Oh, boy! Hold on to your seat! In a sign that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is ramping up, he has impaneled a new grand jury in Washington D.C. Despite White House claims of a “witch hunt”, this makes it clear that Mueller’s efforts are intensifying, not cooling down.
This new grand jury is in addition to one that had already been formed by federal prosecutors in nearby Alexandria, Virginia to investigate former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s private sector work for foreign entities. That inquiry had been absorbed by Mueller’s office, but this new grand jury will be closer and easier to access for the Special Counsel’s office of 16 attorneys.
This is a major step for Mueller. Grand juries are powerful tools that allow prosecutors more powers to collect evidence and assemble a case.
Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.
“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.”
This doesn’t mean Mueller is certain to bring charges, but he evidently believes there is enough of a case to pursue it. Expect everyone in Donald Trump’s sphere with any connection to Russia to be called in to testify. In fact, it’s already happening:
This news comes as Mueller has been expanding his investigative team with some heavy hitters.
Another sign the investigation is ramping up: Greg Andres, a top partner in a powerhouse New York law firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, has joined Mr. Mueller’s team.
Mr. Andres, a former top Justice Department official who also oversaw the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, wouldn’t leave his private-sector job for a low-level investigation, Mr. Zeno said.
While grand juries and Special Counsel inquiries are secret, these recent moves indicate the breadth and expected duration of the current efforts are broader than first anticipated. Mueller’s probe is likely to last for at least the coming months, if not longer. When the Special Counsel was convened, Mueller was given an open-ended mandate. He’s taking advantage of that.
But White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, has promised cooperation.
“The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”
That’s the smart tact, since cover-ups and perjury tends to be the problem that nails most people to the wall in circumstances like this. Cooperation is always the wisest course of action. But there is no telling what testimony or evidence may be collected. And with a team of rivals in the White House, it’s anyone’s guess what some folks may do when under stress. For now, it’s wait and see, even for the Commander-in-Chief.