Trump-Russia inquiry: President ‘probed for obstruction of justice’
Trump-Russia inquiry:President Donald Trump is being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for possible obstruction of justice, US media reports say.
They say senior intelligence officials will be interviewed about whether Mr Trump tried to end an inquiry into his sacked national security adviser.
Mr Trump’s legal team said the latest leak to the media was “outrageous”.
Mr Mueller is overseeing an FBI inquiry into Russia’s alleged meddling the 2016 US election and any Trump links to it.
President Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, describing the ongoing inquiry as a “witch hunt”.
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- A legal ‘dream team’ looking at Trump
- Russia: The ‘cloud’ over the White House
- Who is Robert Mueller?
The latest development was first carried in the Washington Post. Later the New York Times and Wall St Journal reported the story, citing their own sources.
The Washington Post said the decision by Mr Mueller to investigate President Trump’s own conduct is a major turning point in the investigation, which until recently focused on the Russian angle.
Why is the president being investigated?
The latest media reports say the obstruction of justice investigation began just days after President Trump fired former FBI director James Comey on 9 May.
Mr Comey, who had been leading one of several Russia inquiries, testified to Congress last week that Mr Trump had pressured him to drop the inquiry into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Mr Flynn was sacked in February for failing to reveal the extent of his contacts with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington.
Mr Comey testified under oath that Mr Trump had told him during a private meeting: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
The White House has said the president “has never asked Mr Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn”.
Mr Comey said he was “sure” Mr Mueller was looking at whether Mr Trump had obstructed justice.
But Mr Comey also testified that to his knowledge the president had not tried to stop the Russia investigation.
Who is going to be interviewed?
The three names being mentioned in US media are Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, and Richard Ledgett, until recently Mr Rogers’ deputy.
Mr Coats and Admiral Rogers last week declined to answer questions before Congress.
But the Washington Post says they have agreed to be interviewed by investigators and the questioning could happen as early as this week.
The three were not involved in the Trump campaign but may be asked whether Mr Trump sought their help to end the Flynn inquiry.
However, the Times points out that the latest questioning does not mean a criminal case is being built against the president, simply that information is being gathered by the FBI. It will be passed to prosecutors who will then have to decide.
Has the president responded?
Not personally. Yet.
Trump-Russia inquiry:But his legal team responded angrily.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Mr Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said: “The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.”
Mr Trump has repeatedly railed against leaks from the FBI, saying this is the important story, not alleged collusion with Russia, which he has dismissed as “fake news”.
The New York Times reports that Mr Trump has considered firing Mr Mueller in recent days but has been talked out of it by aides.
Uncharted terrain: Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter
James Comey hinted at it. Washington insiders suspected it. Now US media are reporting it (through anonymous sources, of course).
Donald Trump himself is under direct investigation for obstruction of justice by the special counsel’s office.
Trump-Russia inquiry:Take all those previous assertions by the president that he’s not the target of law enforcement efforts, and throw them out the window.
Mr Trump will surely insist that the inquiry into whether his campaign had ties to Russia is still a hoax perpetrated by Democrats and a hostile media, and that the obstruction allegations are built on that empty foundation.
That may not matter. “It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up,” may be a hackneyed political saying, but that doesn’t mean it lacks a kernel of truth.
There’s still an open question as to what, exactly, could happen if Mr Mueller does find the president violated the law in acting to disrupt an ongoing investigation.
Trump-Russia inquiry:Could charges be filed? Would it fall on the House of Representatives to act?
It’s all uncharted legal terrain.
If the latest media reports are correct, however, Mr Mueller may be charting a course for the darkness.