This past week in the Russia investigations, news was dominated by previously undisclosed actions taken by special counsel Robert Mueller: first, that he convened a Washington, DC grand jury to review evidence gathered by his investigation; and later in the week that he had directed the FBI to conduct a raid last month on a home owned by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in search of financial documents relevant to the investigation.
DoJ and Special Counsel
Last week news that special counsel Mueller impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigation into Russia and President Trump was made public. This Washington, DC grand jury reviews evidence presented by the special counsel, and can then empower the counsel to subpoena information and testimony, and eventually issue indictments if enough evidence is found. Mueller has also been working with another grand jury outside of DC, in Alexandria, VA, specifically regarding the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. That jury has already issued some subpoenas for the Flynn case, so Mueller’s decision to call another grand jury in Washington seems to indicate that his larger probe into Russian election interference, the Trump campaign, and potential obstructions of justice, has been heating up. The Washington grand jury has reportedly already subpoenaed information related to Donald Trump Jr’s infamous Trump Tower meeting.
Media outlets also recently revealed that on July 26, the FBI conducted a surprise pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort, at the direction of the special counsel. Notably, the raid took place only a day after Manafort was interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Manafort had also previously pledged to cooperate with the federal and congressional Russia investigations, and had already handed over some requested documents to both congressional intelligence committees. The FBI reportedly raided Manafort’s home in search of financial documents including tax and foreign banking records. This escalation in the special counsel investigation, given Manafort’s previous voluntary disclosures, could indicate that investigators suspected that Manafort was withholding something, or that Mueller wanted a show of force to encourage other witnesses and Trump affiliates to come forward and provide information to the investigation.
Amidst the continuing speculation surrounding President Trump’s harsh criticism of not just special counsel Mueller but also his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein said last weekend in an interview that Mueller has the authority to shape the scope of his investigation according to any relevant evidence of wrongdoing he finds. Recently Trump said he did not want Mueller to look into his family finances; Rosenstein’s comments affirm Mueller’s mandate to investigate any crimes he uncovers during the course of his investigation, even if they are not directly related to Russia or the election. As it is perpetually unclear what actions the president might take in response to the special counsel probe, given his ongoing criticisms of Mueller and others in the DoJ, a bipartisan group of senators also recently introduced legislation which would bar Trump from firing the special counsel.
Finally, last week the Senate officially confirmed Christopher Wray as the new director of the FBI.
Senate Judiciary Committee
The Senate Judiciary Committee has reportedly spent the week reviewing documents it received from members of the Trump campaign and current administration–including documents from Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort–about the Trump Jr meeting and other Russia-related matters. The committee has also reviewed the memos written by former FBI director James Comey about his interactions with President Trump leading up to his firing. Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley has been steadily vocal about his investigation’s progress and the importance of its independence, and he recently pushed back against the president’s criticisms of the Russia investigations and the DoJ, saying his committee would refuse to hold a confirmation hearing if Trump fired AG Sessions or otherwise tried to reshuffle DoJ leadership.
House Intelligence Committee
The congressional intelligence committees were shaken last week by news that two Republican staffers from the House Intelligence Committee were sent to London last month in search of Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent and the author of the controversial dossier claiming extensive connections between President Trump and Russia. The dossier was compiled while Steele was working with US research firm Fusion GPS, which Republicans have claimed is itself deeply connected to Russia. The dossier was published by BuzzFeed last summer shortly after the election, and its contents remain largely unsubstantiated, although the intelligence committees have been investigating its allegations since it began to circulate, and last month the Senate Judiciary Committee interviewed the co-founder of Fusion GPS; the continued focus on the dossier implies that at least some of its contents are relevant to the Russia investigations. The staffers’ trip, seemingly to find Steele and ask him to speak with the committee about the dossier, came as a surprise to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, including ranking member Adam Schiff, who told reporters that he thought the committee’s Republican leader Mike Conaway was also unaware of the trip. Congressional and media speculation seems to point towards House Intel chairman Devin Nunes–who is supposedly still recused from the committee’s Russia investigation but somehow keeps popping back up–having directed the staffers to go looking for Steele; the staffers were sent by the committee staff director Damon Nelson, a close longtime employee of Nunes. It appears that neither House Intelligence Committee leadership, the Senate Intelligence Committee, nor the special counsel were notified in advance of the trip, which raises questions about its ultimate intention and about the role of Steele’s dossier in the future of the Russia investigations.
This blog was written by Stella Jordan. If you have comments on this blog, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.