct justice and his team has conducted extensive interviews with former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former spokesman Sean Spicer and other current and former White House officials.

As part of his investigation into Russian meddling, reports revealed that last year, the Comey-led investigation secured approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of Manafort, as well as former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Apart from Mueller's probe, three committees on Capitol Hill are also conducting their own investigations.

In January this year, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the election and tried to help swing the U.S. Presidential election in the favour of Trump through a campaign of hacking and releasing embarrassing opposition emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Trump has denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Russians and condemned investigations into the matter as the biggest “witch hunt in U.S. history.”

The Kremlin too has denied the allegations.

 

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