The Wall Street Journal is the first to report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has recently impaneled a grand jury in the Trump-Putin campaign investigation (separate from the Gen. Michael Flynn grand jury) indicating that the investigation has entered a new phase. Special Counsel Robert Mueller Impanels Washington Grand Jury in Russia Probe (pay firewall article):
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase, according to people familiar with the matter.
The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, signals that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry will likely continue for months.
The Washington Post picks up the Journal’s report, Special Counsel Mueller using grand jury in federal court in Washington as part of Russia investigation:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller began using a grand jury in federal court in Washington several weeks ago as part of his probe into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, according to two people familiar with the investigation.
The development is a sign that investigators continue to aggressively gather evidence in the case.
Federal prosecutors had previously been using a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, and even before Mueller was appointed, had ramped up their activity, issuing subpoenas and taking other investigative steps.
In federal cases, a grand jury is not necessarily an indication that an indictment is imminent or even likely. Instead, it is a powerful investigative tool that prosecutors use to compel witnesses to testify or force people or companies to turn over documents.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the existence of the Washington grand jury.
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Experts said that Washington would be the appropriate place to convene a grand jury to examine actions taken by Trump since he became president and took up residence at the White House in the District, including whether he obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James B. Comey. Many of the potential crimes Mueller’s team is investigating would have occurred in the District of Columbia, such as allegations that Trump aides or advisers made false statements in disclosure records or lied to federal agents.
Others said the choice could reflect Mueller’s reputation for planning ahead and gaming out a possible trial. He would potentially have better chances convicting aides to President Trump in a city in which 90 percent of voters voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment for this story.
“This is news to me but it’s welcome news to the extent it suggests that it may accelerate the resolution of Mr. Mueller’s work,” said Ty Cobb, White House special counsel, when asked to comment on the grand jury in Washington. “The White House has every interest in bringing this to a prompt and fair conclusion. As we’ve said in the past, we’re committed to cooperating fully with Mr. Mueller.”
The special counsel team took over the investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign when Mueller appointed in May, and prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia were largely removed from the case.
The only prosecutor to stay was Brandon Van Grack, a national security division prosecutor whose name was on the subpoena connected to Flynn. Mueller’s team also absorbed an investigation into Manafort, which was attempting to trace his sources of income and possible connections to the Russia case.
The grand jury in Virginia issued a subpoena related to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s business, the Flynn Intel Group, which was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials, according to people familiar with the matter. A subpoena related to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was also issued.
Congress is now moving to protect Robert Mueller from Trump firing him in an attempt to derail his investigation. Senators unveil two proposals to protect Mueller’s Russia probe:
Two bipartisan pairs of senators unveiled legislation Thursday to prevent President Trump from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III without cause — or at least a reason good enough to convince a panel of federal judges.
Senators have raised concerns that the president might try to rearrange his administration to get rid of Mueller, who is spearheading a probe of Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election and any possible collusion between the Kremlin and members of the Trump campaign and transition teams.
Mueller’s probe has been advancing, despite the president’s attempts to discredit the probe as an illegitimate “witch hunt.” He impaneled a grand jury in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, according to a new report out Thursday. And the case has already produced subpoenas, from a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia that issued them in relation to former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s business and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
While Trump cannot fire Mueller directly, many have raised concerns in recent weeks that he might seek to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from all campaign-related matters, including the Russia probe. Sessions’s deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, said he would not fire Mueller without cause — but a new attorney general could supersede his authority.
The blowback from Congress to Trump’s recent public criticism of Sessions was sharp and substantial, and his allies in the GOP told the president to back off. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) even indicated that he would not make time in the Senate schedule to consider a new attorney general nominee.
This week, there have been reports that new White House chief of staff John F. Kelly told Sessions he would not have to worry about losing his job.
But that has not quieted the concerns of the Democrats and Republicans behind the latest efforts to safeguard Mueller — and, by extension, his Russia probe — from presidential interference.
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The two proposals — one from Tillis and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and the other from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — each seek to check the executive branch’s ability to fire a special counsel, by putting the question to a three-judge panel from the federal courts. They differ in when that panel gets to weigh in on the decision.
Graham and Booker’s proposal, which also has backing from Judiciary Committee Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), would require the judges panel to review any attorney general’s decision to fire a special counsel before that firing could take effect. Tillis and Coons’ proposal would let the firing proceed according to current regulations, which they codify in the bill — but the fired special counsel would have the right to contest the administration’s decision in court. In that scenario, the judges panel would have two weeks from the day the special counsel’s case is filed to complete their review and determine whether the termination was acceptable.
Tillis and Coons, who pulled their bill together over the past two days, explained the difference as one to ensure that the legislation does not run afoul of constitutional separation of powers. Both senators, as well as Graham, said they expect they may merge their efforts after lawmakers return to Washington in September.
“I think we maybe can have a meeting of the minds. I really appreciate them doing it,” Graham said Thursday of Tillis and Coons’s bill. “I just have a different way of doing it.”
In either guise, the bill effectively would limit the president’s authority to hire and fire special counsels — a privilege that fell more squarely under the executive’s purview after Congress let an independent-counsel law established in the wake of the Watergate scandal expire in 1999, following Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton.
The lawmakers are not expecting that the president will like or support either proposal to protect the special counsel from being fired without cause. But they say they are convinced that there is enough support to pass such a law, even over Trump’s objections, because of the number of Republicans and Democrats speaking out in defense of Mueller and his probe.
Coons identified “a broader bipartisan concern that the president may take inappropriate action to interfere with the ongoing, important work of Bob Mueller,” he said, and guessed that “if the president were to fire the special counsel, the Senate might promptly take action to reappoint him.”
“This is the first step to put a speed bump in place against his improvident firing,” he said of his bill with Tillis.