Washington – US President Donald Trump constantly vehemently denies that his team had colluded with Russia in his presidential campaign in 2016, describing the case that is plaguing his term in office as a “witch hunt.”
The president launched a virulent attack against the investigation that is probing the possible link. The investigation has meanwhile crossed a new milestone in its probe by forming a grand jury panel, reported various US media.
Trump described before a rally of his supporters in West Virginia the Russian interference as a “total fabrication.”
“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.”
Members of the sweeping federal investigation requested the White House submit documents linked to Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to the paper, citing authorities close to the investigation.
The document request, while not a formal subpoena, was the latest signal that the probe is gathering pace.
Flynn — who was ousted mere weeks after being named Trump’s national security adviser over mischaracterizing contacts with Russian officials — is at the center of the Russia controversy plaguing the White House.
“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 investigation and we have no reason to believe that has changed,” she said.
Trump has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion, but he has been forced to acknowledge that his eldest son, Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his then campaign advisor Paul Manafort did meet a Kremlin-connected lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Mueller is also said to be investigating Trump’s financial records unrelated to Russia or the election, CNN reported.
The revelations will only fuel speculation that Trump may try to curb the investigation by firing Mueller.
Two US senators introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday to preempt that move by insulating Mueller.
The legislation, sponsored by Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Thom Tillis, would bar a president from directly firing the special counsel without a judicial review.
Under the bill, Mueller would be allowed to challenge his removal in court in the event he is fired without good cause.
If called to testify before a grand jury, Trump would not be the first president to do so. Then president Bill Clinton was forced to give details about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, evidence that was used in his impeachment.