Trump unfazed by ex-aides' info in Russia probe

US leader confident they don't have evidence against him to offer prosecutors, says lawyer

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump is confident that two of his former top aides do not have damaging information about him to offer prosecutors in a probe into Russian interference in last year's presidential vote, a White House lawyer has said.

The comments came just before multiple news reports said a grand jury has approved the first charges stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the alleged meddling and possible collusion with Mr Trump's campaign.

The charges are sealed under orders from a federal judge and it is unclear who are implicated, CNN reported, adding that arrests could come as soon as today. The Wall Street Journal reported that at least one person has been charged, citing people familiar with the matter that it did not identify.

Mr Mueller has summoned witnesses before a federal grand jury in Washington to gather information about Mr Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman; Mr Michael Flynn, the retired general and former national security adviser; and other Trump associates.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb said in an interview last Thursday for The Times' podcast, The New Washington: "The President has no concerns in terms of any impact, as to what happens to them, on his campaign or on the White House."

Mr Manafort has been warned to expect an indictment, raising the prospect that Mr Mueller will offer him leniency in exchange for incriminating information on Mr Trump.

Mr Trump has sought to play down the significance of Mr Manafort's role with the campaign.

Mr Cobb said: "He likes and respects Mr Manafort and appreciates the work he did for him during the three months he was with the campaign. He likes General Flynn personally, but understands that they have their own path with the special counsel... I think he would be sad for them, as a friend and a former colleague, if the process results in punishment or indictments. But to the extent that that happens, that's beyond his control."

Mr Mueller is investigating whether Mr Manafort violated federal tax laws or lobbied on behalf of foreign officials without registering. His team is also investigating Mr Manafort for possible money laundering. Many of the activities Mr Mueller is scrutinising date back years, well before Mr Manafort joined the Trump campaign.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said: "Mr Manafort has said from the beginning neither he nor anyone else in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to undermine the 2016 election. Finally, everyone seems to be coming to that same conclusion."

Mr Mueller is also examining Mr Flynn's financial ties to Russia and whether he concealed lobbying last year for Turkey.

The White House has given his team documents related to Mr Manafort and Mr Flynn, as well as the firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey and other topics. Mr Trump has instructed all White House staff members to cooperate with investigators, Mr Cobb said.

Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, was tapped in May to head the Russia probe shortly after Mr Trump's shock sacking of Mr Comey.

Mr Mueller has begun interviewing the staff members, but he has not yet asked to speak with Mr Trump.

"I think the path that he (Mr Trump) chose of trying to minimise conflict and maximise cooperation is one that benefits the country as he tries to erase this cloud," Mr Cobb said. "Which I think he will ultimately achieve."

NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2017, with the headline 'Trump unfazed by ex-aides' info in Russia probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe