Grand jury bombshell rocks media, but calm down: This is what prosecutors do

The Wall Street Journal story went off like a neutron bomb.

Once it hit in mid-afternoon, the cable networks were on fire, the web was ablaze, and the Russia investigation was the only issue.

By reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington, the Journal created a psychological shift. The paper called it “a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity.”

Perhaps. But there’s less here than meets the eye.

As an old Justice Department reporter, I can tell you this is utterly routine. Prosecutors regularly convene grand juries to question witnesses and gather evidence. It’s what they do. The shocker would have been if Mueller completed his investigation without bringing in a grand jury.

In fact, as the Journal story notes, there already was a grand jury, across the river in Alexandria, that the FBI was using in this case before Mueller was appointed.

But in the public mind, “grand jury” is associated with “indictment.” And notwithstanding the old adage that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, the former FBI director could conclude that nothing in the case rises to an indictable offense—at least as far as the president and his inner circle.

We have no way of knowing that, and neither does Mueller.

The Washington Post reports that “the development is a sign that investigators continue to aggressively gather evidence in the case.”

True. Did anyone expect anything less?

USA Today says “the move would give Mueller, a former FBI director, enormous power to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify under oath.”

Yep. Which he already had.

Ty Cobb, the president’s lawyer, told the Post: “This is news to me but it’s welcome news to the extent it suggests that it may accelerate the resolution of Mr. Mueller’s work.”

That makes sense, because grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret. Except that it leaked, like everything else related to this White House does—including the Washington Post publishing the transcripts of Trump’s January calls to the leaders of Mexico and Australia, fleshing out earlier leaks of those conversations.

I don’t want to minimize the importance of the Mueller move. The grand jury could eventually pose a serious threat to the White House.

But right now, its existence has mainly created an orgy of media speculation.