Tensions between Republicans and Democrats over the investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election intensified today, with President Donald Trump demanding to know why his campaign is under federal scrutiny while his former opponent Hillary Clinton is not.
The President's latest outburst over the inquiry led by special counsel Robert Mueller surfaced on Twitter as his Administration braced for the possibility that the first batch of charges in the case could be publicly announced as soon tonight or tomorrow NZT.
CNN reported that a federal grand jury had approved an indictment, although details of the possible charges and the name of a defendant remained unclear.
Trump issued four tweets over 24 minutes, attacking the Mueller probe as unfair and citing various Clinton controversies that he said warranted investigation.
"Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia, 'collusion,' which doesn't exist," the President said. "The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R's are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!"
Later, Trump added: "All of this 'Russia' talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!"
On talk shows, Republicans rallied around Trump and questioned how CNN could have received information about secret grand jury proceedings.
"There are very, very strict laws on grand jury secrecy, so depending on who leaked this to CNN, that's a criminal violation, potentially," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, (R), a longtime friend of Trump's, said on CNN. "For us to have confidence in this process, we've got to make sure that the grand jury process remains confidential, remains secret, so that the special counsel can work effectively to be able to get to the bottom of all that he's looking into."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R), cast doubt on the objectivity of Mueller's team, noting that the prosecutor's staff includes "a lot of individuals, attorneys who played in politics, who've given money on the Democratic side". Of the eight lawyers on the team who have been publicly identified, four made donations to Democrats, including President Barack Obama and Clinton.
"This President won the election solely on the idea that he connected with the American people. No other influence involved," McCarthy said on Fox. "But the idea of what I've watched, of what the Democrats have been doing, it sure raises a lot of questions."
Congressman Trey Gowdy, (R), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, came to Mueller's defence and said that he doesn't agree with Republicans who are calling for Mueller to resign or stop his investigation.
"I would encourage my Republican friends - give the guy a chance to do his job," Gowdy said on Fox. "The result will be known by the facts, by what he uncovers. . . . I would say give the guy a chance to do his job."
Democratic lawmakers mostly stayed out of the fray after a week in which Clinton's 2016 campaign came under fresh scrutiny. The campaign funded political opposition research into Trump that helped create a highly publicised "dossier" on the Republican candidate and fuelled some allegations now under scrutiny by Mueller.
The 35-page dossier is composed of 17 memos containing raw intelligence, some of it highly salacious and not independently confirmed. It relies on Kremlin-linked sources and alleges that the Russian Government had been trying to support Trump's candidacy while gathering compromising information that could be used as blackmail. The dossier was published in full by BuzzFeed in January.
It's unclear how much the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee paid for the opposition research by Fusion GPS, a Washington firm that conducts investigations for private clients.
The Clinton campaign paid $5.6 million in legal fees to a law firm from June 2015 to December 2016, according to campaign finance records, and the DNC paid the firm $3.6 million in "legal and compliance consulting'' since November 2015. It's impossible to tell from the filings how much of that work was for other legal matters and how much of it related to Fusion GPS.
Compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, the dossier mirrors a separate conclusion reached by US intelligence agencies that the Russian Government intervened in the US election in an effort to bolster Trump and harm Clinton, such as through hacking the DNC and distributing materials to WikiLeaks to publish at key moments.
Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to gather information, was first employed to investigate Trump during the Republican primaries by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication that receives financial support from billionaire GOP donor Paul Singer. The Beacon said in a statement that its research ended before Fusion GPS hired Steele and that none of the research that it commissioned is included in the dossier.
In April 2016, a lawyer representing Clinton's presidential campaign and the DNC hired Fusion GPS, which then hired Steele. Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said he learned about Steele and the dossier after the election. People familiar with the matter told the Washington Post that the Clinton campaign and the DNC did not direct Steele's activities.
Congressman Adam Schiff, Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that "a lot" of the information in the dossier has been corroborated.
"I certainly would have liked to know who paid for it earlier, but nonetheless, that's just one factor to be considered," Schiff said on ABC. "It doesn't answer the ultimate question, which is: How much of the work is accurate? How much of it is true? And my colleagues don't seem particularly interested in that question, but that is really the most important question for the American people."