What we know about the grand jury in Trump probe

·4-min read

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has convened a special grand jury to decide whether to indict former President Donald Trump or executives at his company, the Washington Post reported Tuesday afternoon. Vance has been investigating Trump’s business practices before he was president for more than two years. And the impaneling of a grand jury suggests that the wide-ranging probe is entering its final stages — and that New York prosecutors believe they have found evidence of a crime.

Here’s what we know about the case so far.

President Trump arrives at the White House after meetings at Camp David, Jan. 6, 2019. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump in January 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

When did the probe start?

Vance’s criminal investigation began in 2018 after Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and making hush-money payments on the eve of the 2016 election to women who said they'd had affairs with Trump. The probe soon expanded to include the Trump Organization's business dealings, with investigators scrutinizing Trump’s real estate portfolio to determine whether the company illegally manipulated the value of its properties or committed tax fraud.

What does a grand jury actually do?

When a grand jury is called, it meets in private with prosecutors to review evidence and hear witness testimony in order to determine whether there’s evidence of a crime. The reason it’s done in private is so that witnesses can speak freely without potential harm to their reputations if prosecutors don’t move forward with an indictment.

It's unclear exactly how many people are on this particular panel, but grand juries in New York have between 16 and 23 members. Grand juries don’t meet every day. In this case, it will meet three days a week for about six months, according to the Post, and will be hearing evidence in other cases as well.

President Trump arrives to speak to reporters in the briefing room of the White House, April 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Trump arrives to speak to reporters in the White House Briefing Room, April 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

What does this mean for Trump?

It’s unclear. Because the criminal probe into the former president and his business is believed to be wide-ranging — from alleged tax fraud to hush-money payments — it’s not clear what this grand jury will be focusing on specifically. Fraud cases, though, are especially hard to prosecute because they need to prove direct knowledge and intent.

"This doesn't mean that they are going to indict Donald Trump," former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman said on CNN. "Fraud cases are hard. He has what would be perceived as an advice-of-counsel defense to some of the fraud charges. And he doesn't email, so we know that there isn't going to be a lot of documentary evidence that demonstrates Donald Trump's knowledge of any misrepresentations."

Who else from Trumpworld is involved?

The Washington Post previously reported that Vance’s office has been trying to pressure Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, into cooperating against his boss. It’s unclear if Weisselberg has already flipped, or whether the grand jury was impaneled in part to coax him into cooperating with investigators.

Donald Trump, Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. arrive for a press conference at Trump Tower in New York. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images/File)
Donald Trump, Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in New York in 2017. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images/File)

What does Trump himself have to say?

The former president called Vance’s case the continuation of a “witch hunt” that began when he announced his run for president in 2015.

“It began the day I came down the escalator in Trump Tower, and it’s never stopped,” Trump said in a statement posted to his website. “They wasted two years and $48 million in taxpayer dollars on Mueller and Russia Russia Russia, Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax #2, and it continues to this day, with illegally leaked confidential information."

“This is purely political, and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the Presidential Election, and it’s being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors,” he added. “New York City and State are suffering the highest crime rates in their history, and instead of going after murderers, drug dealers, human traffickers, and others, they come after Donald Trump.”

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