According to a Thursday Wall Street Journal report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been using a federal grand jury to assist his investigation into alleged Russian election interference.

The report claims the grand jury has been in operation in Washington, DC for several weeks, although it does not provide a source for this information. As the article acknowledges, grand jury proceedings are typically sealed and participation is kept secret.

The grand jury discussed is a different one from the Alexandria, Virginia one impaneled to investigate former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn earlier this year.

The exact targets of Mueller’s Russia grand jury were not clear from the Journal’s report but Reuters followed up the report with an afternoon tweet claiming subpoenas were issued relating to Donald Trump Jr.’s meetings with a Russian attorney last year. That meeting and the emails relating to it were the topic of wide media focus last month.

In an accompanying report, Reuters specified “two sources” for their claims, indicating those close to the grand jury are breaking the confidence of that body. Leaking information from a grand jury investigation is often a federal crime. Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e)(2)(B), the following people, and more, are sworn to secrecy under threat of criminal contempt of court:

(i) a grand juror;

(ii) an interpreter;

(iii) a court reporter;

(iv) an operator of a recording device;

(v) a person who transcribes recorded testimony;

(vi) an attorney for the government

The impaneling of a grand jury alone does not indicate any burden of proof has been met or evidence uncovered regarding collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government or any other matter under Special Counsel Mueller’s purview. Grand juries can be convened effectively at will by an official, like Mueller, with federal prosecutorial power.

Grand juries are the means by which federal criminal indictments are issued, but also serve an investigative purpose that is likely an important aim in this case. Once impaneled, the grand jurors can, typically at the express urging of the prosecutor, issue wide-reaching subpoenas and call before them witnesses. In turn, the prosecutor can use this testimony and evidence to assemble a case for probable cause and ask the jury to issue an indictment, all without the defense counsel and other protections with which Americans are familiar from a trial setting.

While Mueller’s spokesmen were unwilling to discuss the matter with the Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump’s own counsel, Ty Cobb, did provide comment. “Grand jury matters are typically secret,” he said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

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