[guest post by Dana]
[Since there is a whole lot going on with this evolving story, I’m just going to throw up some interesting links worth reading. You can chew them over as you see fit.]
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.
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.
Meanwhile, now that President Trump’s “red line” has been crossed , it’s not unreasonable to believe that there is now an increased likelihood that he will try to get rid of Mueller. Taking preventative measures, a bipartisan group of senators are working to prevent the President from ignoring the current rules about firing any special counsel:
Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, and Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, plan to introduce a measure Thursday that would bar the President from directly firing any special counsel — retroactive to Mueller’s appointment in May.
“The President would maintain the power to remove the special counsel, but we would just want to make sure that it had merit and have that back-end judicial process,” Tillis said Thursday morning on CNN’s “Newsroom.”
“And if there is a termination, we just want to make sure, through judicial review, that it was warranted,” he added.
The measure would also effectively shut down another avenue for firing Mueller — mandating that only an attorney general confirmed by the Senate would have the power to remove the special counsel. Trump has openly blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the federal Russia probe, leading to speculation he may try and find a new attorney general who would fire Mueller.
David French warns against taking this matter lightly:
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.
Andrew McCarthy explains what Mueller’s Grand Jury means. In part:
The most significant conclusion we can draw from news that a grand jury has been impaneled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is that the so-called Russia investigation, officially, is a criminal investigation.
The purpose of a grand jury is to investigate a factual transaction or series of transactions to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. That makes it categorically different from a counterintelligence investigation. The latter, we have noted many times, is an information-gathering exercise geared toward understanding and thwarting the intentions and actions of foreign powers.
There is no need for a grand jury in a counterintelligence probe.
All that said, the fact that there is a criminal investigation does not mean charges are imminent, or indeed that they will ever be filed. There are virtually no limits on the investigative powers of the grand jury. Under our law, a grand jury may conduct a probe simply to satisfy itself that no crimes have been committed. That is to say, there is no evidentiary threshold that must be crossed before a grand jury can begin investigating. Contrast that with, for example, a search warrant or an eavesdropping warrant; those investigative techniques may not be used unless a court has first been satisfied that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that the special counsel should be barred from investigating any crimes he reasonably suspects at this point. Nor do I mean to imply that the president is entitled to more favorable legal standards than any other American would be. But in the higher interest of his capacity to function as president and our capacity to hold our political representatives accountable, President Trump and the American people should be told whether he is suspected of criminal wrongdoing and, if so, what wrongdoing.
And finally, in the midst of this upheaval, President Trump is leaving tomorrow for a 17-day working vacation at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J. His time away coincides with renovations and maintenance work being done in the West Wing. His staff will be relocated to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door until the work is completed.
Added: Interestingly, today the Senate blocked President Trump from making any recess appointments…
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)