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The Latest In The Russia Inquiry: Are Indictments Imminent?


Let's turn now to the Russia investigation. All eyes today are on a federal court in Washington, D.C. That is where Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been presenting evidence to a grand jury, and we could be on the brink of a major development in this investigation. NPR's Ryan Lucas has been following this, and he's in our studios. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what could, in theory, happen today?

LUCAS: Well, Special Counsel Robert Mueller of course is the man leading the investigation into Russia's interference in last year's election.

GREENE: Right.

LUCAS: A big part of his probe is the question of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, so did folks within Trump's orbit work with Russians to try to win the 2016 presidential race? Now, Mueller has been using a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., since August. And on Friday night, CNN reported that the grand jury has handed down its first indictment in the Russia probe. Now, NPR has not independently confirmed that. According to CNN, there's no word on who the target is or what the charges are, but CNN and a couple of other media outlets say anyone charged could be taken into custody as early as today.

GREENE: Which, the idea of someone being taken into custody and an indictment, that could be a significant development here, right?

LUCAS: Most definitely. And usually in an instance like this we would learn the identity of the person being charged and what those charges are. In this case those details could shed light on the direction that Mueller's probe is going. One thing that's important to remember here, though, is that Mueller has the authority to investigate not just the so-called collusion question but really any matters that may arise during the course of his investigation. So the charges that may come down today could be totally unrelated to Russia. They could be instead related to, say, allegations of money laundering or lobbying. Remember that there have been a number of people within Trump's orbit who, you know, there are questions about lobbying work they did on behalf of foreign clients, including foreign governments.

Now, the other thing is that the indictment is also likely an indication that Mueller and the whole Russia question, the whole Russian investigation is not going to go away anytime soon. And that, of course, is what the White House would like to see happen.

GREENE: Well, and a lot of people are trying to figure out what President Trump was up to over the weekend. He was tweeting a lot, which is certainly not out of the ordinary over a weekend or at all, but I'm trying to figure out if he might know something or if he was tweeting maybe about this stuff because of, you know, as a sign of what's to come.

LUCAS: Well, the president has said for quite some time that the Russian investigation is a witch hunt. That's his term for it. And he says it's organized by Democrats, of course, to kind of hamstring his presidency. On Sunday he did fire off a whole series of tweets that appear to take aim at Mueller and the investigation. He said that he's never seen such, and I quote here, "anger and unity" - all caps - among Republicans about a bunch of issues related to Hillary Clinton, including her emails. He said that the Democrats are using this as a, quote, "terrible and bad for our country witch hunt for evil politics." Republicans are fighting back, he said, and then he added, there is so much guilt by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. In all caps, "do something."

I have to add one more thing, though, and that's that his lawyer said in a statement that same day that the president's comments are unrelated to the Special Counsel's activities.

GREENE: (Laughter). They're just tweets. He's just tweeting, is the message. And just really briefly, I mean, any idea who could be charged? Any speculation about that?

LUCAS: There's a ton of speculation out there. Some say former campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, who's clearly been a focus of the investigation. The FBI served a search warrant on his home earlier this summer. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is another idea. But it could be somebody else entirely. Smaller fish, so to speak, and then investigators work their way up the chain.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks a lot.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.