For most Americans, the grand jury is a mystery. Television series like Law & Order and films like Twelve Angry Men have branded regular jury trials onto the national cultural psyche: Many Americans could easily describe what the courtroom setup looks like, and the role each participant typically plays. Not so with grand juries.
The process’s secrecy helps explain why: Many of those present—the jurors, the prosecutors, the stenographers—are generally forbidden by federal judicial rules from disclosing what happens within the room. Still, that unfamiliarity could fade somewhat as the Russia investigation intensifies—and if the only people not bound by this omertà are willing to go public.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Moscow is now a vast undertaking, and he and his team are using at least two federal grand juries to conduct the probe. One, in eastern Virginia, was originally used by federal prosecutors as part of their investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The other is reportedly based across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.
Through the grand juries, the special counsel can issue subpoenas for documents and other evidence and force witnesses to talk about what they know. Late last month, Mueller reportedly subpoenaed associates of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the “first public indication that Mueller’s investigation is beginning to compel witness testimony,” as NBC News put it. Days later, the Associated Press reported that jurors had already heard from a lobbyist who attended Donald Trump Jr.’s controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer.