Mueller's Russia team reportedly seeks White House records on Trump actions

Investigation appears to enter new phase amid reports of request for documents related to Trump’s most controversial actions since taking office

The special counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House to provide documents related to Donald Trump’s most controversial actions since taking office in January, according to two reports on Wednesday.

The inquiry from Mueller’s team, who is leading the investigation into whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, suggests that the investigation is moving into a new phase, inching closer to the president.

According to anonymous White House officials, the New York Times reported, Mueller’s team sought more information related to 13 areas, including the circumstances around the firing of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and of the FBI director, James Comey.

The team is also interested in an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Russian officials in May, a day after he fired Comey. During that meeting, Trump reportedly told Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States, that Comey’s dismissal had relieved “great pressure” on him.

The Washington Post confirmed the request had been made to the White House, and reported that Mueller had also requested that the White House turn over documents related to the FBI interview of Flynn in January, days after Trump took office. They are also interested in a late January conversation in which Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, raised concerns about Flynn with the White House counsel, Don McGahn. Additionally, they are looking at how the White House responded to a Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer in June 2016.

The list of actions by the president and his close associates that Mueller’s team is reportedly scrutinizing suggests that investigators are looking at whether Trump sought to shut down the investigation into Flynn. Mueller’s team is also examining whether Trump or others in the White House attempted to obstruct justice when the president fired Comey, who had been leading the Russia investigation until his dismissal.

The Washington Post also reported that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, offered to provide briefings on the state of the election to a Russian billionaire with links to the Kremlin. Citing people familiar with the discussions, the Post report said Manafort had made the offer in an email to an intermediary, whom he asked to relay the message to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business.

The list of actions reportedly being looked into suggest Mueller’s team is examining whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
The list of actions reportedly being looked into suggest Mueller’s team is examining whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort reportedly wrote in an email from 7 July 2016, which was read to the Washington Post along with other correspondence from that time.

The story said that the emails were among tens of thousands of documents turned over to Mueller’s team and congressional investigators as part of the inquiry into Russian meddling in the US election.

There have been several indications that Mueller’s investigation is not simply escalating, but also increasing its scrutiny on how the Trump White House has handled matters pertaining to Russia.

Donald Trump Jr’s meeting at Trump Tower in July 2016 with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya has emerged as a pivotal moment for both the federal inquiry as well as parallel investigations in Congress. According to emails released to the public in July, he was informed prior to the meeting of an effort by the Russian government to help elect his father. Trump’s eldest son also suggested he was open to accepting incriminating information about Hillary Clinton from Moscow.

Earlier this month, the special counsel’s team reportedly sought interviews with White House staffers who were aboard Air Force Once in July, when the president himself helped to craft a highly misleading statement about the nature of his son’s meeting. The statement initially claimed Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with Veselnitskaya, which was also attended by Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was to discuss a policy banning Americans from adopting Russian children.

In August, Mueller convened a grand jury in Washington through which subpoenas were issued in relation to the June 2016 meeting. The FBI also used a search warrant to carry out a raid of Manafort’s home in late July to seize documents relevant to the Russia investigation.


Lauren Gambino and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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