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Trump-Russia collusion investigations

Donald Trump not a target of criminal probe by Robert Mueller … at this point

Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign, a probe the president has denounced as a ‘witch hunt’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 11:45am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 8:46pm

US President Donald Trump is under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller but is not currently considered a criminal target at this point.

Mueller is investigating possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, a probe the president has denounced as a “witch hunt”.

The Washington Post, quoting three anonymous sources, said that Mueller considered Trump a subject of the investigation, meaning there was currently not enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

Additionally, Mueller told the president’s lawyers that he was preparing a report on Trump’s actions and possible obstruction of justice, The Post said.

Mueller, a former FBI director and federal prosecutor, was named last May to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

US intelligence agencies say Russian President Vladimir Putin himself was behind a hacking and disinformation effort to disrupt the election and boost Trump’s chances of winning.

Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump – both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the sources said.

Mueller’s description of the president’s status has sparked friction within Trump’s inner circle as his advisers have debated his legal standing. 

The president and some of his allies seized on the special counsel’s words as an assurance that Trump’s risk of criminal jeopardy is low. 

Other advisers, however, noted that subjects of investigations can easily become indicted targets – and expressed concern that the special prosecutor was baiting Trump into an interview that could put the president in greater legal peril.

Trump: ‘I would like to’ testify before Mueller

John Dowd, Trump’s top lawyer dealing with the Mueller probe, resigned last month amid disputes about strategy and frustration that the president ignored his advice to refuse the special counsel’s request for an interview, according to a Trump friend.

Trump’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, and Dowd declined to comment. 

The president is said to have privately expressed relief at the description of his legal status, which has increased his determination to agree to a special counsel interview. 

He has repeatedly told allies that he is not a target of the probe and believes an interview will help him put the matter behind him, friends said. 

Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan given 30 days in jail for lying to Robert Mueller in Trump-Russia probe

However, legal experts said Mueller’s description of Trump as a subject of a grand jury probe does not mean he is in the clear.

Under Justice Department guidelines, a subject of an investigation is a person whose conduct falls within the scope of a grand jury’s investigation. A target is a person for which there is substantial evidence linking him or her to a crime.

A subject could become a target with his or her own testimony, legal experts warn. 

“If I were the president, I would be very reluctant to think I’m off the hook,” said Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University and impeachment expert.

“My sense of it is the president – given that information – ought to have pretty fair warning anything he’s saying in the deposition would be legally consequential. Depending on what he says, it could wind up changing how the special counsel is thinking about him.”

Still, several legal scholars and impeachment experts believe Mueller may conclude he does not have the authority to charge a sitting president with a crime under an opinion written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1973 and reaffirmed in 2000.

If Mueller finds Trump engaged in criminal conduct, he could detail it in a report, experts argue, and let Congress to decide whether to launch impeachment proceedings based on his findings. 

“The president’s personal risk is primarily on the impeachment front,” Whittington said. 

“Even if there are not things that lead to indictment, there may be matters that warrant an impeachment investigation and proceedings.”

Some of Trump’s advisers have warned White House aides that they fear Mueller could issue a blistering report about the president’s actions. 

Several of Trump’s public actions have called into question whether he sought to blunt or block the criminal probe, a line of inquiry that prosecutors began pursuing last year. 

He has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt” that has unfairly sullied his administration and hampered his ability to accomplish his policy agenda. 

He fired FBI Director James Comey last May after Comey told Congress that the bureau was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Trump was furious that Comey did not state that he was not personally under investigation, The Washington Post previously reported.

The president also asked top intelligence officials to issue public statements denying the existence of any evidence of coordination between his campaign and the Russian government.

Agence France-Presse, The Washington Post