Mueller is using a grand jury. Here’s what it means

Renato Mariotti writes: A grand jury, which consists of 16 to 23 people, is an important tool that allows prosecutors to issue subpoenas that require people to produce documents and other evidence. Subpoenas can also be used to compel people to testify under oath before the grand jury. You can expect Mueller and his team to issue many subpoenas in the months ahead.

Because grand jury subpoenas are an important prosecutorial tool, typically a grand jury is impaneled at the very beginning of an investigation, not at the end. Indictments are usually sought at the very end of an investigation, after all of the witnesses are questioned and all of the documents are obtained. So despite all the punditry on cable news, there’s no suggestion here that Mueller is closing in on any particular target, such as the president. In all likelihood, he’s just getting started.

It is possible, though, that as a starting point Mueller will eventually seek an indictment of a lower-level figure in or around Trump’s campaign. Sometimes, when prosecutors are facing obstacles in obtaining evidence, they seek an indictment of one individual or a group of individuals prior to completing their investigation, if they believe that those individuals might cooperate with the government and provide evidence. Otherwise, decisions about who to charge are left to the very end of the investigation.

The work that grand juries do is secret, which means that grand jurors—who are ordinary citizens chosen at random and vetted by the federal district court—cannot share what is happening before the grand jury. Federal rules also prevent prosecutors from disclosing what happens before the grand jury. But those same rules permit witnesses to disclose what happened, and people who receive grand jury subpoenas are usually not prohibited from disclosing their contents. That means that we will likely continue to hear media reports about witnesses and documents sought by Mueller and his team, as we did on Thursday. [Continue reading…]

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