Trump lashes out over Russia probe, after news of grand jury

Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump described Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as a “total fabrication” Thursday amid reports that a special prosecutor has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the issue — a step toward possible criminal indictments.

“We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you,” Trump said at a campaign-style rally in West Virginia.

Trying to build support among his core supporters, he said his enemies were “trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most importantly, demeaning to our country and demeaning to our constitution.”

“The reason why Democrats only talk about the totally made-up Russia story is because they have no message, no agenda, and no vision,” he said. “The Russia story is total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics.”

His comments came after the Wall Street Journal revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to investigate Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election.

The newspaper, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter, reported that the grand jury had begun its work in the US capital Washington “in recent weeks.”

The move is a sign that the sweeping federal investigation — which includes allegations that Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russia to tilt the election in the Republican’s favor — is gathering pace.

The establishment of a grand jury will allow Mueller — a former FBI director — to subpoena documents and get sworn testimony. It could well lead to criminal indictments.

“It’s a significant escalation of the process,” national security attorney Bradley Moss told AFP.

“You don’t impanel a grand jury unless your investigation has discovered enough evidence that you feel reflects a violation of at least one, if not more, criminal provisions,” he said.

“If you secure an indictment, your next step is to arrest the defendant.”

Presidential lawyer Ty Cobb said he was not aware that a grand jury had been convened.

“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said, adding that “the White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.”

“The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr Mueller.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was not likely the subject of the investigation.

“Former FBI director Jim Comey said three times the president is not under…

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