Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections, has impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigations.
According to multiple media reports that have confirmed this development, this is the first step against possible criminal charges.
US intelligence agencies believe that Russia had interfered in the US presidential elections. In May 2017, the Department of Justice (DoJ) appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the Russian interference and related matters. He is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections.
Mueller is the former Director of the FBI, who served in that position from 2001 to 2013. Ever since he was appointed, he has kept a low profile from the media and assembled a team of top lawyers and investigators. So far, there are 16 lawyers in the team including former a DoJ official, Greg Andes.
In the United States, a grand jury is set up to consider whether or not there is evidence to bring forth criminal charges in a case. The grand jury is comprised of ordinary citizens who examine evidence put forth by a prosecutor. The jury however, cannot decide on whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. Matters related to grand juries are typically handled behind closed doors and are secretive in nature.
In addition to impaneling a grand jury, subpoenas have been sent out in connection to the 2016 meeting Donald Trump Jr took with a Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it had anything to do with the cyber-attacks that were conducted during the presidential elections. US President Donald Trump himself has expressed frustration and anger over the investigation. He has often called it a “witch trial.”
Senior lawmakers, part of both Democratic and Republican parties, have often spoken in favor of Mueller and the investigation. Two bills with bipartisan support have been introduced in the Senate that seek to protect Mueller from being fired by Trump.
Our assessment is that the latest development shows that Mueller probably believes that there is enough evidence to justify criminal charges. The grand jury is significant because it means that Mueller is in the midst of a 'predicated' criminal investigation. It must however be noted, using a grand jury does not infer that indictment is imminent. In the Clinton e-mail case a grand jury was impaneled to issue subpoenas, but it was never used to issue any indictment. It is also unlikely that this matter will resolve itself soon as such investigations can run into several months, if not years. Regardless of the outcome, the fact that the investigation is gathering steam should be a cause of serious concern to the President and his administration.