Rule of Law

OP-ED: Trump, if innocent, has nothing to fear of grand jury of fellow citizens

According to reports, Special Counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury weeks ago as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and potential connections with the Trump-Pence campaign.

Such grand jury proceedings are secret, helping explain the delayed revelation of this critical news. Entirely apart from the substance of these proceedings, however, the existence of a grand jury in this case should come as no surprise. As no less than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former prosecutor and Trump backer, said this month, this is “a normal step taken by a careful prosecutor who is doing a thorough investigation.”

Grand juries are older than America’s Constitution and their existence is a right that Americans revere to this day as a bulwark between the people and their government in Washington (as well as many state governments). Guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights, these assemblies of usually 23 everyday people protect their fellow citizens against abuses of power.

As we have seen time and again, grand juries serve as a check by “We the People” against malfeasance and self-dealing by our nation’s elected officials — up to and including the president of the United States. As one of the architects of our Constitution, Pennsylvania attorney and Declaration of Independence signatory James Wilson, once said: “The grand jury are a great channel of communication, between those who make and administer the laws, and those for whom the laws are made and administered…. [T]hey may expose to publick inspection, or to publick punishment, publick bad men, and publick bad measures.”

There have been suggestions that President Trump has been looking for unsavory ways to get out from under the Mueller investigation, though Trump attorney Jay Sekulow recently answered one of these suggestions, saying, “The president is not thinking about firing Bob Mueller.” We should probably take Sekulow’s denial with a grain of salt, given his checkered record of accurately accounting for Trump’s actions related to the Russia investigation.

If President Trump is, in fact, thinking about canning Special Counsel Mueller, he should think very hard. Trump should consider America’s founding wisdom before firing Mueller or in any way attempting to undermine or circumvent the grand jury’s work, lest Trump immediately reveal himself — for all to see — as one of Wilson’s “publick bad men.”

If Trump has nothing to hide, then — contrary to the claims of Newt Gingrich — he has nothing to fear from fellow Americans serving on the Mueller grand jury. If Trump or his team have committed no crime or any other “publick bad measures,” then no indictment or report critical of him will issue.

By the same token, however, if Trump or his team are found likely to have committed a crime or crimes, or other bad acts, then the grand jury will issue one or more indictments or a critical report. In that case, the American people will have the Founding Fathers to thank for vesting regular, ordinary citizens in our system of government with a strong and resilient mechanism to hold even the most powerful person in our country to account to our laws and the Constitution.