Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of New York state, coined the term in a January 1985 interview with the New York Daily News‘ Marcia Kramer and Frank Lombardi. The relevant bit:
In a bid to make prosecutors more accountable for their actions, Chief Judge Sol Wachtler has proposed that the state scrap the grand jury system of bringing criminal indictments.
Wachtler, who became the state’s top judge, said district attorneys now have so much influence on grand juries that “by and large” they could get them to “indict a ham sandwich.”
Wachtler believed grand juries “operate more often as the prosecutor’s pawn than the citizen’s shield.” That belief—that prosecutors can get grand juries to do whatever they want them to do.
The “ham sandwich” got some more cultural cachet when Tom Wolfe included the saying in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. “But mainly you used the grand jury to indict people.”
Grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., a Russian lawyer and others, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.
The move is seen as a sign the investigation into election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign is heating up and entering a new phase. Reuters also reported that grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with the meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with a Russian lawyer and others last year.
Russia has denied having a hand in the U.S. presidential election. President Trump, too, has strongly denied allegations of collusion and has frequently called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
Grand juries allow prosecutors to subpoena documents and get witness testimony on the record. They also can seek indictments.
Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, told Fox News on Thursday he wasn’t aware that Mueller had impaneled a new grand jury but said, “We favor anything that brings this investigation to a swift conclusion.”
Cobb also told reporters that, “Grand jury matters are typically secret,” and the White House “is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”
“We have no reason to believe President Trump is under investigation,” Trump attorney John Dowd told Fox News.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted that former FBI Director James Comey repeatedly said Trump was not under investigation earlier this year.
Mueller, who now has a team of 16 attorneys, was brought on as special counsel in May. Prior to his involvement, federal prosecutors reportedly had been using another grand jury, in Alexandria, Va., to help with their criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The Flynn case focuses on his work in the private sector on behalf of foreign interests.
Asked Thursday about the Journal report, the special counsel’s office had no comment.
Trump and his allies have in recent weeks openly criticized Mueller, with one Republican lawmaker even calling for him to step aside.
Other lawmakers have responded with proposals that could serve to shield Mueller from being fired.
Trump also has fumed about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia case, which cleared the way for Mueller’s eventual appointment — though Sessions has recently been told by the White House his job is considered safe.
Thomas Zeno, a former federal prosecutor, told the Journal that impaneling a grand jury is “confirmation that this is a very vigorous investigation going on.”
Zeno cautioned the step does not automatically mean Mueller will bring charges but added “it shows he is very serious. He wouldn’t do this if [the investigation] were winding down.”