The most significant conclusion we can draw from news that a grand jury has been impaneled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is that the so-called Russia investigation, officially, is a criminal investigation.Read more here.
The purpose of a grand jury is to investigate a factual transaction or series of transactions to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. That makes it categorically different from a counterintelligence investigation. The latter, we have noted many times, is an information-gathering exercise geared toward understanding and thwarting the intentions and actions of foreign powers. There is no need for a grand jury in a counterintelligence probe.
All that said, the fact that there is a criminal investigation does not mean charges are imminent, or indeed that they will ever be filed. There are virtually no limits on the investigative powers of the grand jury. Under our law, a grand jury may conduct a probe simply to satisfy itself that no crimes have been committed. That is to say, there is no evidentiary threshold that must be crossed before a grand jury can begin investigating. Contrast that with, for example, a search warrant or an eavesdropping warrant; those investigative techniques may not be used unless a court has first been satisfied that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
It is frequently observed that grand-jury proceedings are secret. That is not quite accurate. The obligation of secrecy applies to the grand jurors and government personnel who examine witnesses and collect evidence through subpoenas. But subjects of the investigation, witnesses, and their lawyers are under no duty to remain silent – even though it is usually a good idea to do so, since statements can be used as evidence. Of course, there are often government leaks. Putting that inevitability aside, though, it is worth noting who is permitted to speak and who is not. Media coverage of an investigation tends to rely on the people most at liberty to discuss it. That means coverage skews in favor of lawyers for the subjects, who obviously have a motive to minimize the prosecution’s proof.
The principal advantage of the grand jury for prosecutors is the ability to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documentary or other physical evidence. No investigation of any complexity can be advanced without this capacity. When I say “advanced,” I do not mean a progression toward the filing of criminal charges – at least not necessarily. An investigation should be a search for the truth, which means getting to the bottom of what happened, regardless of whether crimes can be proven.
...To be clear, I am not suggesting that the special counsel should be barred from investigating any crimes he reasonably suspects at this point. Nor do I mean to imply that the president is entitled to more favorable legal standards than any other American would be. But in the higher interest of his capacity to function as president and our capacity to hold our political representatives accountable, President Trump and the American people should be told whether he is suspected of criminal wrongdoing and, if so, what wrongdoing.
Thursday, August 03, 2017
The Mueller grand jury
Here are some excerpts from an important piece by Andrew McCarthy at National Review.