The veteran investigative journalist Murray Waas reported on Thursday at Vox that several top FBI officials were told they might be called to testify about potential obstruction of justice by the president, including Acting Director Andrew McCabe. “Two senior federal law enforcement officials have told me that the new revelations illustrate why they believe the potential case against Trump is stronger than outsiders have thought,” Waas wrote.
Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein named Mueller special counsel in May, in response to Comey’s firing and the emergence of memos that detailed conversations between Trump and Comey in which the president seemed to be pressuring Comey to drop investigations. Trump also told NBC News’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey over the Russia investigation. Rosenstein is acting attorney general for matters related to Russia because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after admitting he had not disclosed contacts with Russian officials to the Senate, and because the collusion allegations concern the Trump campaign, of which he was a part. Sessions’s recusal has become a point of friction between the president and attorney general, with Trump publicly criticizing him on several recent occasions, and saying he wished he had not nominated him.
Before Mueller’s appointment, a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, was already investigating Flynn, who lied to Vice President Mike Pence and possibly to the FBI about contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak prior to inauguration day. Mueller assumed control of that grand-jury investigation after his appointment.
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, told the Journal that the Washington grand jury was an indication that Mueller was pursuing an ambitious investigation. “If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy,” Vladeck said. “This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”
For months, Trump steadfastly insisted that there was no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia. There were, however, unreported contacts between Russian officials and Sessions, Kushner, and Flynn; inquiries into contacts with Russian intelligence by Trump staffer Carter Page; an investigation Manafort’s finances and possible money-laundering; and several other threads.
In July, however, Donald Trump Jr. admitted to attending the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Emails showed that Trump Jr. believed that Natalia Veselnitskaya, whom he met, was “Russian government lawyer” bearing damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The emails also stated that the Russian government backed Trump over Clinton. Trump Jr. replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.” But he now says it was not what was said, and that he received no information. (Trump Jr. initially offered misleading and incomplete reports about the meeting before Times reporting drove him to release the emails.)
Since then, Trump has adopted a new line of argument, which is that if the meeting constituted collusion, it was not illegal, and that anyone would have done so. So far, this defense has been offered only in the court of public opinion. Mueller’s grand jury may offer Trump or some of his aides and family members the chance to make it in a court of law as well.