Now that Mike Pence has testified against Donald Trump to the grand jury, what’s left for Jack Smith to do before criminally indicting Trump? Legal expert Ben Wittes says we’re at the end of the indictment process, while legal expert Joyce Vance says we’re “close” to the end of the process. I think they’re basically both right.
To be clear, Pence is the highest ranking government witness in all of this. Some observers are mistakenly awaiting Trump’s grand jury testimony, but there won’t be any. Criminal targets don’t testify to the grand jury. So Pence is the top of the heap.
It’s still theoretically possible that some people like Mark Meadows, who were cleared to testify by the appeals court weeks ago, still have yet to testify. But given that Jack Smith put Pence on the stand less than one day after the appeals court cleared him, it now seems likely that these other witnesses like Meadows have already testified. Remember, we generally only learn about these things if the media happens to spot the witness going in or out of the courthouse. There is no doubt that numerous people have already testified to Jack Smith’s grand jury without the media having gotten any wind of it.
It’s also theoretically possible that certain Trump family members, or other people who are extremely close to Trump, could be slotted to testify after Pence. We’ll have to wait and see on that front.
There is also the possibility that even if Pence is the final witness, Smith will now feel compelled to bring back one or more earlier witnesses to provide additional context to the testimony that Pence just gave.
And while Trump will not be put in front of the grand jury, it’s possible that Smith could invite Trump to sit down for a pre-indictment interview away from the grand jury. With the way Trump runs his mouth, this would be a goldmine for Smith. But for that reason, Trump’s attorneys would likely talk him out of such an interview, just as they did when Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg offered Trump such an interview. Remember, offering this kind of “interview” isn’t a courtesy, it’s a trap – and even Trump’s inept attorneys know it.
But the bottom line is that Pence is either the final, or very close to final, grand jury witness. Certainly the most difficult one to get the courts to sign off on. As far as anyone knows, Jack Smith’s court battles over grand jury testimony are all done. If all of the testimony is now complete, and no more witnesses are taking the stand, then it’ll just come down to the procedural moves and filings that have to be completed before the indictment, which don’t take long.
If you’re looking for a reference, think of Mike Pence as the Michael Cohen of this case. I’m certainly not comparing them as people. I’m just drawing parallels in terms of where they’re slotted in the grand jury witness hierarchy. Cohen was excited to testify, but because of the manner in which grand jury witnesses are slotted from least important to most important, Cohen still had to wait until nearly the end to testify. And in the same way that Cohen was believed to be the highest ranking witness in the Manhattan case, Pence is believed to be the highest ranking witness in Jack Smith’s case.
Cohen ended up not being the final witness. Pecker was brought back for followup testimony after that, and a still unidentified witness reportedly testified after that. But once Cohen testified, you knew we were almost there. That’s what Pence’s testimony signifies.
I won’t dare try to predict a timeframe. No one knows how much cleanup work is left to be done. But we’re now in that window where the news alert about the DOJ indicting Trump could come at any time. Tomorrow, two weeks from now, a month from now, or four days from now? None of those would be a surprise.
We’re now at the part where the plane has landed, and we’re waiting for them to open the door. That ends up only taking a tiny fraction of the time that the flight took to begin with. But that wait feels like forever. Welcome to the anticipation part. Nobody likes waiting for champagne delays. But if you’re uncomfortable about having to wait for that news alert about the DOJ indicting Trump, just think about how uncomfortable Trump must be while waiting for that news alert.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report