White House special counsel Kellyanne Conway daubed the airwaves with her usual dudgeon Thursday night and Friday morning, protesting in TV interviews that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation—now issuing subpoenas from a grand jury—has become a "fishing expedition."
For a change, Conway’s dudgeon was defensible. Once impaneled, any grand jury can sail the seven seas for months or years trawling for big fish, shellfish, pinnipeds, cetaceans—even kelp, and algae blooms should it be so moved. In the event that space travel proves feasible, nothing will stop grand juries from touring the planets on a quest to serve subpoenas. If a portal into the fifth dimension ever makes itself apparent, grand juries will mount expeditions there, too.
The Constitution plus decades of judicial precedent have endowed grand juries with legal superpowers. The Supreme Court has ruled that a grand jury "does not depend on a case or controversy for power to get evidence, but can investigate merely on suspicion that the law is being violated, or even just because it wants assurance that it is not." [Emphasis added.] In another case, the court held that a grand jury can operate independently of "questions of propriety or forecasts of probable results" and elsewhere that a grand jury investigation isn’t complete "until every available clue has been run down and all witnesses examined in every proper way to find if a crime has been committed."
In short, every grand jury is a fishing expedition. Mueller can start with Russia, his original mandate, but he can take his investigation wherever he finds crime. That’s right, the bass fisherman could come home with a swordfish. Or even a sword.
Aside from firing Captain Mueller, there’s little Donald Trump can do to shield himself, his family, his political appointees, his business associates and his campaign buddies from the grand jury’s scrutiny. And it’s not clear that Trump can fire Mueller easily under the current set-up. A pair of bipartisan bills currently introduced this week in the Senate pass would give the special counsel the right to challenge his firing in court. "Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., told reporters.
Think of a grand jury as an insatiable maw and you begin to understand Mueller’s task and Trump’s terror. Mountains of phone records, business records, emails, and all manner of paperwork are likely to be subpoenaed by Mueller. Already, subpoenas covering the June 2016 meeting in Donald Jr.’s Trump Tower office have been issued, and orders for principals to give grand jury testimony will surely follow. While the orders can be challenged or narrowed, Trump’s people will find no easy escape from the dragnet—whatever Mueller points his flashlight at will glow with grand-jury illumination. According to the Washington Post, Trump burned with fury when he learned that Mueller would have access to several years of his tax returns.
The Trump protest against the Russia investigation was typical, as he called it "fake" and "demeaning" at West Virginia campaign-style rally this week. Such tirades will earn him no reprieve. Grand juries don’t return to port until they’ve filled the hatches with fresh catch. This wasn’t Trump’s only act of non-persuasion this week. He also took to Twitter to blame Congress for the United States’ poor relationship with Russia after it passed a veto-proof sanctions measure. Would it be reading too much into the president’s thinking to conclude from his tweet that he desires to collude in public with Putin but the fact that the damn House and Senate just won’t allow it has angered him to the point of tears?
Like Bill Clinton before him, Trump will be compelled to give testimony. He might want to start working on that honesty thing so the special counsel doesn’t nail him on that perjury thing, like independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr did Clinton. He could use some practice on telling the truth. This week, the Washington Post proved him a liar not once but twice. Lie No. 1: You may recall that Trump denied—through his lawyers—any knowledge of the meeting his son, Donald Jr., took in June 2016 with Russians at Trump Tower. But then the Post reported that Trump dictated Junior’s original public statement that the meeting was primarily about adoption. Lie No. 2: Remember how Trump tweeted back in February that, contrary to the reporting from the "FAKE NEWS media" (specifically the Washington Post), he had enjoyed a "very civil conversation" on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull? Another whopper, as this Post published this week transcripts of the Trump-Turnbull conversation that proved the call was just as uncivil as the Post previously reported.
Like a carnival come to town, Mueller’s grand jury performance promises high entertainment value over the 12-to-24 months some expect in to run. Expect representatives from Trump White House to storm the cable new studios to heckle, browbeat and insult Mueller with the same vehemence that Clinton’s loyalists dealt Starr. Expect four or five journalists to come out of the investigation with big book contracts. Since the jurors and prosecutors are sworn to silence, expect most of the noise about the investigation to come from the witnesses and their lawyers, who bear no legal obligation to keep mum. Expect journalists to case the federal courthouse looking for arriving witnesses—keeping an eye on the back doors for sneak entrances—in hopes of divining Mueller’s direction.
And expect Mueller to deliver something big. Very big. This is, after all, his last great hunt.
As we continue the search for a name for the no-name scandal, some of the entries are turning silly. Here are this week’s "best" contributions, send yours to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. “Lenin’ on the Edge” (Silas York), “Wash Reince and spin” (John Willoughby), “Russian for Cover” (Peter Kelly-Detwiler), “Lyin’ King” (Bobbogram), “Donald Trump Hocus POTUS” (Douglas Hutchison), “Trump Tower Sus-PENCE” (Douglas Hutchison), “Trump’s Magnificent Putin Ob-SESSION” (Douglas Hutchison), “The Art of the Squeal” (Lenai Boye), Samovar Dogs” (Alex Khachaturian), and "Drag-Nyet” (Alex Khachaturian). My email alerts will take the Fifth. My Twitter feed will implicate my email alerts. My RSS feed will leave the country.