WASHINGTON ― Supporters of President Donald Trump have opened a new line of attack on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election: They think special counsel Robert Mueller’s federal grand jury has too many black people on it.
A Trump associate who “recently testified” complained to New York Post columnist Richard Johnson that the members of the grand jury in Washington looked like they came from a Black Lives Matter protest.
“The grand jury room looks like a Bernie Sanders rally,” the witness told Page Six. “Maybe they found these jurors in central casting, or at a Black Lives Matter rally in Berkeley.”
The complainant contended that 11 of the 20 grand jurors in the room during the testimony were African-Americans, which isn’t a surprising figure because it roughly lines up with the percentage of black residents of the District of Columbia. The witness also told Page Six that there “was only one white male in the room, and he was a prosecutor.”
If the witness recently testified before the grand jury, which is charged with determining whether there’s probable cause to indict any additional Trump campaign figures, that witness presumably knows a lot about what precisely the grand jury inquiry is focused on at this point. But instead of pursuing that story, Page Six gave a sympathetic airing to the witness’s complaints about the racial makeup of the grand jury ― though the story did include a “racism” tag.
The complaint about who serves on the D.C. grand jury was clearly a bad faith argument from someone who appears sympathetic to Trump and ― based on the fact that they were called to testify ― may have information of interest to Mueller’s team.
Natasha Bertrand, a reporter for Business Insider, tweeted that she was pitched the story about the grand jury’s racial makeup about a month ago and “genuinely thought the person was joking.” Yet the Page Six column quickly gained traction in conservative media circles Tuesday night.
Gateway Pundit wrote that the Page Six report indicated the grand jury was completely biased “and full of liberal hacks who most likely hate President Trump” and said it was “way past time for the unconstitutional witch hunt to be shut down.”
Setting aside the precise demographics of this particular grand jury, it’s no secret that a selection of D.C. voters isn’t likely to include many Trump fans. The president received just 4.1 percent of the District’s votes in 2016, 90.9 percent of which went to Hillary Clinton. Page Six reported that the grand jury “doesn’t appear to include any supporters of President Donald Trump,” an assertion evidently based upon a Trump associate’s assumptions about the individuals in the room.
But the complaints about the racial makeup of the jury seize upon widespread misunderstanding of the role of a federal grand jury and represent an attack on a fundamental component of the federal criminal justice system that you wouldn’t typically expect to hear from supporters of a president who ran a “law and order” campaign.
The witness who testified before the grand jury complained to Page Six that it wasn’t “a room where POTUS gets a fair shake.” It is not, nor is it set up to be. Nobody gets a “fair shake” before a grand jury because its role is to serve as a (relatively weak) check on prosecutors, not to determine whether defendants are guilty of a crime.
More broadly, the attacks on the grand jury fit into a larger pattern of Trump supporters undermining the entire Russia investigation by attacking Justice Department employees, the FBI and, most recently, Mueller ― a Republican former FBI director appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, also a Republican.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted his complaints about the “deep state” Justice Department and called for it to jail a former top Clinton aide. The complaints about the racial makeup of the grand jury might give him new ammunition.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.