Mueller impanels grand jury in Trump-Russia probe

The grand jury is investigating Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller. CREDIT AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller. CREDIT AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The Trump-Russia collusion investigation just became more serious for President Donald Trump.

In recent weeks, Special Counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury to examine potential Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Wall Street Journal. Shortly after this news broke, Reuters reported that the grand jury issued subpoenas related to the meeting Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, had with a Russia lawyer in June 2016. Emails Trump Jr. released last month detailing how the meeting was set up indicated the Trump campaign was eager to collude with the Putin regime to bring down Hillary Clinton.

This is not the first grand jury impaneled in the special counsel’s investigation. The first grand jury, still operating in Alexandria, Virginia, is focused on a criminal investigation into fired Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The new grand jury is located blocks from Mueller’s office that he shares with 16 other attorneys.

Grand juries can seek indictments, place witnesses under oath, and subpoena documents. It is unlikely that the investigation is winding down or limited to unimportant matters if Mueller decided to impanel another one. Top FBI officials are have been warned that they could expect to testify as witnesses in a possible obstruction of justice investigation, Vox reported on Thursday.

The White House’s response to the news stated that there is “no reason to believe” Trump himself is under investigation and asserted that he would cooperate with Mueller. Ty Cobb, the special counsel to the president, said that he had not been aware the grand jury had been impaneled, saying, “Grand jury matters are typically 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.”

The investigation has turned to Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as a way of understanding any deeper ties and collusion that may have occurred during the campaign, according to CNN. Trump told the New York Times earlier this month that Mueller investigating his finances unrelated to Russia would be a red line.

Trump has belatedly expressed outrage over the decision Attorney General Jeff Sessions made to recuse himself from the Russia investigation soon after he was confirmed. That decision led to Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing a special prosecutor to take over the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.

The president also told Fox News in June that Mueller’s investigation is “very bothersome,” arguing that Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey are “very, very good friends,” implying that Mueller presents a conflict of interest.

“I can say that the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters, some of them worked for Hillary Clinton,” Trump told Fox News. “I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous if you want to know the truth.”

Trump allies have explicitly called for Mueller to go. Former Trump campaign manager Correy Lewandowski said last week that Trump “has a legal authority to fire Robert Mueller if he wants to.” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) penned an op-ed for Fox News on Wednesday arguing that Mueller should resign because he has a collegial relationship with former FBI Director James Comey. Even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, asked if he was concerned Mueller would be fired, said, “look, the president gets to decide what his personnel is.”

TRUMP, FOR HIS PART…

On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. Thom Tills (R-NC) introduced a bill that would make it even harder for a president to fire a special counsel. The Special Counsel Integrity Act would permit a special counsel to challenge his or her removal in court, and would be retroactive to the day Mueller was appointed.

At the same time, Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced The Special Counsel Independence Protection Act, which would provide similar protections for the special counsel. Graham said last week that “any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”

Trump has been touting the high performance of the stock market as evidence he’s doing a great job as president. Ironically, right after this news about the grand jury broke, the stock market dipped as investors reacted to more chaos and less certainty that corporations would get their taxes cut.