Day: August 4, 2017
The big news yesterday is that Special Counsel Mueller is using a grand jury in his investigation of Russian meddling in the US election. Most Americans know about grand juries primarily from notices they receive summoning them to serve on one. But that rarely happens. I’ve been summoned for jury duty many times and served on a petit jury at the municipal level. I don’t know anyone who has actually served on a Federal grand jury, which can sit for months if not years (usually not continuously but a few days a month).
But here is the short version of what is so grand about a Federal grand jury: it enables the prosecutor (in this case Special Counsel Mueller)
- To issue subpoenas (orders to produce evidence or to testify);
- Compel testimony in secret, without a lawyer representing the witness present;
- Indict (accuse) someone of a crime, provided 12 of the 23 members of the grand jury agree.
The proceedings of a grand jury are secret, but word of them leaks out as they send subpoenas to people. Their proceedings can take a long time, so news of one does not mean that an indictment is imminent. Nor does it tell us anything about who might be indicted for what crime.
That will be little comfort to the President of the United States. It is unclear whether he can be indicted by any body other than the House of Representatives (that’s what we call impeachment). There is no precedent for that. But his associates, family, and campaign officials are certainly indictable.
All indications are that Mueller is focused on financial matters, which may mean he is looking at whether Russian cash played a role in the campaign. Moscow is too smart to have put money directly into Trump’s election effort, which would violate US law. But it may well have made money available to the campaign through “cut outs,” Americans who contributed money provided by Russia.
More likely in my view is that the Trump and Kushner real estate empires are flush with hot Russian money that has purchased condos and golf club memberships and provided loans not available from other sources. In everyday parlance, this would amount to money laundering. And yes, American companies are supposed to conduct due diligence to ensure that financing comes from legitimate sources. Russian money could go a long way to explaining why Trump never criticizes Moscow and often takes its side on specific issues.
Trump’s reaction to the grand jury news was classic distraction: he announced he would have big news at his campaign-style rally in West Virginia last night. That turned out to be the Governor announcing he was switching from the Democratic to the Republican party, which he had left only two years ago. In a scripted speech read from a teleprompter, Trump also denounced the story of Russia’s meddling in the US election as a fabrication to excuse the biggest election loss in history. The loyalist audience loved it.
Trump’s remarks continue his efforts to undermine the Special Counsel, efforts that themselves may constitute obstruction of justice, and to deny what American intelligence agencies have long since concluded: Moscow intervened in the US election to undermine democracy and help elect Trump. If the jury gets to the bottom of why the President behaves this way, it will truly be grand.