There are signs the US Special Counsel investigating alleged Russian meddling in the US election is stepping up his inquiry.
Reports say Robert Mueller has begun using a grand jury which has issued subpoenas relating to a meeting between President Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.
Grand juries are members of the public who hear evidence in secret and can force witnesses to appear or hand over documents.
Legal experts have described the reports as a serious development.
“If I were in the White House, I would be concerned that the investigation has gone up another notch or appears to have gone up another notch. In short order probably people who are in the administration or former members of the administration or former members of the campaign will be getting subpoenas to testify and provide documents,” said Professor David Levine, from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.
Donald Trump’s lawyers insist he is not under investigation and at a rally in West Virginia on Thursday, the president’s message was typically defiant.
“The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics, that’s all it is.”
Moscow denies meddling in the US election and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign. He has regularly denounced the investigations as witch hunts.
“Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign… We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you,” he told the rally in Huntington.
Donald Trump has questioned Mueller’s impartiality. Democratic and Republican senators have initiated legislation seeking to block the president from firing the investigator.
One of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, has denied that the president is considering dismissing Mueller.
Questions about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Moscow were fuelled by news last month of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who he was told had damaging information about his father’s presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
The president has defended his son’s behaviour, saying many people would have accepted the meeting – which was also attended by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
One source has been quoted as saying that Mueller was investigating whether anyone linked to Trump’s campaign encouraged the Russians to start releasing material they had been collecting on the Clinton campaign. According to Reuters, another source said Mueller’s inquiry was trying to determine whether Trump knew in advance of the meeting on 9 June 2016.