The Arizona grand jury that recently indicted 18 people for their roles in former President Donald Trump’s scheme to subvert the 2020 election cast a far wider net than state prosecutors had publicly foreshadowed.

The panel of 16 Arizonans displayed unusual independence from the prosecutors supervising the investigation, according to a rare inside look at the secret proceedings based on interviews with eight people familiar with the probe and documents signed by a top prosecutor.

The grand jury took aggressive steps to haul in witnesses and even brought charges against some who had been told by prosecutors they were not under investigation. It ultimately produced a 58-page indictment last month that charged national and state Republicans — including one of Trump’s current top advisers and several former members of his inner circle — with felonies for their alleged roles in the effort to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Trump himself was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Documents reviewed by POLITICO reveal that at least two of the 18 people charged — former Trump lawyers Jenna Ellis and Christina Bobb — were assured by prosecutors that they were not targets of the probe, only to learn that the grand jury indicted them anyway. In fact, a letter that a prosecutor sent to Ellis just days before the indictment appeared to significantly understate her legal jeopardy.

One witness who testified before the grand jury said a faction of the panel drove intense questioning that exceeded the limited scope that prosecutors had publicly acknowledged. The probe was led by the office of Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes.

Arizona law tightly restricts any discussion of grand jury proceedings, and most of the people interviewed by POLITICO were granted anonymity to describe the inner workings.

Though Republicans have accused Mayes, a Democrat, of bringing an unfair and politically motivated case, the people who described the investigation to POLITICO said the grand jury was surprisingly independent of prosecutors –– and sometimes even hard for them to predict.

“The State Grand Jury was given leeway to conduct an independent investigation, as it is entitled to do by law,” Mayes’ spokesperson, Richie Taylor, said in a statement. “I cannot confirm or deny the specifics of grand jury proceedings, and I will note that the investigation remains open and ongoing. I will have to decline to comment further.”

Grand juries, like trial juries, consist of ordinary people who are randomly called to serve. By law, they are independent — empowered to conduct their own lines of questioning and to reach conclusions that may not align with the wishes of investigators — but in run-of-the-mill criminal cases, they are often wholly deferential to the prosecutors who empanel them.

In newsworthy or politically sensitive probes, however, it’s more common for grand juries to take on an independent role, according to Paul Charlton, a former Arizona prosecutor.

“Every high-profile case that I’ve ever had, which is cases that have necessarily attendant publicity, or a public corruption case, or anything else, grand jurors become interested,” he said.

Ultimately, the Arizona grand jury investigating the 2020 election indicted former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, and close Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn. It also indicted the 11 Arizona Republicans who falsely claimed to be the state’s rightful presidential electors.

Arizona is the fourth state — after Georgia, Michigan and Nevada — to bring criminal charges stemming from the efforts of Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 results in states that Biden won. At the federal level, special counsel Jack Smith has also charged Trump himself for the scheme.

An aggressive grand jury

Mayes succeeded a Republican in January 2023 after campaigning on a promise to investigate the so-called “fake electors” that falsely claimed Trump had prevailed in Arizona’s 2020 contest. Her office began the probe early in her term, and Mayes confirmed her focus on the elector scheme repeatedly in interviews throughout 2023.

“I have been clear that we are conducting an investigation into the fake elector situation here in Arizona,” Mayes said in an August 2023 radio interview.

But a year into her tenure, as the grand jury fired off a series of subpoenas, there were signs that the scope of the probe was broader than that.

For months, the panel met regularly in a drab, white-walled basement room of the Maricopa County Superior Courthouse. There, grand jurors and prosecutors discussed which witnesses to summon, which subpoenas to issue and the lines of inquiry the investigation should pursue.

When witnesses appeared, jurors would sit in desks arranged in a U-shape to face witnesses, who sat alongside a court reporter and prosecutors. The jurors toted binders of evidence and notebooks, and prosecutors would display exhibits on a television screen.

People familiar with the investigation noted that the grand jurors had a range of political and ideological viewpoints. There appeared to be a faction that drove the most aggressive questions, while others inquired from different points of view. Occasionally, some would roll their eyes or sigh audibly during others’ inquiries.

‘Not a target’

Several months after Ellis, one of the Trump lawyers, pleaded guilty in Georgia to aiding Trump’s quest to subvert the 2020 election, Mayes’ prosecutors approached her with questions of their own. They asked her to appear for an interview in their office to determine whether they might benefit from her cooperation, a so-called “free talk” interview.

“Ms. Ellis is not a target of the State’s investigation,” a prosecutor in Mayes’ office wrote in the Feb. 20 letter to Ellis’ lawyer that also proposed terms for an interview.

On April 19, the prosecutor followed up with another version of the same letter working to arrange an interview, reiterating that Ellis was not a target of their probe.

Four days later, the grand jury indicted her. The interview never happened.

Ellis and her legal team declined to comment.

Omer Gurion, a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer who does not have any clients connected to the probe, said the events regarding Ellis were unheard of, given that she could have sat for a free-talk interview under the false impression she wouldn’t face charges.

“I have never seen anything like that in any Arizona criminal case that I can think of,” he said. “Not one.”

He added that for a person to go from being untargeted to indicted in just four days is technically possible but “pretty unusual.”

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, concurred.

“It’s bad form, and something I would never do as a prosecutor,” he said. “That said, I’ve practiced criminal law across this country and gone up against prosecutors of all stripes, and I’ve learned there are many prosecutors who do things I would not do.”

Charlton, the former Arizona prosecutor, also agreed that the Ellis episode was unusual.

“It is peculiar,” he said. “It may have a very reasonable explanation –– you certainly hope it does. But at the end of the day, the prejudice that she suffers seems marginal, only because she never participated in the discussion with them.”

Bobb, a lawyer who worked on Trump’s efforts to fight his 2020 defeat and now works for the RNC on election integrity issues, also received a letter from prosecutors two months before the indictment. Hers, dated Feb. 28 and reviewed by POLITICO, said she was “not a person under investigation by the State Grand Jury.” Her lawyer, Thomas Jacobs, confirmed she received the letter attached to a subpoena for testimony.

Less than two months after receiving the letter, Bobb was also indicted.

Gurion was skeptical that prosecutors didn’t know she was under investigation just two months before her indictment.

“I cannot imagine that they didn’t know that she was being investigated and was going to be mentioned to the grand jury two months prior,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“This timeline is troubling,” he added.

Mariotti also said he had never seen anything like it.

“In my over 20 years practicing criminal law, I’ve never encountered someone who was a witness being indicted less than two months later, who was told in writing that they’re a witness and not under investigation,” he said.

Charlton, meanwhile, said the prosecutors could have gathered new evidence between the date of the letter and the indictment that resulted in their decision to charge Bobb.

“I assume these are prosecutors who are acting in good faith,” he said, “and absent any proof to the contrary, that’s what I would say they were doing.”

A grill session

One of the witnesses who spoke to POLITICO underscored the divergence between the grand jurors and prosecutors. The witness, who received an immunity agreement over the winter, was told to expect roughly an hour of questioning on some boilerplate details of the probe.

Instead, grand jurors grilled the witness for three hours, sometimes in pointed and accusatory ways — “a level of aggression that caught me off guard.” The witness recalled a juror who “seemed to be the leader of the ‘indict them all crowd’ and asked ‘pointed but specific questions.’” Another grand juror asked “more high-level questions” like, “How could you even talk to these people? What were you thinking?” with long “preambles” that made his views of the case known, the witness said.

Another smaller faction of grand jurors consistently reframed the questions of the more aggressive jurors and seemed to be more skeptical of the angle they were taking, the witness recalled, noting that this group was visibly “rolling their eyes, heavy sighing, shifting uncomfortably.”

One grand juror also wanted to know what the witness could possibly have been thinking in the weeks after Trump’s defeat. The witness wasn’t a target but left the room surprised by the tenor of the grand jury’s questions and feeling like a “punching bag.”

And after the grilling was over, the witness said, a prosecutor offered a sheepish apology for its unexpected intensity.

Charlton said grand jurors tend to listen passively while prosecutors question witnesses during their sessions. You could present them with 100 bank robbery cases and get nothing but yawns, he added. But when they are investigating public corruption and newsworthy events, they are much more likely to take a hands-on approach.

In the months before the indictment, the grand jury subpoenaed many of the people who would later be charged for signing false documents claiming to be legitimate presidential electors. Lawyers for those people told the prosecutors that their clients would assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if required to appear before the grand jury –– declining to share anything at all of substance.

Typically when witnesses say they plan to invoke a constitutional privilege, prosecutors will excuse them from appearing. But in this case, grand jurors insisted that fake electors appear in person to plead the Fifth, so prosecutors ordered them to do so. The jurors pressed them on whether they had evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential race — and witnesses asserted their rights to remain silent.

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