The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury as part of his probe into possible election interference by Russia. Although it's unclear now exactly what the Russia grand jury means for Trump, it does suggest that the investigation is nowhere near its conclusion.
This is the second grand jury to be impaneled in the Russia case; the first one, which is still in progress, is focusing on Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Both grand juries are being handled by Mueller, who was appointed to oversee the Russia investigation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein around a week after the Flynn-focused grand jury was first reported.
Although the scope and focus of this latest grand jury investigation isn't entirely clear, the WSJ reported that it will look at Russian interference in the 2016 election, and that it's already been meeting for weeks. It's unknown which individuals or entities the grand jury is examining, however, and that makes it difficult to say with any certainty how it will affect Trump himself.
However, there are some general conclusions to draw. For one, the fact that a second grand jury has been impaneled before the first one even finishes its work strongly implies that the investigation is heating up, as opposed to slowing down.
“It shows he is very serious. He wouldn’t do this if it were winding down,” said a federal prosecutor about Mueller. https://t.co/couFaY2JIS— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) August 3, 2017
It's also worth noting that the latest grand jury was impaneled in Washington, D.C., as opposed to the Alexandria, Virginia-based one that's focusing on Flynn. As a former federal prosecutor told the Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff, this is not good news for Trump, as Washington is a heavily Democratic city and, as such, the grand jury members aren't likely to be sympathetic to Trump.
Grand juries function differently from trial juries. A federal prosecutor convenes a grand jury when they are contemplating filing charges (usually felony charges). It's the jury's job to review evidence, hear testimony from witnesses and ultimately recommend whether or not charges should be filed. The prosecutor doesn't have to accept that recommendation; if they do file charges based on a grand jury indictment, however, the subsequent trial will go quicker, as the prosecutor doesn't have to demonstrate to the judge that there's sufficient evidence to bring charges.
Unlike most trial juries, grand juries are held in secret, and only the jury members and the prosecutor — as opposed to a judge or opposing counsel — are allowed to attend the proceedings. They don't require a unanimous opinion, as trial juries do, but rather a supermajority, in order to recommend an indictment.