US special counsel Mueller assembles grand jury over Russia probe
Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of Russia's election interference, has reportedly assembled a grand jury. US media reported that Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas pertaining to a June 2016 meeting between President Donald Trump's son and a Russian lawyer. This is the first step towards potential criminal charges. There's been no official confirmation over the grand jury.
On May 18, the US Department of Justice named former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia's alleged ties with Donald Trump's campaign and Moscow's election interference. There were mounting calls for a special prosecutor after Trump fired the most recent FBI director James Comey on May 10. Mueller's appointment has been praised by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
A special counsel can be appointed by the attorney general or deputy attorney general to mount an independent investigation if the attorney general has recused himself. The decision to appoint Mueller was made by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein said, given the current circumstances, it's in "public interest" to handover the Russia investigation to a "person who exercises a degree of independence."
Grand juries are set up to evaluate whether there is strong evidence in place to issue indictments for a criminal trial. They don't have the power to decide whether a potential defendant is guilty or innocent. Grand juries comprise of ordinary citizens who empower a prosecutor to issue subpoenas, a legal writ, to acquire documents or compel a witness to testify under oath.
The Trump administration has always been concerned by Mueller's investigation, which the president dubbed a "witch hunt." With news that it's looking at a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer, the investigation has reached the president's inner circle. "Now it's deadly serious business," wrote the BBC's Anthony Zurcher. It indicates that Mueller is on the trail of something big.
Ty Cobb, the special counsel to the President Trump, said he's unaware whether Mueller had impaneled a grand jury. "Grand jury matters are typically secret," he 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," he added. Trump has repeatedly rejected claims that he colluded with Russia.
There are concerns Trump might attempt to dismiss Mueller as special counsel. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced legislation in the Senate proposing the creation of a judicial review system to challenge the president if he fires a special counsel. "It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations," a lawmaker who sponsored the bill said.