Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Russia Probe

(CN) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a new grand jury in Washington to probe Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Meanwhile Reuters, citing two unnamed sources, reported Thursday afternoon that grand jury subpoenas have been issued related to June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Russian lawyers and others.

As for the Wall Street Journal report, two sources close to the probe told the newspaper the move is a sign the investigation is gaining steam, citing a pair of sources close to the probe.

The grand jury began its work in recent weeks, and was considered to be evidence that Mueller’s inquiry isn’t going away any time soon.

A spokesman for Mueller, Joshua Stueve, declined to comment to the paper.

A lawyer for President Donald Trump says he has no reason to believe the president is under federal investigation amid a media report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is using a grand jury as part of his probe.

Attorney John Dowd said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday that he had no information suggesting that the president himself is under investigation.

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.”

In distributing Cobb’s statement, the White House added, “Former FBI Director Jim Comey said three times the President is not under investigation and we have no reason to believe that has changed.”

Part of Mueller’s investigation is looking at whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian officials in their effort to hurt Hillary Clinton and boost Trump’s chances. The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a January report that the operation had been ordered from the highest levels of the Russian government.

According to reporting from CNN Thursday afternoon, the Mueller probe has expanded to look at potential financial crimes, some of which bear no connection to the election.

The FBI is now looking at financial records related to Trump and his company – the Trump Organization – as well as family members and campaign associates, CNN reported.

Investigators are sifting through a list of shell companies, tenants at Trump Tower, individuals who purchased Trump-branded properties, and Russian business contacts connected to Trump in relation to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Moscow.

Trump has publicly warned Mueller that if his investigation strays into examining his finances, it would be a step too far.

In recent weeks rumors have swirled that Trump might try to fire Mueller, which rang alarm bells on Capitol Hill.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced a bill that would allow the special counsel to challenge his ouster before a 3-judge panel.

Impaneling a grand jury in Washington could be more convenient for Mueller and the team of 16 attorneys he has assembled than making the traffic-ridden 10-mile trek to the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va. the Journal reported.

Another grand jury is already at work in northern Virginia,  looking at President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

However law professor Stephen I. Vladeck told the newspaper that with a grand jury already assembled in Virginia, the move to Washington suggests the investigation could be substantially bigger than Flynn.

Another source told the Journal that the move doesn’t mean that Mueller will bring charges against anyone, but it does show that Mueller is serious about his role as special counsel.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller just over a week after the president fired former FBI director James Comey in May.

President Trump has repeatedly called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” and has denied any collusion with the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also denied charges that the Russian government interfered in the election.

Attorney James Robenalt, a Cleveland-based attorney with the Thompson Hine law firm, said Thursday there are two reasons a special prosecutor puts together a grand jury: to issue subpoenas and to indict individuals.

“A special prosecutor doesn’t have subpoena power, so this is clearly a step in furthering the investigation,” he said.

But Robenalt has something more than an armchair perspective on the unfolding going’s-on in Washington.

Together with John W. Dean, President Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel, Robenalt created a continuing education program called “The Watergate CLE,” which uses the Watergate scandal as a teaching tool to instruct lawyers what to do if their clients have gotten involved in a cover-up and the ethic and legal dilemmas that stem from such a situation.

John Dean told Courthouse News not long ago that Robenalt is as much an expert on Watergate and the legal issues surrounding its many facets has he is.

While word that Robert Mueller has empanelled a grand jury makes for banner headlines, Robenalt said “the more ominous question is whether the special prosecutor now feels he has enough evidence to indict someone who is a subject of the investigation.

“We have no way of knowing that, and even if he does have people he’s now specifically looking at as the subject of a potential indictment, the events today don’t mean anything is right around the corner,” Robenalt said.

“Remember, the Watergate grand jury indicted in stages,” he said. “The burglary occurred on June 17, 1972, and the grand jury was empanelled almost immediately thereafter. But the first indictments, of G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt and the other Watergate ‘burglars,’ weren’t handed down until Sept. 15, 1972.

“In fact there are tapes of Nixon and H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman almost celebrating the fact the indictments came down and only involved the burglars,” he said. “But the grand jury kept working and the final indictments weren’t handed down until almost two years later. So we can expect the developments we learned of today to take some time.”

Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola University who served as assistant U.S. Attorney in the criminal division in Los Angeles for eight years, said she was not surprised to hear that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury. Like Robenalt, she believes Mueller’s empanelling the grand jury indicates the investigation is ramping up.

“He’s a pro, he works with professionals,” Levenson said of Mueller. “In my experience people who work at this level of investigation they’re pretty serious about their work. They’re not going in there to send a political message – they have a job to do.”

She added, “It doesn’t mean that there will be indictments tomorrow. But it does mean that Mueller is not deferring to congressional investigations. And he’s certainly not deferring to the message from the White House – he’s going to do his job.”

Levenson called Mueller “conscientious” and said he won’t be dissuaded from doing his job by any political posturing in Washington.

If Trump considered firing Mueller now, Levenson said the optics of having a grand jury in place would make that more difficult.

“I think people take more seriously the idea that you would shut down a grand jury,” she said. “Those are supposed to be representing the people.”

If Trump fired Mueller, questions would remain about whether the grand jury would lapse or if another prosecutor would pick up where he left off. The investigation could also be transferred to a new grand jury, Levenson said.

Dan McCue contributed to this report.

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