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The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller—who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump administration and Russia—has assembled a grand jury in Washington, a move many interpreted as a sign his probe is progressing and becoming "very serious."
"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 summarizes. "Legal experts said that the decision by Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses."
"A grand jury in Washington is also more convenient for Mr. Mueller and his 16 attorneys—they work just a few blocks from the U.S. federal courthouse where grand juries meet—than one that is 10 traffic-clogged miles away in Virginia," the Journal added.
This latest news comes on the heels of a CNN report that federal investigators are looking into "Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward."
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Ty Cobb, special counsel to President Donald Trump, told the Wall Street Journal "he wasn't aware that Mueller had started using a new grand jury," but that "[t]he White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly."
Though the White House continues to downplay the probe's significance and deny that the president himself is under investigation, former federal prosecutor Thomas Zeno told the Journal that Mueller's decision to impanel a grand jury indicates the investigation is in fact "very vigorous."
"This doesn't mean he is going to bring charges," Zeno cautioned. "But it shows he is very serious. He wouldn't do this if it were winding down."
"Regardless of whether the president wants to continue to call Russian election interference 'fake news,' he and his administration must take this criminal investigation seriously and offer investigators their full cooperation," Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said in a statement on Thursday. "The president must not follow through with his threats to fire Robert Mueller, but if he does Congress must hold him and members of his administration accountable because no American, not even the president, is above the law."