The special counsel appointed to investigate Russian influence in last year’s US presidential campaign is now examining whether US President Donald Trump tried to obstruct justice, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday evening.
Accusations of obstruction arose last month when Trump fired then-US FBI director James Comey. Comey testified in a US Senate hearing last week that he believed he was fired “because of the Russia investigation.”
Comey also testified that he had told Trump he was not under investigation.
The Washington Post and the New York Times both reported that special counsel Robert Mueller was seeking interviews with three Trump administration officials who were not involved in Trump’s campaign: US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; US National Security Agency (NSA) Director Michael Rogers; and former NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s personal lawyer, on Wednesday evening responded to the Washington Post report by saying: “The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.”
The Washington Post report cited anonymous sources who were briefed on requests made by investigators. It was not known whether the FBI was the source of the information.
Mueller on Wednesday met with the leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in an effort to ensure their investigations do not conflict.
The leaders of the committee said in a statement issued on Wednesday that they “look forward to future engagements” with Mueller.
Committee Chairman Richard Burr and US Senator Mark Warner, the panel’s top Democrat, did not provide any other details regarding the meeting.
An aide familiar with the meeting said it was held to discuss the investigations, including ways that the parallel inquiries do not interfere with one another. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity, because the meeting was private.
The meeting came one day after lawmakers questioned US Department of Justice officials about the probe and Mueller’s independence, and after a friend of Trump said the White House was considering firing Mueller.
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller last month, on Tuesday testified that he has seen no evidence of good cause to fire Mueller.
Also on Wednesday, Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley said his panel would investigate the removal of Comey and “any alleged improper partisan interference in law enforcement investigations.”
Grassley announced the investigation in a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat.
Grassley’s office said the letter was in response to a letter from Feinstein requesting that the committee seek details from senior FBI leaders about Comey’s interactions with Trump before he was fired.
The letter said the investigation would also probe Comey’s testimony that Loretta Lynch, attorney general under former US president Barack Obama, had directed him to describe an FBI probe into former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mail practices as merely a “matter” and to avoid calling it an investigation.
“You and I agree that the American people deserve a full accounting of attempts to meddle in both our democratic processes and the impartial administration of justice... It is my view that fully investigating the facts, circumstances and rationale for Mr Comey’s removal will provide us the opportunity to do that on a cooperative, bipartisan basis,” the letter said.
Feinstein has said the judiciary committee should investigate, but had asked Grassley to keep the investigations separate.
Grassley said Comey’s dismissal and Comey’s testimony on Lynch should be looked at together, adding that Comey “took the opportunity in his testimony to clear his own name by denouncing as false the administration’s claims that the FBI rank and file had lost confidence in Mr Comey’s leadership in the wake of the Clinton e-mail investigation.”
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