September 20, 2023

Florida Grand Jury Hints at Unknown Complexity in Trump Documents Investigation

The latest twist in the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents is the surprising revelation that a previously unknown Florida federal grand jury has recently begun hearing testimony in the case.

The Florida grand jury is separate from the one that has been sitting in Washington for months and has been the center of activity for prosecutors investigating whether Trump mishandled classified documents after leaving office or obstructed efforts to retrieve them. Those who have appeared before or been subpoenaed by the grand jury in Washington in recent months, said people familiar with the investigation, include more than 20 members of Trump’s Secret Service intelligence agency.

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But there is some evidence that the grand jury in Washington, based in the city’s federal courthouse, may have stopped hearing testimonies in recent weeks, according to three people familiar with its operation.

As for the Florida grand jury, which began hearing evidence last month, only a handful of witnesses have testified or will appear before it, according to those familiar with its operation. At least one witness testified there and another will testify on Wednesday.

It’s an open question why prosecutors assembled Florida’s grand jury — which sits in the U.S. District Court in Miami — and whether it’s the only one to hear testimony. This uncertainty, due in large part to the secretive nature of grand juries, serves to underline just how much about Special Counsel Jack Smith’s management of the documents case remains out of the public eye.

“We know only a small fraction of what officers and prosecutors know, so it’s dangerous, if not impossible, to fathom the government’s strategy from afar,” said Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and FBI official. . “It’s like the man berating an umpire for missed calls from the cheap seats.”

But while much is shrouded in mystery, legal experts and those familiar with the investigation suggested there could be a number of reasons why Smith chose to use a Florida grand jury for at least some elements of the case. His decision could have major consequences for the course of the investigation.

In simple terms, those familiar with the case said, if both grand juries are in operation, it suggests prosecutors are considering filing charges in both Washington and Florida. It is possible that Trump will be charged in one jurisdiction, while others involved will be charged in another jurisdiction.

But if only the Florida grand jury is currently hearing testimony, it suggests two possibilities.

One is that the investigation in Washington has largely concluded and prosecutors are now about to make a decision on whether to press charges while they weigh other possible charges in Florida.

The other is that Smith has decided that Florida is the right location for any charges he might bring in the case and has moved the entire grand jury there, they said.

It wouldn’t be all that unusual if Smith’s team opened the documents search in Washington and then chose to move it to Florida because of legal issues related to its location, said Brandon L. Van Grack, a former federal prosecutor who worked to matters related to national security and classified material.

“It’s common in situations involving classified information, when prosecutors aren’t sure where to conduct an investigation in Washington, Virginia or Maryland,” Van Grack said. “The point is just because it starts there doesn’t mean it has to end there. You don’t know what your potential hooks are until you’ve done a thorough research.”

Van Grack said it would be relatively easy to move a grand jury investigation from Washington to Miami if necessary. Prosecutors should simply read the first grand jury transcripts to the new grand jurors or let federal agents give them a summary of the main points.

If Smith considers filing charges in both Washington and Miami, the latter may involve potential targets who live and work in Florida. For example, investigators have examined the role of two Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence, for their role in the storage and security of classified documents there.

Even if the grand jury in Washington is now on pause, it is possible that it will reconvene and vote to indict Trump. However, if that’s not the case and only Florida’s grand jury continues to work, that would suggest that Smith’s office had concluded that a case against Trump or his aides should only take place in Florida, those familiar with the case said. case.

There would be reasons for that latest decision, said Timothy Parlatore, an attorney who resigned from Trump’s legal team last month. Many of the central events in the documents investigation took place when Trump was living in Florida, he said.

Trump was living in Mar-a-Lago when he and his lawyers first began negotiating the return of government records to the National Archives in late 2021. And the first treasure trove of classified documents the records discovered was in a batch of 15 boxes of records Trump sent from Florida to Washington.

Florida is where Trump lived when the Justice Department issued its subpoena last May for the return of all classified documents in his presidential office’s possession. And when Washington prosecutors sought to meet with Trump’s lawyers to enforce that subpoena and collect all relevant material, it took place at Mar-a-Lago.

After prosecutors began to believe Trump was still holding classified material even after the subpoena, they sent the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago. Agents removed another 100 or so classified documents discovered at the Florida compound in violation of the subpoena.

But prosecutors could still try to establish a Washington venue for charges against Trump, especially given that moving a potential case to Miami wouldn’t be without risk for Smith and his team.

A Florida jury may turn out to be more sympathetic to Trump than a Washington jury. And judges in the Southern District of Florida — including Aileen M. Cannon, who made an unusual decision to suspend the investigation early to allow an outside arbitrator to review the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago — might be more inclined to rule in Trump’s favor than those in Washington.

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