Trump-Russia is now a criminal matter, senators say after ‘sobering’ briefing

The counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion by the campaign of President Donald Trump with Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections has become a criminal probe, several U.S. senators said after a briefing Thursday.

That revelation came after nearly the entire complement of the U.S. Senate attended a briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a secure auditorium beneath the Capitol. The briefing came a day after Rosenstein had appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the probe.

“The takeaway I had,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “was that you need to treat this investigation as if it may be a criminal investigation. The biggest legal change seems to be that Mr. Mueller is going to move forward with the idea of a criminal investigation versus a counterintelligence investigation.”

Graham said Rosenstein did not explain why the investigation had changed. But the characterization suggested that the probe had moved from a general inquiry into whether there had been collusion to one that had identified possible suspects.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also said Rosenstein had declined to provide details of the case, citing “the uniqueness of the investigation.” But even without specifics, he said, the briefing was “sobering.”

“As it became clear how little he was willing to talk about it, it also became clear how broad this investigation that Mueller is about to undertake actually is,” Murphy said.

Many of the senators leaving the hearing were reluctant to speak about what had been said. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walked away with only an exasperated wave as his comment. One senator called the meeting “therapeutic.” But some details did emerge.

Rosenstein apparently did not address reports that Trump had tried to interfere in the case by asking then-FBI Director James Comey to shut down the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. But he disputed early White House claims that a memo Rosenstein had written that was critical of Comey had been the genesis of Trump’s decision to fire the FBI head.

“He did say that Comey was to be removed from office before he wrote his memo,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

The session capped an extraordinary 10 days in the capital that began with Comey’s abrupt dismissal May 9 and included an odd Oval Office meeting between Trump and two Russian officials, allegations that the president had shared sensitive officials with those officials and word that Comey had documented Trump’s efforts to persuade him to drop the case against Flynn in private memos.

The session itself underscored the historic nature of what is taking place. All 100 hundred senators had been invited to attend, though at least one, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who was taken ill while running Wednesday, was absent. The meeting itself was in a special constructed room beneath the Capitol designed to prevent electronic eavesdropping.

The meeting, at which all senators were free to ask questions and make statements, had been expected to be contentious as anger flared over Comey’s dismissal and Rosenstein’s possible role in it. But Mueller’s appointment apparently took some of the edge off.

One question that lingered, however, was how Mueller’s appointment and the change in the nature of the probe would affect the multiple congressional investigations underway in the matter. Graham, for one, predicted it would slow those probes.

Congressional investigators “will have to be very leery of crossing into Mr. Mueller’s lane,” he said. “Mr. Mueller will tell us what we can get and what we can’t.”

“There should be no concern with that,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. He noted, however, that the congressional probes would need to be respectful of the needs of the criminal investigation.

“There needs to be a relationship with that investigation where they can say with confidence, ‘This really is a problem for us,’ or ‘Hey, we’d rather you didn’t do it, but it’s not a problem,’ ” Blunt said.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Democrats should take a lesson from the appointment of a special counsel.

“Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for, because when you get it, all of a sudden you can’t get answers to things because now it’s an active investigation,” he said. “That’s the problem with a special prosecutor.”

Johnson said his biggest concern was that the special counsel’s probe would be “never ending.”

“I want to see the Senate Intelligence Committee get to their conclusion, issue a report so we can start addressing the challenges facing this nation,” he said. “It’s going to hamper our ability to get to the bottom of this quickly, I believe.”

Rob Hotakainen contributed to this story.

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2017. Andrew Harnik AP

Article Trump-Russia is now a criminal matter, senators say after ‘sobering’ briefing compiled by www.miamiherald.com

Recommended stories

Special counsel abruptly named to probe Trump-Russia ties

The Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday evening as a special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into allegations Russia and Donald Trump's campaign collaborated to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Relax Trump-Russia is now a criminal matter, senators say after ‘sobering’ briefing stories

Trump approval down in ‘places that matter most’

President Donald Trump’s job approval has ticked even lower amid a chaotic week of revelations tied to Russia and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey a Monmouth University Poll found Thursday, May 18.

Trump is a truth-teller, after all

Invariably, President Trump contradicts statements from his communications team and other officials, and blurts the truth. As counterintuitive as it seems, Trump is a truth-teller among spinmeisters.

Trump’s tough stand on immigrant detention will cost taxpayers big

To execute Donald Trump’s order to end “catch and release” of immigrants caught entering the United States illegally, the U.S. would likely need to double or triple the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s $2.2 billion detention budget to build and staff more jails, according to calculations by

More stories

Chaffetz will resign, raising doubts about Trump probe

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz said Thursday he is resigning from Congress next month, a move that calls into question the future of the House Oversight Committee's investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign's ties with Russia.

Trump approval down in ‘places that matter most’

President Donald Trump’s job approval has ticked even lower amid a chaotic week of revelations tied to Russia and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey a Monmouth University Poll found Thursday, May 18.