how Robert Mueller is closing in on Trump

There is a grand jury in Washington DC. The special counsel’s team is full of experts in financial crime. On Russia, the president can feel the net closing

The White House, Washington, seen at night. Photograph: Saul Loeb/Getty Images/AFP Creative

The legal net around Donald Trump’s beleaguered presidency tightened dramatically this week with news that a grand jury has been established a few hundred yards from the White House, to pursue evidence of collusion with the Kremlin.

It is a troubling development for the president, for several reasons. In the US legal system, a grand jury has broad powers to issue subpoenas, and ultimately indictments, at the request of prosecutors.

The special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, had been using a sitting grand jury in Virginia to authorise his team’s demands for documents and witnesses. The convening of a separate grand jury in Washington suggests the Mueller team – working in a suite of offices a few blocks’ walk from where the 20-odd jurors sit – is going to be making extensive use of it. It will not be hospitable terrain for the president. Trump won only 4% of the vote in the District of Columbia.

“This sets the scene of action for criminal trials, where charges will be laid, in the worst possible jurisdiction for Trump,” said Scott Horton, a lecturer at Columbia Law School. “Compared to Virginia, Republicans in DC are few and far between.”

The grand jury is also clear evidence that the inquiry is widening, not tapering off. It suggests that the special counsel is exploring possible crimes committed inside the District of Columbia.

Mueller’s investigators are reported by the New York Times to have asked the White House for documents related to the administration’s first, short-lived national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who resigned after being found to have concealed the full nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington, and who is also under scrutiny for his lobbying work for Turkey during the campaign.

Meanwhile, a report from Vox says that senior FBI officials have been told to consider themselves potential witnesses in an investigation of Trump for obstruction of justice. The former FBI director James Comey, Mueller’s successor in the post, has testified that Trump tried to put pressure on him to drop the Flynn investigation.

After Comey rebuffed the pressure and refused to swear personal…

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