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Robert Mueller Impanels Grand Jury In Russia Investigation


Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election has taken another turn. Mueller has impaneled a grand jury here in Washington. We learned that detail today from The Wall Street Journal, and reporter Del Quentin Wilber joins us now. Welcome to the program.

DEL QUENTIN WILBER: Hey. Thanks for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Put this into context for us. What does this move signal?

WILBER: You know, it signals that this investigation is ramping up, that they've taken it beyond their first, you know, baby steps and that they need this tool. A grand jury is a very powerful investigative tool that permits prosecutors to issue subpoenas for records, compel the turning over of such records and to take testimony from witnesses under oath. And it says that they are nearing that step to do such a thing.

SHAPIRO: So it does not necessarily mean that charges will be brought but that they could at some point be brought,

WILBER: Exactly. This is an investigative tool. And once you've gathered the information for the grand jury - let's say the prosecutors get a lot of records, and they get a lot of witnesses. They put them before the grand jury, and then they craft a case for the grand jury. And they say, hey, this is the information we got. Is it enough to seek an indictment? And then they either indict, or they don't.

SHAPIRO: Do you know anything about what this grand jury will be tasked with?

WILBER: Right now they're investigating obviously Russia's meddling in the election to see if any crimes - what crimes were committed with that. And as it's been said publicly before, you know, Mueller's team has taken over whether Trump's associates or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to help his election effort. And that's what they're looking at on Mueller's team.

SHAPIRO: Now, there was already a grand jury in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Va., that was involved with this inquiry. What's the difference between what that grand jury has been up to and what this new one will do?

WILBER: Well, you know, that's a really interesting question. So the grand jury in Alexandria was looking, as far as I can tell, at Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who is under investigation for, you know, his dealings with foreign nations, financial - foreign financial interests while in private sector before he joined the White House. They had issued subpoenas, which I've actually seen, from that grand jury.

Now, you could - if you were just investigating Michael Flynn, you would continue probably using that same grand jury, right? Why reinvent the wheel, so to speak? Well, by moving it, one, to D.C., which is near Bob Mueller's offices downtown in Washington, it's more convenient. And it seems they're going to be looking at a lot more than that because if it was just Flynn, they would just be using the same grand jury.

SHAPIRO: So if this grand jury is a sign that the investigation is expanding, ongoing, another sign comes in Mueller's hiring practices, which you also report on in the story today.

WILBER: Yeah, you know, that broke yesterday. Greg Andres is a really smart cop, private attorney for a firm in New York, and he had been a longtime Justice Department guy before that. You don't leave your private sector job in the legal community where you're making a lot of money to join, like, kind of an effort in a government that's going to last a couple of months or that's not going to go anywhere. And so legal experts and others I had talked to said, you know, this is also a sign that this is serious, that, you know, this is no joke.

SHAPIRO: How are the president's attorneys responding to this?

WILBER: You know, they actually issued a very measured response. Ty Cobb - I interviewed him. He is the White House counsel for the president - special counsel for the president. And he, you know, said hey, listen; we're going to cooperate. We've expected this frankly because you usually get a grand jury because you need it for information. And you know, we don't know anything about it because it's secret.

SHAPIRO: And last, just briefly, your piece this afternoon also mentions efforts in Congress to protect Mueller from being fired by the White House. Get us up to speed on what's happening there.

WILBER: Well, you know, that's also interesting aside. People in Congress are obviously a little nervous that, you know, Trump may take matters into his own hands. You know, he'd been complaining about Sessions a lot a couple weeks ago on Twitter and in interviews with news media and at a - you know, at a press conference. And they were all a little concerned that maybe he wants to fire Mueller and do something to get rid of Mueller. And so now they're coming together on a bipartisan basis to seek legislation that might prevent that from happening.

SHAPIRO: All right, Del Quentin Wilber, thanks very much.

WILBER: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: He's a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.