FACT CHECK: Is A Grand Jury A ‘Normal Step’ In The Russia Investigation?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claimed Sunday on CNN that a decision by special counsel Robert Mueller to convene a grand jury for the Russia investigation is a “normal step” and not a “monumental” development as some news outlets have implied.
A grand jury is a common tool for federal prosecutors that allows them to subpoena documents, compel witness testimony and evaluate whether to charge an individual with a crime. Although grand juries are routine, Mueller’s decision to impanel one in Washington, D.C. may be significant.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that as part of the Russia investigation, Mueller had impaneled – or convened – a grand jury in D.C.
Some political commentators characterized the grand jury as a “game changer” and a serious threat to President Donald Trump. Christie, who endorsed Trump in the 2016 presidential election, pushed back Sunday, calling the grand jury a “normal step” in any investigation.
“I thought that the coverage about how monumental this was is just a fundamental misunderstanding of the way this process works,” Christie said. “That’s a typical thing to be done in any investigation.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation spoke with a number of law professors who confirmed that grand juries are a regular tool for prosecutors in a criminal investigation. “A grand jury is quite typical and a necessary step in getting any federal indictments,” Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University, told TheDCNF.
Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein called grand juries “very, very common,” and pointed out how Mueller would not have the power to subpoena documents or compel witnesses to testify without one. “If he hadn’t impaneled this grand jury, he would not have been doing his job,” Rothstein told TheDCNF. “He’s toothless without the grand jury.”
The grand jury has already begun to subpoena documents relating to the business dealings of former national security advisor Michael Flynn and a meeting in 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer.
In addition to collecting evidence, a grand jury helps prosecutors decide whether to press charges against a suspect in a criminal investigation. After a period of fact finding, jurors may choose to indict – or formally accuse – a person of a crime. Jurors have no power to convict a suspect.
Grand juries have been utilized in Watergate, Whitewater and other high-profile cases involving U.S. presidents, but federal prosecutors also use them routinely across the country. “I did literally thousands of these as U.S. attorney in seven years in New Jersey,” Christie said.
Federal judicial districts have standing grand juries that last approximately 18 months and hear a variety of cases. For example, a grand jury was also impaneled in Alexandria, Va. to subpoena documents from Flynn. “Maybe one day they’d hear about assault and battery, another day they’d hear about a drug bust, and the next day they’re hearing about Flynn,” Shugerman told TheDCNF. “That is totally typical, nothing shocking about that.”
While grand juries are common, it may be revealing that Mueller has now convened one in D.C. “Impaneling a grand jury in D.C. would be the first step toward a trial in D.C.,” Shugerman said. “And regardless of your political perspective, it is true that the jury pool in Washington, D.C. is going to be much more Democratic and liberal than even Northern Virginia.”
“And that winds up being a powerful tool in Mueller’s pocket,” Shugerman said. “When he threatens to bring an indictment against someone, that person, knowing that they’ll be facing a D.C. trial jury, may be more likely to turn into a cooperative witness.”
Shugerman told TheDCNF that convening a grand jury in D.C. may also mean Mueller has evidence that crimes were committed in D.C. Regardless of its significance, Mueller’s decision to impanel a grand jury is a “normal step” in the Russia investigation.
Benjamin Decatur contributed to this article.
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