August 3d was a big day in the Russia collusion investigation even though no major new factual revelations involving connections of the Trump Campaign to Russian election meddling emerged. Let’s review what did happen.
-The Washington Post reported Special Prosecutor Mueller has empaneled a grand jury for his investigation of potential Trump Campaign collusion with Russia meddling in the election.
-Reuters reports the grand jury has subpoenaed information related to Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting with Russians set up to collude with Russians regarding dirt on Hillary Clinton.
-CNN reports the investigation is focusing on financial ties between Trump, and his associates, with Russians connected to Russian “spy agencies.” This would cross the “red line” against Mueller’s investigation including his finances and business dealings that Trump declared on July 19th.
-A bipartisan group of Senators submitted a bill to limit Trump’s ability, either directly or through surrogates, to fire Special Prosecutor Mueller.
That night at a rally to a crowd of his personality cult in West Virginia Trump declares the investigation is “totally made up” and a “complete fabrication” designed to be an excuse for Hillary losing the election.
Unrelated to Mueller’s investigation, but breaking on the same day, Trump appears uninformed and weak in January conversations with the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Mexico after the Washington Post published leaked transcripts of the calls.
There is a lot of confusion regarding this grand jury and how much Mueller’s empaneling of it means. So let’s talk about what grand jury’s creation means and does not mean.
Why It Means A Lot.
It means there is something to this investigation and more than just a little. Empaneling this grand jury would not happen if early stages of the investigation turned up nothing. It means Mueller believes there is a very good chance felony indictments are likely. The 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution requires a grand jury for any felony indictment, so this was necessary before any indictments could happen.
Most grand juries result in indictments. In fact, almost (but not quite) all do. So when anyone tries to tell you this is not a big deal, the truth is it is a big deal.
Mueller’s grand jury is quickly going right where Trump attempted to intimidate Mueller into not going, into his business dealings and finances. Trump said that was a “red line” Mueller had better not cross. Mueller has now danced upon it and run right over it.
The grand jury is also looking at Trump Jr’s meeting with Russians. But then again, how could it not? Trump Jr’s email chain establishes the meeting was arranged to engage in precisely the kind of the Russian meddling in the election with Trump Campaign collusion that is the purpose for the investigation. This is also significant because Trump Jr. is tied to the investigation of the businesses and finances. President Trump put him and brother Eric in charge of the Trump financial empire upon becoming President. This thin (effectively non-existent) separation is supposedly what divested Trump’s interest in his own businesses when he became President. If nothing else that meeting, and the President’s putting Trump Jr. in charge of his business empire, provides the nexus justifying Mueller’s investigating the business empire’s connections to Russia.
The potential scope of the grand jury’s investigation is broad. When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as Special Prosecutor he authorized the investigation to include:
“1) any links and/or connection between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump, and
2) any matters that arose, or may arise, directly from the investigation, and
3) any matters that fall within the scope of 28 C.F.R. Section 604(a).”
Not only is the “any matters” of clause 2 broad, but you might want to follow the link to that C.F.R. section in clause 3. It defines the jurisdiction of a special prosecutor as specifically including the authority to “investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.”
Accordingly President Trump’s arguable attempts to interfere with the investigation by firing Comey, or the “better hope there are no tapes” attempt to intimidate Comey’s testimony, or for that matter Trump’s own intimidating “red line” statements telling Mueller he had best not take this investigation precisely where Mueller has taken it, are all fair game for Mueller and his grand jury to investigate.
What It Does Not Mean.
It does not mean any indictments will necessarily happen. While most grand juries eventually produce indictments, a very few do not. It is possible for this grand jury to conclude its work finding there is not sufficient evidence to support any prosecutions after all.
It does not mean any indictments will necessary implicate President Trump personally. There are a lot of other names out there that could, in theory, be indicted without implicating President Trump personally. These names include (but are not limited to) Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Roger Stone. However, some of the names that appear to be targets of the investigation, such as Trump Jr., are obviously very close to the President and his businesses.
The grand jury cannot indict President Trump. A strong Constitutional case can be made that the only criminal proceeding permitted against a sitting President is the impeachment process. While this is not absolutely clear, I doubt Mueller would push it by seeking an indictment against a sitting President. Instead, similar to what Ken Starr did with Bill Clinton, Mueller would refer the evidence to the Republican dominated House of Representatives to take action as that body deems fit. If Trump is removed from office by impeachment the Constitution is clear normal criminal prosecution is then allowed.