Robert Mueller only took over the federal investigation into the Russia scandal in mid-May, following Donald Trump's decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey in the hopes of derailing the ongoing probe. But it appears the special counsel and his team have already made considerable progress.
The Wall Street Journal reports this afternoon, for example, that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury as part of the investigation, "a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase."
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. [...]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. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.
At this point, the Wall Street Journal appears to be the only major outlet with this report, and the story has not yet been confirmed by NBC News.
That said, if the WSJ's reporting is correct, it's a major development. The newspaper spoke to Thomas Zeno, a federal prosecutor for 29 years, who said the grand jury is "confirmation that this is a very vigorous investigation going on." Zeno went on to say, "This doesn't mean he is going to bring charges. But it shows he is very serious. He wouldn't do this if it were winding down."
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, added, "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. If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at [former National Security Advisor Michael 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."
Reuters reports today, meanwhile, that grand jury subpoenas have been issued related to last year's meeting at Trump Tower in which top members of Trump's team welcomed campaign assistance from a Kremlin-backed lawyer offering help from the Russian government. This also has not been independently confirmed by NBC News.
Finally, all of this comes on the heels of a separate Reuters piece from yesterday, which noted that Greg Andres, who served as the deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division at the Justice Department, has joined Mueller's team.
"People like Greg Andres don't leave private practice willy-nilly," Zeno told the Wall Street Journal today. "The fact he is being added after couple of months shows how serious this is and that it could last a long time."
Look for more on this story at the top of tonight's show.