Sunday, July 21, 2019

Mueller plans no new charges, Justice Department says

Washington, Mar 22 (EFE).- Special Counsel Robert Mueller does not plan to file any additional charges in connection with his probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and possible coordination between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s campaign, a senior Justice Department official told EFE Friday.

The probe, which began in May 2017, has spawned multiple criminal indictments of figures close to the billionaire-turned-president, including Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Mueller “will be concluding his service in the coming days,” special counsel’s office spokesman Peter Carr said. “A small number of staff will remain to assist in closing the operations of the office for a period of time.”

With the news that Mueller contemplates no further indictments, the focus may shift to state and local prosecutors in New York, where Trump’s business is based and where he resided before becoming president.

The Russia enquiry uncovered a significant number of possible criminal acts in the financial realm.

Two Justice Department opinions, one issued in 1973 and the other in 2000, concluded that criminal charges may not be brought against a sitting president because of the possibility of harm to the national interest.

But the US Supreme Court has never weighed-in on the question and some legal analysts suggest that sealed indictments could he handed down and then unsealed once the president left office.

Attorney General William Barr, who will make the decision on whether to make all or portions of the report public, said Friday in a letter to the chairs and ramking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that he hoped to be able to brief them on the findings within the next few days.

“The Special Counsel has submitted to me today a ‘confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions’ he has reached,” Barr told the lawmakers. “I am reviewing the report and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.”

Trump left Washington early Friday for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he was to meet with leaders of several Caribbean nations.

“We’re pleased that the Office of Special Counsel has delivered its report to the Attorney General pursuant to the regulations,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

“The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course. The White House has not received or been briefed on the Special Counsel’s report,” she said on Twitter.

Trump, who has often denounced the probe as a witch-hunt, said Wednesday that he would not oppose the release of Mueller’s findings.

When asked at the White House if the public should be allowed to see the report, as Democratic lawmakers have urged, Trump said: “I don’t mind.”

“Let it come out, let people see it,” Trump he told reporters before departing for Ohio to tour a weapons plant and raise money for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Releasing the report would be “up to the attorney general … and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said, describing Barr as well-respected.

But the president also renewed his claim that Mueller had a conflict of interest because he is a close friend of former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump dismissed.

Mueller was appointed to be special counsel shortly after Trump fired Comey.

The appointment of Mueller, a former FBI chief, was made by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything to do with the Russia probe because he had worked closely with Trump’s campaign.

Last week, even as Trump called Mueller’s investigation “illegal” and said that the probe should never have been authorized, the US House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of making the final report public.

Though the investigation has led to convictions for Cohen and Manafort, among others, neither of those cases touched on the core questions of whether Russia intervened in the 2016 election to assist Trump and if so, whether the real estate mogul’s campaign had illicit contacts with Russian officials.

Most of the crimes to which Cohen pleaded guilty involved tax evasion, money laundering and violations of campaign finance laws in connection with his role in paying hush-money to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

Cohen was also prosecuted for shady business dealings unrelated to his work for Trump.

Mueller brought charges against 34 people in all, including 26 Russian nationals, most of them employees of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency.