- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have zeroed in on some of the biggest figures in the Russian election meddling probe, interviewing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and fired FBI Director James B. Comey and reportedly eyeing a sit-down in the coming weeks with President Trump.

Mr. Sessions, whom the Justice Department said met with Mr. Mueller’s team for several hours last week, is the first member of President Trump’s Cabinet to testify in the probe, although more than a dozen current and former White House aides have spoken to the special counsel’s investigators.

Tuesday’s revelations broke amid an escalating partisan cacophony over allegations of anti-Trump political bias in the investigation first by the FBI and now by Mr. Mueller’s office, and raised expectations that the special counsel’s probe could be moving toward a climax.

Just hours after the Sessions interview surfaced, the New York Times reported that Mr. Mueller’s team had interviewed Mr. Comey sometime last year, focusing on highly controversial private memos written about his interactions with Mr. Trump. Those included a meeting during which Mr. Trump allegedly asked Mr. Comey to close the FBI’s probe into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that Mr. Mueller and the Trump White House were negotiating the terms of whether and how the president could answer questions in the probe in the coming weeks.

Although he has criticized Mr. Sessions in the past, Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday said he was “not at all concerned” about what the attorney general may have told the Mueller team.

Mr. Sessions and Mr. Comey sit at the intersection of multiple threads of the inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election and in whether the president tried to obstruct justice by shutting down the government’s investigation into the scandal.

Last March, Mr. Sessions, who was a top surrogate for the Trump campaign as a senator in 2016, announced he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. He acknowledged he had had two previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the 2016 campaign before Mr. Trump named him as attorney general.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, citing his agency’s handling of the Russia collusion charges. His private memos on his dealings with Mr. Trump in the run-up to his dismissal could play a key role in the Mueller investigation, in particular on the question of obstruction of justice.

Tuesday’s multiple development appeared to accelerate Mr. Mueller’s collision course with the president.

While Republicans have argued that Mr. Mueller’s interest in obstruction of justice is beyond the boundaries of his probe, Mr. Mueller’s supporters have pushed back and say the president’s firing of Mr. Comey dragged himself deeper into the probe.

Before becoming attorney general, Mr. Sessions was involved in helping craft Mr. Trump’s position toward Russia, including a meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington in March 2016. That meeting was attended by George Papadopoulos, a campaign volunteer who was working to secure a personal meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI in October. At the time, it was revealed that Papadopoulos had been a “cooperating witness” with the special counsel’s Russia probe since his secret arrest in July.

Over the past several months, Mr. Mueller’s team has met with a string of aides and advisers of the president, including White House Counsel Don McGahn, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Former White House top strategist Steve Bannon revealed last week struck a deal to talk with Mr. Mueller.

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Mueller has relayed his interest in speaking with the president, and White House attorney Ty Cobb has said that is “under active discussion” with Mr. Trump’s individual lawyers. Mr. Cobb said last week on a CBS News’ political podcast, “The Takeout,” that he expected the investigation to be wrapped up within weeks.

Four people have so far been charged in the Mueller investigation, including Mr. Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Mr. Flynn and Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

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