Meaghan Kirby
August 04, 2017 1:19 pm
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The other day, news broke that marked a new phase in the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. It was announced that Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to lead the investigation had impaneled a grand jury in Washington D.C.

According to The Wall Street Journal, who first reported the news, the grand jury was formed weeks ago and the investigation is allegedly, “growing in intensity.” Reuters also reported that the grand jury had already issued subpoenas in connection with Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian officials in June 2016.

Okay, so that sounds incredibly serious, but what does it all mean? Long story short, it means the investigation is heating up and Mueller is moving forward in his investigation efforts, which will likely continue for months.

So buckle up because it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.

Just to provide a quick recap: U.S. National Security experts agree that Russia participated in a cyber attack on the U.S. during the 2016 presidential campaign in an effort to sway voters for Donald J. Trump. While there is no concrete evidence regarding collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, a series of undisclosed meetings between the campaign and Russian officials took place, along with the questionable circumstances around the firing of the FBI Director James Comey, and it has ultimately led Congress to order an independent investigation.

So back to the most recent news. The formation of a grand jury doesn’t necessarily mean that charges are coming soon — if ever — but it does mean that the investigation is active and intensely moving forward. Let’s go ahead and break down some key details:

What is a grand jury and what can it do?

A grand jury is a panel of ordinary people who have been called together to meet in secret to hear evidence and determine whether or not it’s sufficient enough to lead to criminal charges. Grand juries are very powerful during investigations as they can issue subpoenas for both documents and witness testimonies as the prosecution conducts an investigation. This essentially means Mueller and his team of 16 prosecutors working on the investigation will be able to legally request records and testimony as they look into the increasingly complicated ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

So what exactly is Mueller investigating?

According to the order appointing Mueller as special counsel, the former F.B.I. director is investigating any links or collusion efforts between the Russian government and Trump campaign officials, and anything that may come up during the investigation. Where things get a little tricky is defining the potential crimes committed. While collusion itself isn’t illegal, the U.S. has finance laws that prohibit campaign contributions from foreign governments and entities in elections. This is what’s really important — campaign contributions come in multiple forms: Money, information, assistance, and more. We obviously don’t want foreign powers to be able to influence the president in their best interests at the expense of the American people.

Since numerous Trump campaign officials — including campaign advisor and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, former campaign manager and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign advisor for foreign policy Carter Page, and son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner — have ties with Russian officials, there is a lot to sift through. But the language used in Mueller’s appointment gives him broad investigative power to get to the bottom of all of this.

Before Mueller’s appointment, a grand jury in Virginia was impaneled to look into Flynn’s foreign lobbying in Russia as well as meetings he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition. After his appointment, Mueller took over the Flynn investigation. Mueller is also investigating President Trump for obstruction of justice for the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey, who was allegedly fired after refusing to drop an investigation on Flynn. Additionally, Mueller and his team have begun to look into the Donald Trump Jr. meeting that made headlines a few weeks ago. Trump Jr. — alongside Manafort and Kushner —  took a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer who promised him incriminating and damaging information on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Form the outside, it seems like Mueller is investigating a lot of different people and angles, but frankly, we probably don’t know the half of it. Mueller and his team are sifting through relevant financial records, looking into individuals, and working so many angles that it will probably be months before we actually know the entire scope of the investigation. It’s important to remember that impaneling a grand jury means Mueller is using all his resources to get everything he needs to ensure a thorough investigation. It’s literally the justice system in action.

What does the White House think?

After being contacted by the WSJ, the President’s special counsel Ty Cobb said, “Grand jury matters are typically secret. The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

Trump and his campaign officials have adamantly denied any collusion with Russian officials during the campaign, with Trump calling Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.” As the investigation heats up, there’s been growing concerns that Trump will try and fire Mueller in light of the senate recently introducing two bipartisan pieces of legislation that would make it more difficult for the president to fire special counsel.

In short:

The grand jury means the justice system is working and Mueller is doing everything he can to conduct a thorough investigation. There’s no timeline on the investigation, however, so it will likely take months or even the next year to complete. It’s okay that you’re overwhelmed by all this information because we all are — now you just know what everyone’s talking about.

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