By Carol D. Leonnig, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky
WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller began using a grand jury in federal court in Washington several weeks ago as part of his probe into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, according to two people familiar with the investigation.
The development is a sign that investigators continue to aggressively gather evidence in the case.
Federal prosecutors had previously been using a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, and even before Mueller was appointed, had ramped up their activity, issuing subpoenas and taking other investigative steps.
In federal cases, a grand jury is not necessarily an indication that an indictment is imminent or even likely. Instead, it is a powerful investigative tool that prosecutors use to compel witnesses to testify or force people or companies to turn over documents.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the existence of the Washington grand jury.
It's unclear why Mueller chose to use a panel in the District of Columbia, though there are practical reasons to do so. The special counsel's office is located in southwest D.C. — much closer to the federal courthouse in the city than the one in Alexandria, Va. Mueller also had previously worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C., giving him some familiarity with the courthouse and the judges.
Experts said that Washington would be the appropriate place to convene a grand jury to examine actions taken by President Donald Trump since he became president and took up residence at the White House in the District, including whether he obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey. Many of the potential crimes Mueller's team is investigating would have occurred in the District of Columbia, such as allegations that Trump aides or advisers made false statements in disclosure records or lied to federal agents.
Others said the choice could reflect Mueller's reputation for planning ahead and gaming out a possible trial. He would potentially have better chances convicting aides to President Trump in a city in which 90 percent of voters voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment for this story.
"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," said Ty Cobb, White House special counsel, when asked to comment on the grand jury in Washington. "The White House has every interest in bringing this to a prompt and fair conclusion. As we've said in the past, we're committed to cooperating fully with Mr. Mueller."
The special counsel team took over the investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign when Mueller was appointed in May, and prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia were largely removed from the case.
The only prosecutor to stay was Brandon Van Grack, a national security division prosecutor whose name was on the subpoena connected to Flynn. Mueller's team also absorbed an investigation into Manafort, which was attempting to trace his sources of income and possible connections to the Russia case.
The grand jury in Virginia issued a subpoena related to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's business, the Flynn Intel Group, which was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials, according to people familiar with the matter. A subpoena related to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was also issued.