The news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury in his ongoing Russia investigation means Mueller believes that there is sufficient evidence that a crime was committed, but observers are leaping to conclusions that the public evidence doesn’t yet support, writes former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti for Politico. Impaneling a grand jury does not mean that Mueller will seek an indictment, although most grand jury investigations do result in someone being indicted. 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 evidence. Subpoenas can be used to compel people to testify under oath before the grand jury. You can expect Mueller and his team to issue many subpoenas.
Because grand jury subpoenas are an important prosecutorial tool, typically a grand jury is impaneled at the beginning of an investigation, not at the end. 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 that as a starting point Mueller will 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. The work that grand juries do is secret, but witnesses may disclose what happened. We will likely continue to hear media reports about witnesses and documents sought by Mueller.