Many people are saying these indictments will be the best indictments, believe me.
Seriously, seating a grand jury doesn’t mean any indictments will issue. But it does suggest that the investigation’s picking up, not winding down. Mueller wouldn’t go to this trouble if, after poking around for the past few months, he was confident that there was no Russia-related malfeasance. Even more worrisome for the White House, there’s already a grand jury seated in Virginia that’s been looking into Mike Flynn. If Mueller’s opening up a second grand jury in Washington … what does that mean?
Who’s he looking at?
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…
“This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”
Further evidence that the investigation’s expanding: Mueller’s bringing more people in.
[Greg] Andres, a former top Justice Department official who also oversaw the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, wouldn’t leave his private-sector job for a low-level investigation, Mr. Zeno said.
“People like Greg Andres don’t leave private practice willy-nilly,” Mr. Zeno said. “The fact he is being added after couple of months shows how serious this is and that it could last a long time.”
Updates will follow, but one threshold thought: Does John Kelly’s new role in the White House make Trump less likely to try to fire Mueller? The point of bringing Kelly in was to bring order to the administration; Trump canning Mueller would generate a political tornado unlike anything since, perhaps, the Clinton impeachment. American politics would be consumed with it. The congressional GOP would be paralyzed, forced to decide whether to stick with Trump in dubious circumstances or turn on him. It’s impossible to imagine Kelly would go along with it given the near-certainty that it’ll backfire ferociously. And if that’s so, Trump firing the special counsel might mean he’d have to fire not just his deputy Attorney General as well but his own chief of staff.
Another quick thought. I don’t understand how this legislation designed to protect Mueller from being fired would actually do the job. Trump’s constitutional claim that he has the authority to fire Mueller rests on the “unitary executive” view of Article II power. If a court agrees with him on that, it doesn’t matter if you have a bill that grants judicial review of the president’s decision and seeks to limit the right to fire “for cause.” Article II, er, trumps. The only way Congress could truly protect Mueller on separation-of-powers grounds, I believe, would be to create some sort of office for him under Article I to investigate the president and his associates. And whether that would be constitutional, I don’t know.
Update: Ken “Popehat” White, who spent five years as an assistant U.S. Attorney, explains the significance of the grand-jury news:
/5 …or it will yield a cascade of invocations of the Fifth, cooperation negotiations, and the like. Or both. Moreover . . .
— BeleaguredPopehat (@Popehat) August 3, 2017
/7 Plus you've got your grand jury subpoenas for documents, which tend to leak and similarly drive dumb/self-defeating reactions.
— BeleaguredPopehat (@Popehat) August 3, 2017
This is a “gravely dangerous” stage even for a disciplined, cautious potential defendant, White notes. For the loose cannons on Team Trump, well…
Update: Yeah, Trump’s gonna fire him:
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…
[T]he FBI is reviewing financial records related to the Trump Organization, as well as Trump, his family members, including Donald Trump Jr., and campaign associates. They’ve combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years. They’ve looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. CNN could not determine whether the review has included his tax returns.
The NYT asked Trump recently that “if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia,” would that cross a red line? Yup, said Trump. What now?
Update: Another excerpt for the CNN piece linked above. This seems newsworthy:
CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that US intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the US officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.
Does Mueller have hard proof of that? CNN notes elsewhere that there are “missing links” in the intelligence, which shows “suggestions of illegal coordination but nothing overt,” possibly because it wasn’t allowed to develop long enough. Supposedly that’s why the probe is focusing on possible financial crimes committed by the various players — if you want them to cooperate and fill in the blanks on Russia, you may need to put pressure on them for other offenses they’ve committed. It was reported weeks ago that Team Mueller was trying to flip Paul Manafort. Who else are they looking to roll over?
If the feds can find evidence that Trump associates are guilty of financial malfeasance, could Russian intelligence find it too? If they found it last year, weren’t those associates ripe for blackmail?
Update: I guess this qualifies as news, but it’s entirely predictable. The emails between Rob Goldstone and Donald Trump Jr are the strongest public evidence yet of intent to collude within the campaign. Of course Mueller wants to know more about the meeting.
BREAKING: Grand jury subpoenas have been issued related to June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Russian lawyers and others – sources pic.twitter.com/r8AVLhJCxt
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) August 3, 2017
Update: Andy McCarthy, also a former federal prosecutor, notes the further significance of today’s news:
This is officially criminal now. You don't impanel a grand jury for a counterintelligence investigation.
— Andrew C. McCarthy (@AndrewCMcCarthy) August 3, 2017
I remember after Trump fired Comey that some critics started yelping about obstruction of justice and defenders fired back that it’s not really obstruction under the law when the judicial proceedings in question are still at the investigation stage. A “proceeding” doesn’t really begin until … a grand jury is impaneled. Where would that leave Trump legally if he turned around and fired Mueller now? Assuming the courts agree that he has the constitutional power to fire Mueller, any federal obstruction charge would also yield to Article II. But that’s a big assumption right now.