A grand jury investigation is underway in the Trump-Russia probe — here's how they work

Robert Mueller

Grand juries have a long history in the American legal system. They are a large group of jurors assembled and tasked with investigating suspected criminal conduct.

The most recent and most public example of grand jury proceedings can be found in the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that special counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury weeks ago, signaling that the inquiry into Russian influence and possible collusion with the Trump campaign continues to move forward.

Here’s what a grand jury does:

  • Review evidence, including witness testimony on behalf of prosecutors in the investigation of potential criminal conduct.
  • Issue subpoenas for more evidence, documents, and sworn testimony.
  • If grand juries decide there is enough evidence to charge the accused with a crime, they vote on whether to indict the person, opening the door for a formal trial.
  • Grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret. There are no judges and no defense counsel is involved No members of the public or press are privy to the grand jury’s activities.

Grand juries tend to have broad mandates depending on the investigation, but they cannot:

  • Formally charge anyone with a crime.
  • Convict the accused. A grand jury indictment does not automatically infer that a suspect is guilty of a crime.
  • Impose a sentence or punishment on anyone.
  • Grand juries do not obtain or review evidence from defense counsel. The defense has to wait until a trial to speak, if a trial is scheduled.

Historic grand jury proceedings

Richard Nixon faced a grand jury in June 1975 in the heat of the Watergate scandal. Nixon accused prosecutors of trying to “destroy” him, according to transcripts of his testimony, released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Nixon had already been pardoned by President Gerald Ford by the time he testified. That pardon gave him immunity, but the specter of perjury charges still loomed during the proceedings. Many of Nixon’s comments were short and he often answered that he “did not recall” certain events.

monica lewinsky bill clinton

President Bill Clinton testified for several hours before a grand jury in August 1998, at the end of an independent counsel investigation into the Whitewater real-estate case that lasted four years. Clinton was called before the grand jury after being accused of perjury by then-independent counsel Kenneth Starr for his denials under oath of sexual misconduct with then-White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

President Trump has frequently railed against Mueller’s investigation, and has, at times, floated the possibility of seeking his dismissal. Those suggestions have been met with stern warnings from both Republicans and Democrats, who say that Trump’s problems would only worsen if he were to disrupt the Russia probe.

Former federal prosecutor Alex Whiting previously wrote that grand jury investigations can last for years while prosecutors examine leads and gather evidence, as was the case in the Nixon and Clinton proceedings.

It may be a while before we learn any of the details about the Trump-Russia investigation, and longer still before it reaches a conclusion.

SEE ALSO: Mueller’s latest move in the Trump-Russia probe may foreshadow a ‘large-scale series of prosecutions’

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Shkreli sentence turns on antics, investor impact of crime – Reuters

(Reuters) – Former drug company executive Martin Shkreli could spend years in prison for Friday’s investor fraud conviction if the judge focuses on the intended impact of his crime and his “Pharma Bro” social media antics, according to legal experts.

Shkreli, widely criticized after he acquired rights to an infection treatment and then raised prices 5,000 percent in 2015, hopes to avoid prison because of an unusual twist to his case: defrauded investors suffered no loss from his crime.

That could favor Shkreli, because investor harm is the main factor in determining a sentence for securities fraud. However, a law enforcement source said prosecutors will challenge Shkreli’s underlying assumption of how to calculate the investor losses.

Hours after his conviction, Shkreli proclaimed on YouTube the mixed verdict by the federal jury in Brooklyn as an “astounding victory.”

“I’m one of the richest New Yorkers there is, and after today’s outcome it’s going to stay that way,” he said, showing no sign of contrition.

Lawyers unconnected with the case said comments on YouTube and other social media by the famously outspoken 34-year-old could backfire at sentencing.

“He seems to lack any remorse so this will likely cause the judge to avoid appearing lenient when she sentences him,” said James Cox, a law professor at Duke University.

Shkreli was convicted of defrauding investors in his two failed hedge funds, MSMB Capital Management and MSMB Healthcare Management, by concealing trading losses behind fake account statements.

Prosecutors said he eventually paid investors back with stock or cash from Retrophin Inc, a biopharmaceutical company he managed, by having them sign settlement or consulting agreements with the company.

But while Shkreli was convicted on three securities fraud and conspiracy counts, he was acquitted of other charges, including that he conspired to steal $11 million in assets from Retrophin.

Benjamin Brafman, Shkreli’s lawyer, said because the hedge fund investors ultimately profited, his client’s sentencing range should be zero to six months, which allows for probation in lieu of prison.

Brafman in an email on Saturday acknowledged Shkreli’s social media habits are “not helpful” and hoped the court would focus on the facts of the case and the law.

“My hope is that the court will ignore the childish and compulsive tweeting of Mr. Shkreli that‎ is his right to do,” Brafman said.

Shkreli could benefit from steps he took to repay investors before he caught the attention of authorities.

“As long as the investors were paid back before he knew there was a criminal investigation that is subtracted from any loss figure,” said Sarah Walters, a lawyer at the law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

Prosecutors are expected to argue the intended losses of the fraud were much higher, noting the millions of dollars that investors lost before they were repaid, according to the law enforcement source, who requested anonymity to discuss the case.

That could allow for a lengthier sentence, as under federal sentencing guidelines, judges are to consider the actual or intended loss, whichever is higher.

Legal experts also said prosecutors could argue for a lengthier sentence by asking U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto to factor in the conduct involving Retrophin despite the acquittals.

While juries must find wrongdoing under the high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, judges at sentencing may consider facts proven by the lower standard of preponderance of the evidence.

The guidelines are advisory only, and Matsumoto can factor in other issues, including Shkreli’s trash-talking habits.

“In this case, I imagine they will focus more on that he is a liar, he disparages people, he is a disruptive force and he has a complete lack of remorse,” said John Zach, a lawyer at Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, additional reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Tom Hals and Lisa Shumaker

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