Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia took a dramatic turn amidst news that the former FBI Director has formed a grand jury as part of the Russian investigation, indicating a change in goals to charging people with crimes rather than simple investigation.

  • Robert Mueller’s office said to have requested White House documents on Michael Flynn yesterday.
  • Who is the man with the power to topple embattled Donald Trump?
  • Can Trump discredit Mueller’s team and would he dare to try?

The special counsel led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller investigating claims of Russian meddling in the US election has begun to use a grand jury in Washington.

The bombshell spells bad news for Trump as it points to a more aggressive approach to gathering data on possible collusion with Trump’s campaign team and the seeking of potential prosecutions, using grand juries to issue subpoenas and legally compel people to testify.

The indication that the investigation is widening to include events unrelated to just election meddling and possibly seeking prosecution has been met by typical scorn by Donald Trump, who told a rally in West Virginia that it was a “total fabrication”.

The president used an interview with the New York Times to denounce the “witch hunt” and question the “biased” investigators while musing about what it might take for him to “fire” the special counsel following what he described as the crossing of a “red line”.

Mueller’s Investigation Gathers Pace

Just yesterday, special counsel Robert Mueller sent a letter to White House staff telling them to preserve all documents related to Michael Flynn, with staff urged to preserve emails, text messages and notes related to the June 2016 meeting meeting between Donald Trump Junior, Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who previously denied alleged links to the Kremlin.

The investigation into Russian meddling first started back in the summer of 2016 following the hacking and leaking of Democratic National Committee internal emails, before former FBI Director Mueller came on board, but quickly expanded to examine whether the Russian government interfered with the election and whether the Trump campaign was knowingly involved.

Centers of investigation include the hacking and leaks of the emails of prominent Democrats, meetings that Donald Trump Jr. allegedly set up with Russian contacts and whether the campaign was involved in Russian efforts to spread fake news alongside seemingly unsuccessful efforts to hack computer systems on election day.

Aside from matters related to the 2016 election, Mueller’s investigation is now looking into potential criminal activity involving Trump’s Russian business relationships including the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, a condo development in New York’s  SoHo district and the sale of a Florida property to a wealthy Russian in 2008.

In addition, the FBI has been investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s statements about contacts with the Russians and lobbying for Turkish interests, as well as Paul Manafort’s finances and potential money laundering.

Perhaps the most damning outcome of the investigation would be evidence that President Trump deliberately obstructed justice.

Interference with any investigations,possibly in connection with Comey’s firing, would be a colossal problem and likely form the core of impeachment charges against Trump, much as it did against Richard Nixon.

How Much Power Does Robert Mueller Actually Have?

Mueller is widely respected as a nonpolitical, sensible and hard-nosed investigator with good will and respect on both sides of the political spectrum. After decorated service in the Marine Corps, Mueller graduated from University of Virginia Law School and served as FBI director for 12 years after the Bush era appointment was asked by Obama to continue in his role in an “unusual step” for an incoming administration.

He wields the power to subpoena documents and file criminal charges against Trump’s inner circle.

If his investigation presents compelling evidence that a crime has been committed, Mueller has the power to seek a criminal indictment against that person. If the grand jury signs off, that person is then arrested and charged.

Not only is Mueller charged with investigating collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” giving his investigation an unlimited scope, including Trump’s reasons for firing former FBI Director James Comey, as well as any events that occur in real time.

Importantly, refusing to comply with a subpoena is illegal. So is lying to investigators, making it really tough for Trump’s administration to lie or hide evidence as they can with traditional media.

Could Trump Sack Mueller?

Trump has the ability and oversight to fire Mueller if he wanted to and for any reason he see’s fit as a member of the executive branch.

Under special counsel regulations, Mueller may be “disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the attorney general” and as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from all matters related to the 2016 election, only Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has the power to fire Mueller.

Rosenstein commented during a hearing before a House panel in June that “The chain of command for the special counsel is only directly to the attorney general — and in this case, the acting attorney general.”
“Our Constitution gives the president the full prosecution power in Article II; accordingly, any federal prosecutor works ultimately for the president. The president, therefore, would have to direct Rosenstein to fire Mueller — or, somewhat more extravagantly, Trump could order the special-counsel regulations repealed and then fire Mueller himself.”

Would He Even Try?

Despite his powers, if the President tried to fire Mueller or get him fired “it would expose a deep flaw in constitutional design” according to Harvard Law School Professor Noah R. Feldman “because it shows the ability of the president to successfully block an investigation — not a sign of a democratic society.”
Trump is “a stress test for this particular constitutional problem” and the weight of public opinion would further dissuade such a decision.

What will Actually Happen?

 At present Donald Trump Jr. is the most obviously ‘in danger’ of criminal prosecution. His damning “if it’s what you say I love it” sentence from emails responding to offers of Russian dirt on Clinton is, according to experts, damning proof of criminal campaign finance violation.
“The emails are, simply put, damning as a legal matter,” said former Defense Department special counsel Ryan Goodman, “The text of the emails provide very clear evidence of participation in a scheme to involve the Russian government in federal election interference, in a form that is prohibited by federal criminal law.”
Things are moving move fast, however, and with unlimited scope to uncover the true story about Trump’s relationship with Russia and new revelations about potential collusion emerging seemingly every day, few are sure of the future fallout.