Washington: US Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s Washington-based grand jury, which is investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, has been granted an extension by a federal judge days before its term was set to expire. The grand jury used by Mueller came into existence on July 5, 2017, and its 18-month term was set to end on Saturday.
Chief US District Judge Beryl A. Howell, who oversees grand jury activities, on Friday approved the extension of the investigative panel. No reason was given by the court on increasing the term, the Washington Post reported. Howell also declined to provide any length of time for the extension. Under federal rules of criminal procedure, a grand jury may serve more than 18 months only if a judge finds an extension is in the public interest, and then generally for no more than six additional months.
The extension of the grand jury suggested that the Russia investigation wasn`t finished and Mueller may be planning further indictments. Since July 2017, the group has heard from dozens of witnesses in Mueller`s investigation and approved indictments of US President Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates, their Russian business associate Konstantin Kilimnik.
Tweleve Russian military intelligence officers and 13 Russians and three companies who allegedly manipulated social media to sway US voters were also indicted. Manafort and Gates have since pleaded guilty to reduced sets of charges. One Russian company charged by Mueller, Concord Management and Catering, had pleaded not guilty, while the rest of the Russians had not appeared in the US courts.
In recent months, there had been several signs Mueller`s grand jury would press on. Two political supporters of Trump -- political operative Roger Stone and author Jerome Corsi -- said that they had been threatened with indictment by Mueller`s prosecutors. Mueller`s investigation has pressed on for more than 19 months amid attacks from Trump, who views the probe as a partisan "witch hunt" against him and has publicly called for its end.
Trump has long denied there was collusion between his campaign in Moscow. "I didn`t need Russians to help me win Iowa or Wisconsin," he told reporters on Friday.