Grand jury convened for US election probe Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The Wall Street Journal newspaper has reported that Robert Mueller, the US special counsel, has convened a grand jury in Washington, DC to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, is a sign that Mueller’s inquiry is gaining steam and that it will probably continue for months, the report says.

Mueller is investigating Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with Russia as part of that effort.

Grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with a meeting on June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr, a Russian lawyer and others, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency on Thursday.

A grand jury is a group of ordinary citizens who, working behind closed doors, consider evidence and potential criminal wrongdoing that a prosecutor is investigating and decide on whether charges should be brought. They are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments if there is evidence of a crime.

Legal experts quoted by the Wall Street Journal report said Mueller’s decision suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.

It also said a grand jury in Washington, DC, is more convenient for Mueller and his 16 attorneys — they work just a few blocks from the US federal courthouse where grand juries meet – than one that is far away in Virginia.

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected accusations that it tried to influence the US election. Trump has strenuously denied allegations of collusion.
He has also dismissed Mueller’s inquiry as a “witch-hunt”.

US stocks and the dollar weakened following the news, while US treasury securities gained.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May, brought a former US justice department official to join his investigative team. Greg Andres started on Tuesday, becoming the 16th lawyer on the team.

Meanwhile, Trump said on Thursday he hopes for a “truly honest” outcome from the Russia investigation that has consumed the opening months of his presidency, and he challenged Democrats to either continue their “obsession with a hoax” or begin serving the interests of the American people.

At a boisterous campaign rally in Trump-friendly West Virginia, Trump slammed the investigation as a “fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most of all demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution.”

He commented hours after news broke that  Mueller, had empanelled a grand jury in the case.

“I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve,” Trump told thousands of cheering, sign-waving supporters packed into an arena in Huntington.

Trump overwhelmingly won the state in the November election, partly due to his promises to revive a slumping coal industry.

The president, who remains agitated over the investigation into allegations of coordination between his campaign associates and Russian government officials, said Democrats have a decision to make.

“They can continue their obsession with the hoax or they can serve the interests of the American people,” he said.

Trump maintains there were no ties between his campaign and Russia and says no wrongdoing was committed. His frustration over the investigation peaked in recent weeks as he began attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation. Sessions, most recently a US senator, was an early and ardent Trump supporter.

“Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were,” he told the cheering crowd in West Virginia. “We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you.”

Trump argued that Democrats are pushing the “totally made-up Russia story” because “they have no message, no agenda and no vision.”

“The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics,” he said, referring to his victory over Hillary Clinton. “It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about.”

Australia’s prime minister yesterday sought to downplay an unflattering account of a controversial refugee swap deal which emerged in a leaked transcript of a bad-tempered phone call with Trump.

The Washington Post published the full details on Thursday of private calls between Trump and his Australian and Mexican counterparts, sparking fury about the leak from the US administration.

The acrimonious exchange between Trump and Malcolm Turnbull saw the American billionaire balk at a “dumb deal” made by the Obama government to accept refugees sent by Australia to remote Pacific island detention camps.

But the transcript also exposed key inconsistencies between the Australian government’s comments to the public on the deal, and undermined official assertions it was not set up as a swap to take refugees from the US.

“We will take anyone that you want us to take,” Turnbull told Trump during the call, adding: “The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat.

“We would rather take a not very attractive guy that helps you out than to take a Nobel Peace Prize winner that comes by boat.”

Turnbull yesterday described the call as “frank and courteous” and defended what he told Trump, telling reporters “the nature of our relationship with the United States in this area is one of mutual assistance. So we help the Americans, they help us,” he said. — Al Jazeera/AP

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