I’ve been thinking about the DC Grand Jury

UPDATE 8/11/2017. Even before you look at my musings, read this, from the Brennan Center, about how grand juries are selected and why Alan Dershowitz and Sean Hannity are wrong to suggest Trump won’t get a fair investigation in Washington, D.C.

I was not thinking–or suggesting–that the DC grand jury would be or could be “unfair” to Trump, just because it works in a overwhelmingly Democratic city. This idea corresponds to the argument of one of my cousins, who voted for Trump (?!?): that most of the country was dark red (just look at a map!) and most counties supported Trump and the only people who voted for Hillary were in those little blue slivers along the coasts.

I pointed out there were demonstrably more of us in those “little blue slivers along the coasts” than there were in the rest of the country and told her, “You know, we get to vote, too.”

Seems to be some bizarre and dangerous notion that power in this country goes not to individual voters who make up the majority of voters, but to areas on a national map.


When I first heard that Robert Mueller was now employing a Washington, DC grand jury, I found myself more or less ignoring what the media were saying about it–explaining what grand juries do, don’t do, etc.

I knew all that. One of my good friends served on a DC grand jury and while she didn’t tell me about specific cases, she gave me a good idea of how the process worked.

What I thought was: Washington, DC–unlike Virginia, where the original grand jury investigating the Russian connection and Flynn was convened–is overwhelmingly Democratic. Hillary got 90 percent of the District votes. Trump, i.e., he who is being investigated, got 4 percent.

How much more vigorous do you think a DC grand jury will be in investigating this matter than a Virginia grand jury?

There’s something else I considered, as well, but it’s more subtle.

Washington, DC’s population (which is growing) is 681,170.

Wyoming’s population (which is shrinking) is 563,626.

Wyoming has one representative–Liz Cheney (yes, of the well-known and well-despised Cheneys)–and two senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso. All three are Republicans. All three can fully participate in congressional doings.

Washington, DC, with 117,544 more people than Wyoming, has…no voting representatives and no senators whatsoever.

You know the phrase “No taxation without representation”? A version of that phrase has often been on Washington, DC’s license plates. Grabbed the photo off Wikipedia:


I have friends and family who live in D.C. I think of them during every election, whenever I go to my polling place and vote. I think of them marking ballots that do not offer the choices I have on my ballot.

Personally, I’m furious about this, furious that over 600,000 people are X-ed out of fully choosing a government which determines so many aspects of their lives. They should be able to vote, must be able to vote. It’s a cause worthy of revolution.

I have a funny feeling this relative powerlessness affects them profoundly, and affects their political beliefs and even their psyches.

A grand jury drawn from a population without voting power…let’s consider it. Let’s consider how their civic potency could therefore be focused on this one civic duty permitted them.

Any jury made up of people who have no congressional representation, who don’t have full citizenship, just might participate in a grand jury investigation with an intelligence and purposeful thoroughness enhanced to the third power–one power for each of their denied representatives.

Some years ago, I read Akhil Reed Amar’s inspiring book, The Bill of Rights. I remember being slightly startled about how much emphasis and discussion he gave to juries, both grand and petit.

From Professor Amar I realized that juries were central to our particular institution of government. Indeed, he taught me that juries were, in effect, the fourth branch of government.

And although he writes, “…the present-day jury is only a shadow of its former self,” he also tells us that a grand jury, at least as conceived by the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, “had sweeping proactive and inquisitorial powers to investigate suspected wrongdoing or cover-ups by government officials…”

Don’t we all have a solid sense that the DC grand jury’s powers are precisely as Professor Amar laid out?

More or less humbly I suggest that the DC grand jury, comprised of citizens who have been deprived of full powers of citizenship, will be eager to take up what powers they have been given and do a fine job for all of us.

UPDATE 8/8/2017. Just now I found this from the Brennan Center: https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/how-washington-dc-plays-robert-muellers-grand-jury-investigation

Seems that Alan Dershowitz and Sean Hannity (what a pair!) are dribbling bits of slime over the DC grand jury because they’ve decided–for the reasons I brought up at the beginning of my thinking (up at the top)–DC is far too Democratic to mount a grand jury that’ll be fair to Trump.

So the Brennan Center’s knowledgeable confrontation of Dershowitz (we’ll leave out Hannity because) is especially significant:

A grand jury sitting in Washington, D.C., is precisely where any reasonable federal prosecutor would take an investigation that has so many D.C. characters and so much D.C.-based evidence at its core. That is not just a good idea, or a practically logical or politically convenient one. It is a position endorsed by federal law and policy. Every federal prosecutor knows (and Dershowitz should know, too) what the U.S. Attorneys Manual states on the question: “a case should not be presented to a grand jury in a district unless venue for the offense lies in that district.”

It ends:

Instead of pretending that Mueller is doing something out of the ordinary here, instead of contending against all legal precedent that the District isn’t the proper venue for an investigation into an administration’s alleged wrongdoing, Dershowitz should use his extraordinary powers of spin to make another kind of argument. How about this one: What better way for the Trump administration to drain the Washington swamp then by allowing grand jurors in Washington, itself, to help determine whether and to what extent this White House is guilty of political corruption that undermined a presidential election?


I wouldn’t expect the Brennan Center to delve into the political psyches of the DC grand jury. So I did it for the rest of us.

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