WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/CBS News) — Special Counsel Robert Mueller has put a grand jury to use in Washington, D.C., in a clear sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is ramping up, CBS News has learned.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury.
CBS News has learned that Mueller is using a federal grand jury – in part to issue subpoenas to compel documents and information as part of his Russia investigation. The investigation includes Russian interference in the election, Russian hacking, Russian influence, and possible financial wrongdoing, individuals familiar with the matter told CBS News.
It is unclear whether a new separate grand jury has been impaneled by the Special Counsel, CBS News reported. It is possible Mueller is using an existing grand jury.
The Journal reported the grand jury began its work in recent weeks, and signals that Mueller’s inquiry will likely go on for months.
Grand juries give prosecutors the ability to put witnesses under oath if there is evidence of a crime, CBS News explained.
Mueller and his expanding team will also have the power to seek indictments and subpoena documents.
Another grand jury in Virginia is currently investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“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,” Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, told the paper. “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.”
The existence of the grand jury does not mean that Mueller will necessarily bring charges, former federal prosecutor Thomas Zeno told the Journal, but it also shows he is “very serious.”
“He wouldn’t be doing this if it were winding down,” Zeno said.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the investigation into Russian interference, and the alleged connections between his campaign and Russian figures, a “witch hunt.” He has also suggested that he might attempt to fire Mueller, a former FBI director whose investigation falls under the purview of the Department of Justice. In response, Congress is currently considering bills that would make it harder for Trump to fire Mueller.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller special counsel in May, and Mueller was given a broad mandate to investigate and prosecute any potential crimes he uncovered. The appointment came after Mr. Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, delegating oversight of the probe to Rosenstein.
An attorney for Trump is responding to the report and said he has no reason to believe the president is under investigation.
Ty Cobb, also a member of Mr. Trump’s legal team, said he was unaware of the existence of the grand jury until he was notified by the Journal, noting “grand jury matters are typically kept secret.”
“The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller,” Cobb said.