Grand jury issues subpoenas in connection with Trump Jr., Russian lawyer meeting

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A grand jury has issued subpoenas in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included President Donald Trump's son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer, two sources told Reuters on Thursday, signaling an investigation is gathering pace into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

The sources added that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller had convened the grand jury investigation in Washington to help examine allegations of Russian interference in the vote. One of the sources said it was assembled in recent weeks.

Russia has loomed large over the first six months of the Trump presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia worked to tilt the presidential election in Trump's favor. Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May, is leading the probe, which also examines potential collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia.

Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign, while regularly denouncing the investigations as political witch hunts.

RELATED: Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective

15 PHOTOS
Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
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At a rally in Huntington, West Virginia, on Thursday night, Trump said: "Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. ... We didn't win because of Russia. We won because of you."

Mueller's use of a grand jury could give him expansive tools to pursue evidence, including issuing subpoenas and compelling witnesses to testify. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported a grand jury was impaneled.

A spokesman for Mueller declined comment.

A grand jury is a group of ordinary citizens who, working behind closed doors, considers evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing that a prosecutor is investigating and decides whether charges should be brought.

"This is a serious development in the Mueller investigation," said Paul Callan, a former prosecutor.

"Given that Mueller inherited an investigation that began months ago, it would suggest that he has uncovered information pointing in the direction of criminal charges. But against whom is the real question."

A lawyer for Trump, Jay Sekulow, appeared to downplay the significance of a grand jury, telling Fox News: "This is not an unusual move."

U.S. stocks and the dollar weakened following the news, while U.S. Treasury securities gained.

SEE ALSO: Fox News anchor says Trump 'misrepresented the truth' — again

It was not immediately clear to whom subpoenas were issued and the sources did not elaborate.

Some lawyers said it would put pressure on potential witnesses to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.

"When someone gets a subpoena to testify, that can drive home the seriousness of the investigation," said David Sklansky, a professor at Stanford Law School and a former federal prosecutor.

In 2005, a grand jury convened by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald returned an indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a top aide to then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

"A special counsel can bring an indictment and it has happened before," said Renato Mariotti, a partner at the law firm Thompson Coburn and a former federal prosecutor.

DAMAGING INFORMATION

News last month of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who he was told had damaging information about his father's presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, fueled questions about the campaign's dealings with Moscow.

The Republican president has defended his son's behavior, saying many people would have taken that meeting.

Trump's son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

One of the sources said major Russian efforts to interfere in the election on Trump's behalf began shortly after the June meeting, making it a focus of Mueller's investigation.

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he was not aware that Mueller had started using a new grand jury.

"Grand jury matters are typically secret," Cobb said. "The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly. ... The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller."

RELATED: Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle

28 PHOTOS
Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
See Gallery
Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
Steve Bannon: Former White House chief strategist, soon to be out of his role
Ivanka Trump: First daughter and presidential adviser
Jared Kushner: Son-in-law and senior adviser
Gen. John Kelly: Former Secretary of Homeland Security, current White House chief of staff
Kellyanne Conway: Former Trump campaign manager, current counselor to the president
Reince Priebus: Former White House chief of staff, no longer with the Trump administration
Anthony Scaramucci: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: White House press secretary
Donald Trump Jr.: First son to President Trump
Sean Spicer: Former White House press secretary, soon to be no longer with the Trump administration
Jeff Sessions: U.S. attorney general
Steve Mnuchin: Secretary of Treasury
Paul Manafort: Former Trump campaign chairman
Carter Page: Former foreign policy adviser to Trump's presidential campaign
Omarosa Manigault: Director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison
Melania Trump: Wife to President Trump and first lady of the United States
Jason Miller: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Hope Hicks: White House Director of Strategic Communications
Mike Dubke: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Stephen Miller: Trump senior policy adviser
Corey Lewandowski: Former Trump campaign manager
Eric Trump: Son to President Trump
Rex Tillerson: Secretary of State
Michael Flynn: Former National Security Advisor, no longer with the Trump administration
Sebastian Gorka: Deputy assistant to the president in the Trump administration
Roger Stone: Former Trump campaign adviser, current host of Stone Cold Truth
Betsy DeVos: U.S. Education Secretary
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John Dowd, one of Trump's personal lawyers, said: "With respect to the news of the grand jury, I can tell you President Trump is not under investigation."

A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment.

Lawyers for Trump Jr. and Kushner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

'NOT THINKING OF FIRING MUELLER'

Trump has questioned Mueller's impartiality and members of Congress from both parties have expressed concern that Trump might dismiss him. Republican and Democratic senators introduced two pieces of legislation on Thursday seeking to block Trump from firing Mueller.

Sekulow denied that was Trump's plan.

"The president is not thinking of firing Bob Mueller," Sekulow said.

One source briefed on the matter said Mueller was investigating whether, either at the meeting or afterward, anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign encouraged the Russians to start releasing material they had been collecting on the Clinton campaign since March 2016.

Another source familiar with the inquiry said that while the president himself was not now under investigation, Mueller's investigation was seeking to determine whether he knew of the June 9 meeting in advance or was briefed on it afterward.

Reuters earlier reported that Mueller's team was examining money-laundering accusations against Manafort and hoped to push him to cooperate with their probe into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia. It is not known if the grand jury is investigating those potential charges.

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