WASHINGTON — Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, has impaneled a grand jury on the matter, according to published reports.
The move is an apparent intensification of Mueller’s investigation, which also looks at what role Trump’s campaign may have played in the interference. The existence of the grand jury was first reported by The Wall Street Journal Thursday.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that grand jury subpoenas were issued in connection to a meeting that Donald Trump Jr. hosted with a Russian attorney in June 2016 at Trump Tower.
The president’s special counsel, Ty Cobb, responded that he was unaware of a grand jury by Mueller.
“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said in a statement. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.”
White House officials added that they have no reason to believe Trump is under investigation. They have denied collusion between the president’s inner circle and the Kremlin.
Department of Justice spokesman Joshua Stueve, who represents Mueller, did not respond to a request for comment.
The president has called the investigation a “witch hunt” and sought to discredit Mueller, saying the team he assembled is rife with potential conflicts of interest.
But Trump’s target early Thursday was at the Capitol.
He took another swipe at his GOP colleagues for failing to undo Obamacare.
“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” Trump tweeted. “You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”
GOP senators pushed back on Trump’s posture toward Moscow, saying Vladimir Putin is the aggressor and the one at fault.
Trump’s sentiment reflected the tone of the critical signing statement he had released a day earlier, when he grudgingly approved a bipartisan bill to expand sanctions on Russia.
Trump has sought warmer relations with Putin.
The legislation, passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, also prohibited the president from ending or easing sanctions on Moscow without congressional review, and imposed penalties on North Korea and Iran for their nuclear ambitions.
The legislation was “seriously flawed,” Trump had said, contrasting his deal-making skills with those of senators who haven’t yet been able to fulfill the Republican Party’s seven-year pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress,” he had written.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday mimicked the phrasing of Trump’s tweet, but blamed Russia’s dictatorial leader.
“Our relationship w/Russia is at dangerous low,” McCain posted. “You can thank Putin for attacking our democracy, invading neighbors & threatening our allies.”
The new round of sanctions seeks to punish the Kremlin for attempting to influence last year’s election and for the annexation of Crimea, among other transgressions.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday blasted Trump for signing the bill, tweeting, “The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way.”
Trump has conceded that Russia is behind the cyberattacks — as the U.S. intelligence community has concluded — but added that he believes other countries also could be culpable.
Republican senators have more empathetically denounced Putin for throwing the democratic process into chaos.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he is proud of the sanctions bill.
“The relationship that we have with Russia is solely because of Putin,” Corker said. “ . . . To try to have an effect on the election outcomes here had to be spoken to. I think we did it in a very appropriate manner.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said former President Barack Obama was too lenient on the Kremlin but cast the blame on Putin.
“Vladimir Putin is to blame for the state of relationships between the United States and Russia,” Cotton told Fox News. “It was Vladimir Putin who invaded our partners. . . . It was Vladimir Putin who meddled in Western democracies, including our own, when his intelligence services hacked into those emails and released them.”