By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 10, 2017
Both CNN and CBS News have now confirmed that a grand jury had been convened as part of the investigation into Trump campaign associates’ ties to Russia prior to President Donald Trump firing FBI Director James Comey. CNN first reported the news last evening that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia had issued grand jury subpoenas in recent weeks to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records.
CBS News confirmed the report this morning, adding that “the probe has been going forward aggressively.” The convening of a grand jury is typically associated with a belief that criminal activity may have occurred.
President Trump has come under withering criticism last night and today for firing the head of the FBI while the agency was conducting an active investigation of people close to the President.
Why the President decided to fire Comey at this moment in time has been the source of much speculation by major media outlets. The fact that the investigation had moved into more serious territory has become a growing narrative. Receiving less media attention is the testimony that Comey delivered before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. That testimony may have set off alarm bells in the White House.
In one exchange with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Comey refused to clarify that President Trump was not a target of the investigation. The exchange was as follows:
Blumenthal: But as a former prosecutor, you know that when there’s an investigation into several potentially culpable individuals, the evidence from those individuals and the investigation can lead to others. Correct?
Comey: Correct. We’re always open-minded about — and we follow the evidence wherever it takes us.
Blumenthal: So potentially, the President of the United States could be a target of your ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russian interference in our election. Correct?
Comey: I just worry — I don’t want to answer that. That seems to be unfair speculation. We will follow the evidence. We’ll try and find as much as we can and we’ll follow the evidence wherever it leads.
In another exchange with Senator Amy Klocuchar, Comey let it slip that specific members of Congress already knew the identities of the Trump campaign individuals who were targets of his Russian investigation. Senator Klocuchar asked Comey to commit to providing a “full and timely briefing” to the relevant Congressional committee on the investigation’s findings. In response, Comey said the following:
“…I need Department of Justice approval to brief on particular people that we’re investigating. We’ve briefed the Chairs and the Rankings, including of this committee on who we have cases open on and exactly what we’re doing and how we’re using various sources of information. I don’t know whether the department will approve that for the entire intelligence committees, but I’ll lean as far forward as I can.”
The Trump White House has been obsessed with leaks. The possibility that Comey might brief the entirety of the intelligence committees, effectively ensuring more leaks, likely sent the Trump administration into a frenzy.
Senator Al Franken threw more gasoline on the fire in his exchange with Comey. Franken alluded to multiple ties between Trump and Russia and forced Comey to leave open the question as to whether Comey has seen Trump’s tax returns. The exchange went as follow:
Franken: Yes. Well, in order for us to know for certain whether President Trump would be vulnerable to that type of exploitation, we would have to understand his financial situation. We’d have to know whether or not he has money tied up in Russia, or obligations to Russian entities. Do you agree?
Comey: That you would need to understand that to evaluate that question? I don’t know.
Franken: Well, it seems to me that there is reason to believe such connections exist. For example, the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., told real estate developers in 2008 that quote, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.” He said quote, “we see a lot of money pouring in Russia.” This is a report on the family business.
In 2013 President Trump held the Ms. Universe pageant in Moscow. And the pageant was financed by a Russian billionaire who is close to Putin. And President Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian oligarch for $95 million in 2008. That’s $54 million more than he paid for it just four years prior. Those are three financial ties that we know of and they’re big ones.
Director Comey, the Russians have a history of using financial investments to gain leverage over influential people and then later calling in favors. We know that. We know that the Russians interfered in our election and they did it to benefit President Trump. The intelligence agencies confirmed that.
But what I want to know is why they favored President Trump. And it seems to me that in order to answer that question, any investigation into whether the Trump campaign or Trump operation colluded with Russian operatives would require a full appreciation of the President’s financial dealings.
Director Comey, would President Trump’s tax returns be material to such an investigation?
Comey: That’s not something Senator that I’m going to answer.
Franken: Does the investigation have access to President Trump’s tax returns?
Comey: I’m going to have to give you the same answer. Again, I hope people don’t over interpret my answers, but I just don’t want to start talking about anything — what we’re looking at and how.
Less than a week later, Comey was out of a job.