Washington braced Monday for the potential unsealing of the first criminal charges linked to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as President Donald Trump reiterated his stance that the underlying investigations are a “witch hunt.”
A federal grand jury on Friday approved charges in the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to several major news outlets that reported the indictment could be made public as soon as Monday.
There was no public indication of who is facing charges or what crimes are being alleged. Legal experts say the first charges could be against a peripheral figure in the case, with prosecutors using a common strategy to first build their case against lower level officials before focusing on more prominent people.
In addition to Mueller’s investigation, there are separate congressional probes into Russian meddling and possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine U.S. democracy and help Trump win
Trump has insisted there was no collusion, including in a series of tweets Sunday in which he said Democrats and his election opponent Hillary Clinton are the ones who are guilty.
“The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s [Republicans] are now fighting back like never before,” Trump wrote. “There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”
He further blamed the Russia investigations for taking attention away from Republican efforts on tax reform.
“Is this coincidental? NOT!” Trump said.
Ty Cobb, a member of Trump’s legal team, said in a statement that Trump’s comments were not related to the developments in Mueller’s investigation.
“Contrary to what many have suggested, the President’s comments today are unrelated to the activities of the Special Counsel, with whom he continues to cooperate,” Cobb said.
Mueller is believed to be examining activities of two key Trump campaign officials, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired by Trump less than a month after he took office for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, and Paul Manafort, who for a short time last year was Trump’s campaign manager and also had wide lobbying interests in Ukraine and links to Russia.