Robert Mueller Impanels A Grand Jury With A Strong Case Against Trump

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The Wall Street Journal says that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a new grand jury in Washington, DC to consider criminal charges against Americans involved in Russian election interference.

Reporters Del Quentin Wilber and Byron Tau say the move is “a sign that [Mueller’s] inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase.”

“This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “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. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”

Thomas Zeno, a federal prosecutor for 29 years before becoming a lawyer at the Squire Patton Boggs law firm, said the grand jury is “confirmation that this is a very vigorous investigation going on.”

“This doesn’t mean he is going to bring charges,” Mr. Zeno cautioned. “But it shows he is very serious. He wouldn’t do this if it were winding down.”

Meanwhile, at Vox.com Murray Waas reports that the FBI has assembled a much stronger case for obstruction of justice against Donald Trump than generally understood — thanks to fired director James Comey and the senior personnel who participated in his evidence-gathering.

As a result, Mueller can present at least six corroborating witnesses for Comey, including one person who listened to his side of a phone conversation with Trump, the FBI general counsel, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Altogether, ten or more will likely be questioned in the course of Mueller’s investigation.

Waas says that Comey discussed worrisome presidential contacts with his management team on at least eight occasions, usually within 24 to 48 hours of the alleged conversations.

And “in at least one previously unreported instance — that of a phone conversation between the president and Comey, during which Trump pressed Comey to say that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation — [Jim] Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff, was present for the entirety of the phone call,” Waas reports.

In addition, Comey often emailed Rybicki accounts of his troublesome discussions with Trump about the Russia investigation — if not immediately after, sometimes the same day, according to a senior federal law enforcement official.

Baker, the FBI general counsel, took methodical notes during his discussions with Comey and others in the FBI hierarchy about Trump’s efforts to thwart the FBI’s investigation, according to these same sources.

The president’s defenders have taken great pains to frame the matter as a personal dispute between just two people. But “This has never been the word of Trump against what [James Comey] has had to say,” one unnamed senior law enforcement official tells Waas. “This is more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation versus Donald Trump.”

Little wonder that Trump has preemptively attacked the credibility of acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in his Tweets, as both people may be called to testify against him.

Breitbart and Circa.com, a new but similar right wing site that has grown very popular with Trump supporters, have recently carried stories claiming that Baker — the general counsel who advised against giving in to Trump’s demands — is under investigation for leaking classified information. Like Trump’s tweets, that story seems designed to hurt the credibility of a key witness against the president.

As Waas notes, Trump’s recent griping at Jeff Sessions is part of this pattern because his testimony has already hurt the president.

Sessions largely corroborated Comey’s account under oath — about how uncomfortable the then-FBI director felt with the president’s interactions with the FBI. Sessions is a Trump loyalist, the first US senator to endorse Trump, and the Trump administration’s attorney general — this only enhances his credibility as a witness whose testimony would harm Trump. (Of course, that relationship is now severely strained.) That Sessions recommended Comey’s firing as FBI director also, ironically, enhances his credibility as a corroboratory witness of Comey’s and against the president.

These efforts to smear and discredit career law enforcement professionals speak to an important narrative element within any obstruction case that Mueller might prosecute: they are evidence for consciousness of guilt. As any criminal attorney knows, false statements in furtherance of a crime are themselves evidence of the original or underlying act.

Ultimately, Mueller’s overall case will rest on an understanding of that original sin. What evidence of collusion is Trump hiding?

ADDING: Reuters says that the first subpoenas have already issued from Mueller’s new grand jury:

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