WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump lashed out on Thursday after a report that he was under investigation for possible obstruction of justice and he dismissed as “phony” the idea his campaign colluded with any Russian effort to sway the presidential election last year.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump wrote on Twitter, later repeating his accusation that the probe was a “witch hunt”.

The Washington Post, citing unidentified officials, reported on Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the Republican president for possible obstruction of justice.

A source familiar with the Mueller investigation confirmed the report, saying an examination of possible obstruction of justice charges was “unavoidable” given testimony by former FBI Director James Comey, although the issue may not become the focus of the probe.

Comey, who was fired on May 9, told a Senate panel last week he believed Trump dismissed him to undermine the FBI’s Russia probe. He also told the Senate Intelligence Committee in his June 8 testimony that he believed Trump had directed him to drop a related agency investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Regardless of the outcome, the specter of Mueller examining the possibility of obstruction of justice appeared to be a new blow to Trump, whose first five months in office have been clouded by the federal and congressional probes into the Russia issue.

Although he was strongly critical of some of Comey’s testimony, the president said last week that the former FBI chief had vindicated him when he said that while he was at the agency, Trump was not the subject of the FBI’s Russia probe.

The special counsel is following two major lines of investigation, said one U.S. official familiar with the rough outlines of Mueller’s probe who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The first is into whether anyone on Trump’s campaign or associated with it, with him or with any of his businesses, may have had any illegal dealings with Russian officials or others with ties to the Kremlin, said the official.

The second, the official continued, is into whether if any potential offenses were committed, Trump or others attempted to cover them up or obstruct the investigation into them.

Examining such possible charges will allow investigators to interview key administration figures including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and possibly Trump himself, said the source familiar with the Mueller investigation.

While a sitting president is unlikely to face criminal prosecution, obstruction of justice could form the basis for impeachment.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2017