According to the Wall Street Journal, special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in the Justice Department’s Russia probe, a signal that the investigation, which President Trump has repeatedly referred to as a witch-hunt, “is growing in intensity and entering a new phase” and could continue for months.
This is the second grand jury related to Mueller’s inquiry. Before being named special counsel, federal prosecutors were using a grand jury in Virginia for the investigation of Michael Flynn’s private sector work for foreign governments; Mueller’s investigation absorbed that case as well.
Until the President starts tweeting, the White House is saying all the right things about this latest development:
Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he wasn’t aware that Mr. Mueller had started using a new grand jury. “Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Mr. Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly … The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”
After impaneling a grand jury, Mueller is now free to subpoena documents and interview witnesses under oath, something that would be necessary if the investigation’s scope was widened.
“This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”
Another expert told the Journal that impaneling a grand jury was a sign that the investigation was only getting started and that Mueller “wouldn’t do this if it were winding down.”
Adding credence to the idea that the probe isn’t close to an end, Mueller recently hired another member to his team: former Justice department official Greg Andres who “oversaw the fraud unit and managed the program that targeted illegal foreign bribery.” According to a CNN report, the investigators think that President Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia are “one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward.” Moreover, the probe may have also widened to include financial crimes that are not necessarily related to collusion with Russia.
In other Mueller news, the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday that would protect Mueller from unwarranted removal or firing, which President Trump has suggested he could do, by giving special counsels the opportunity to challenge such an action in court, where a three-judge panel could overrule the President.