Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections, in a sign that his inquiry is gathering pace, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing people familiar with the matter.
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, the newspaper said.
Reuters, also citing unnamed sources, said grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer.
Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime, the Journal said.
“This is a serious development in the Mueller investigation,” Paul Callan, a former prosecutor, told Reuters.
“Given that Mueller inherited an investigation that began months ago, it would suggest that he has uncovered information pointing in the direction of criminal charges. But against whom is the real question.”
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia worked to tilt the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May, is leading the probe.
Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign, while regularly denouncing the investigations as political witch hunts.
News last month of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who he was told had damaging information about his father’s presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, fueled questions about the campaign’s dealings with Moscow.
The Republican president has defended his son’s behavior, saying many people would have taken that meeting.
Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, there are signs of concern by Congress that Mueller’s independence needs to be protected. Senators Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) and Chris Coons (D., Del.) introduced legislation on Thursday making it harder for Trump to fire Mueller.
Under the legislation, a special counsel could challenge his or her removal, with a three-judge panel ruling within 14 days on whether the firing was justified, WSJ said.
The legislation follows a similar effort from Senators Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.).
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