Robert Mueller convenes grand jury in Trump-Russia probe | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 03.08.2017
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Robert Mueller convenes grand jury in Trump-Russia probe

The use of a grand jury by the Special Counsel could grant investigators expansive tools in probing alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. US media say Mueller has taken the first step to criminal charges.

The probe into alleged collusion during last year's election between members of President Donald Trump's campaign and Moscow appears to have entered a new phase, as the Wall Street Journal newspaper reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has convened a grand jury as part of the investigation.

According to the newspaper, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter, the jury had already begun working in recent weeks.

Read more: Trump - Putin relations: What's the next move?

Shortly after first reports of the grand jury emerged, the Reuters news agency reported that subpoenas had been issued in connection to a meeting between Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer in June 2016.

The White House did not respond directly to the revelations, although John Dowd, a lawyer of Trump's, said there was no reason to believe that the president himself was under federal investigation. 

Trump's special counsel, Ty Cobb, said he had no knowledge that a grand jury had been impaneled but said the White House "favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly."

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The significance of a grand jury

Mueller's use of a grand jury could give the special counsel extra powers to pursue evidence and issue subpoenas pertinent to the case. He could also compel witnesses to testify under oath.

The jury, made up of ordinary citizens and working behind closed doors, will consider the investigators' evidence and decide whether it amounts to criminal wrongdoing and, thus, whether charges should be brought.

Read more: What you need to know about the five inquiries looking into Donald Trump, James Comey and Russia

The formation of a grand jury could indicate that Mueller's investigation may be considering issuing criminal charges against one or more members of Trump's campaign team.

Senators protect Mueller from Trump retaliation

Amid fears that the president could retaliate and dismiss Mueller from the investigation, US senators on Thursday introduced two bipartisan bills seeking to protect Mueller's position. Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey in May.

Both Democratic and Republican senators said the bills should send a clear message that they will not tolerate any efforts from the White House to derail Mueller's investigation into Russia's election meddling.

"This is something that lives long beyond this" situation involving Mueller, Thom Tillis, Republican senator for North Carolina, told reporters. "And I think it's also something that begins to re-establish the reputation for independence in the Department of Justice."

Tills was among the many GOP lawmakers who jumped to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after Trump rebuked and threated to fire the former Alabama senator for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

Trump deflects attention

At a rally in Huntington, West Virginia, later on Thursday, Trump did not comment on Mueller's grand jury directly, but blasted US Democrats for fueling the narrative around the Russia investigation. He described the allegations as a "total fabrication" and "just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics."

In comments reminiscent of last year's presidential election campaign, the president also called on prosecutors to instead investigate Hilary Clinton for her "paid Russia speeches." The remarks prompted chants - equally reminiscent of the campaign - of "Lock her up."

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dm/gsw (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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