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Law & the Courts

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Reportedly Impanels a Second Grand Jury: A Few Thoughts

The Wall Street Journal just barged into the news cycle. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly impaneled a second grand jury: 

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, is a sign that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months. Mr. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin as part of that effort.

Mueller had already inherited a pre-existing grand jury investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. This second grand jury is likely to have a far broader focus. In addition, CNN is reporting this afternoon that Mueller’s investigators are scrutinizing the Trump team’s alleged financial ties to Russia:

One year after the FBI opened an investigation, the probe is now managed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate, according to two law enforcement sources.

What does this all mean? First, it just became more likely that Trump attempts to fire Mueller. In an interview with the New York Times, Trump affirmed that the special counsel would cross a “red line” if he looked into “family finances, unrelated to Russia.” The CNN report isn’t the first to claim that Mueller was examining Trump team business dealings, but coming on the heels of the Wall Street Journal report, it’s almost certain to increase presidential fury.

Second, special counsels are gonna special counsel. In other words, their investigations always expand. Our own Andrew McCarthy has called for more “tightly and appropriately defining Mueller’s jurisdiction.” That’s not happening. At least not yet. Instead, Mueller’s operating under an extraordinarily broad counterintelligence and criminal justice mandate, and he’s apparently engaging in classic prosecutorial tactics — attempting to accumulate broad evidence of wrongdoing to pressure witnesses to cooperate. 

Third, this sounds trite, but it’s worth saying anyway: The investigation is serious, and no one should just blithely assume it’s a “witch hunt.” No Republican or conservative should bank any portion of their reputation on defending a team that included Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort until we have greater awareness of the facts. Remember it was just one month ago that Republicans were confidently declaring that there was “no evidence of collusion.” That was before we saw emails indicating that Donald Trump Jr. would “love” to meet a purported Russian representative who intended to share “official documents” as part of a Russian government effort to support Trump. That was before we knew a meeting actually took place. 

There is just too much we don’t know to draw any conclusions on the merits, but a man like Mueller does not impanel grand juries lightly. This story is only just beginning.