WASHINGTON — The first charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation have been approved by the grand jury, multiple news outlets reported tonight, capping off a week in which the Trump administration panned the special counsel’s investigation as costly and not yielding any results.
CNN first reported the news, followed by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, which reported that at least one person could be taken into custody Monday. As the indictment is still sealed, it’s unknown how many people have initially been charged and on what charges.
Mueller began his work in May and handpicked a team of veteran prosecutors with experience including money laundering and organized crime cases. The grand jury was reportedly impaneled over the summer, and issued subpoenas in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, publicist Rob Goldstone and others after Goldstone promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. The New York Times reported today that Veselnitskaya came to the meeting with a memo of talking points earlier discussed with Russian prosecutor general Yury Y. Chaika.
Last month, it was reported that Mueller sought documents connected to President Trump’s activities including his May meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and now-former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Mueller has also been digging far back into the dealings of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who worked as a consultant for the Kremlin-allied former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych and has been the subject of an FBI probe for the past three years. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act monitoring of Manafort reportedly began shortly after the investigation launched in 2014.
The FBI conducted a predawn raid on Manafort’s Alexandria, Va., home this summer, armed with a wide-ranging search warrant and seizing tax and banking records.
Trump tweeted Friday morning: “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”
“I think that the president’s been pretty clear what his position throughout this process,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in response to the tweet. “That’s not the only investigation that’s taking place. Congress has spent a great deal of time on this, a better part of a year. All of your news organizations have actually spent probably a lot of money on this, as well, which we would consider probably a pretty big waste.”
“I think that our position hasn’t changed since day one,” she added. “And I think we are seeing now that if there was any collusion with Russia it was between the DNC and the Clintons and certainly not our campaign.”
Asked if Mueller’s investigation should be ended, Sanders replied, “The president wants to see this completed.”
Any developments in the investigation such as bringing charges would be brought to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed the former FBI director with the authority to probe “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and any other matters.”
Rosenstein said in August that Mueller “understands and I understand the specific scope of the investigation” into Russia’s campaign influence operation and potential Trump campaign ties, “and so it’s not a fishing expedition.”
“If he finds evidence of a crime that’s within the scope of what Director Mueller and I have agreed is the appropriate scope of the investigation, then he can,” Rosenstein said. “If it’s something that’s outside that scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general — at this time, me — for a permission to expand his investigation. But we don’t talk about that publicly.”