Former President Donald Trump has reportedly received a letter formally notifying him that he is the target of a federal criminal investigation, a move that legal experts say is one of the “last steps” before an indictment.
Trump’s legal team received the letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on an unspecified date, according to reports published Wednesday by multiple news outlets. The letter could indicate that one or both of Special Counsel Jack Smith‘s investigations of the former president is about to end in criminal charges.
A CNN report claims that the letter was sent in reference to Smith’s investigation of Trump’s post-presidency handling of classified and sensitive documents. Smith is also investigating Trump’s activities related to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Legal experts reacted to the news by suggesting that a federal criminal indictment of the former president could be coming very soon.
“The fact that Trump fulfills both prongs of the target test is a pretty sure sign that we’re about to see Donald Trump indicted,” former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner said during an appearance on MSNBC‘s The 11th Hour with Stephanie Ruhle.
.@GlennKirschner2 on Trump being told he is a target of classified docs probe: “The fact that Trump fulfills both prongs of the target test is a pretty sure sign that we’re about to see Donald Trump indicted.” pic.twitter.com/nt6665ETBS
— 11th Hour (@11thHour) June 8, 2023
“This means that they are basically at the end of the investigation, at least the one that is the subject of the target letter,” lawyer and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa said during an ABC News interview.
“A target letter is issued when the [DOJ] wants to communicate to a person’s lawyers that they are about to be prosecuted criminally,” she added.
“DOJ has issued ‘target letter’ to Trump—one of the last steps before indictment,” tweeted Tristan Snell, lawyer and former assistant attorney general for New York state. “This corroborates all the other signs that an indictment is days (if not mere hours) away now.”
NEW — DOJ has issued “target letter” to Trump — one of the last steps before indictment.
This corroborates all the other signs that an indictment is days (if not mere hours) away now.
— Tristan Snell (@TristanSnell) June 8, 2023
“Trump made himself a target of this criminal investigation,” lawyer and former George W. Bush administration official Richard Painter tweeted while sharing the CNN article. “Justice Department informs Trump he is target in classified documents probe, sources say.”
Trump made himself a target of this criminal investigation.
Justice Department informs Trump he is target in classified documents probe, sources say. https://t.co/xuzItv3lHA
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) June 7, 2023
“An indictment is imminent,” attorney and frequent Trump critic George Conway said during an interview on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. “They’re basically telling him they’re likely to indict him. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be tomorrow.”
Shortly after reports of the target letter emerged, New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman said in a tweet that Trump had directly told her that he has “not been told he’s getting indicted.”
Trump later made a similar comment in a Truth Social post, writing that “no one has told me I’m being indicted,” while insisting that he had done “nothing wrong” and was the victim of “a travesty of justice.”
Former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal pointed out that both Haberman’s “view” and the issuing of the targeting letter could be accurate, since the letter is not an official notification of an indictment.
“Both Maggie’s view and the news reports can both be true,” Katyal tweeted. “Trump could have received a target letter AND the letter may not have strictly said he’s ‘getting indicted.’ Target = likely indictment, and letter wouldn’t say he definitely is.”
Both Maggie’s view and the news reports can both be true. Trump could have received a target letter AND the letter may not have strictly said he’s “getting indicted.” Target = likely indictment, and letter wouldn’t say he definitely is. https://t.co/ddAQdoRHz4
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) June 7, 2023
Haberman responded to Katyal’s tweet by saying that her reporting was based on Trump’s own quotes, while clarifying that the former president was “squishier” when asked about the target letter.
“This isn’t my ‘view.’ This is quoting Trump, who was notably squishier on the question of whether he’s been told he’s a target,” tweeted Haberman.
This isn’t my “view.” This is quoting Trump, who was notably squishier on the question of whether he’s been told he’s a target. https://t.co/B87vIPkv4U
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 8, 2023
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who on Wednesday announced that he is challenging Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, said that “no one is above the law” when asked about the target letter in a CNN town hall, while adding that an indictment of his former boss would “be terribly divisive to the country.”
In addition to the purported target letter, other recent signs that Trump could be soon be indicted include his legal team meeting with DOJ officials on Monday and his former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reportedly testifying to a federal grand jury as part of Smith’s dual investigations.
Trump, who is already facing felony charges in New York and is under criminal investigation in Georgia, has repeatedly denied that he is guilty of any kind of wrongdoing, while maintaining that he is being targeted in a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
Newsweek has reached out via email to the office of Trump for comment.
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