WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump said Tuesday he had received a letter informing him he was the target of a Justice Department investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, an indication that he could be indicted by US prosecutors soon.
The new federal charges, on top of existing state and federal counts in New York and Florida and a separate election interference investigation that is nearing completion in Georgia, will add to the list of legal problems for Trump as he pursues the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump disclosed the whereabouts of the target letter in a post on the Truth Social platform, saying he received it late Sunday and he anticipates being charged. Such letters often precede indictments and are used to inform individuals under investigation that prosecutors have gathered evidence linking them to crimes. Trump himself accepted it immediately before being indicted last month in a separate investigation into the illegal safekeeping of classified documents.
Supporters of President Donald Trump, including Jacob Chansley, suitably wearing a fur hat, are confronted by US Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021. More than 1,000 people have been charged with crimes related to the Capitol riots. About 100 of them have been convicted by a jury or judge. More than 600 others pleaded guilty.
A spokesman for special counsel Jack Smith, whose office is leading the investigation, declined to comment.
Legal experts say potential charges could include conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruct an official process, in this case Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Smith’s team has cast a wide net in its investigation into efforts by Trump and his allies to block the transfer of power to Biden in the days leading up to the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, when Trump loyalists stormed the building in an attempt to interfere with the certification of state electoral votes in Congress. More than 1,000 people accused of participating in the riots have been charged.
Smith’s investigation has centered on efforts by Trump and his allies to keep him in office, including the role played by lawyers in pushing for the overturn of the results as well as the plots of phony electorate strings in several Biden-winning battleground states to submit fake election certificates to Congress.
Prosecutors have questioned many Trump administration officials before a grand jury in Washington, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who was repeatedly pressured by Trump to abandon his constitutional duties and block the counting of electoral votes in Congress on January 6.
They have also interviewed other Trump advisers, including former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, as well as local election officials in states, including Michigan and New Mexico, that were the targets of the then president’s pressure campaign to overturn the election results in their states. An attorney for Giuliani, who participated in the voluntary interview, said Tuesday that he had received no target letters.
In a related case, Michigan’s attorney general filed felony charges Tuesday against 16 Republicans who acted as fake voters for Trump in 2020. They are accused of submitting fake certificates confirming they were lawful voters even though Biden won the state.
Trump has consistently denied wrongdoing and doing it again in his posts on Tuesday, writing, “Under the United States Constitution, I have the right to protest an Election I fully believe was Rigged and Stolen, just as Democrats did to me in 2016, and many others have done for centuries.”
Trump remains the dominant frontrunner for the Republican Party in the 2024 presidential election, despite impeachments in New York and Florida, which appear to have had little impact on his position in the crowded GOP field. The indictment has also helped his campaign raise millions of dollars from supporters, though he raised less after the second than the first, raising questions about whether subsequent indictments will have the same impact.
A fundraising committee backing Trump’s candidacy began soliciting contributions just hours after he disclosed the new letter, declaring the investigation a “vicious act of Election Interference on behalf of the Deep State to try and stop the Silent Majority from having a voice in your own country.”
Meanwhile, Trump continues campaigning as usual. He traveled Tuesday to Iowa, where he criticized investigators and tried to explain his escalating legal woes as he spoke at local GOP meetings and recorded town halls with Fox News presenter Sean Hannity.
Trump’s indictment has proved politically challenging for some of Trump’s rivals, who must note his deep support among many of the party’s primary voters as well as their distrust of federal law enforcement.
Asked about the letter during a press conference in South Carolina, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s most serious challenger, said he had not seen it, but delivered his strongest criticism to date of Trump’s inaction on January 6.
“I think it shows how he’s in the White House and doing nothing while things are going on. He should have come out stronger,” said DeSantis. However, he added, “But to try to criminalize that, that is a completely different matter.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had earlier criticized Trump for his actions that day, accused Democrats of trying to “weaponize the government to go after their number one opponent.”
Trump, since leaving office, has increasingly downplayed the events of January 6, describing the rally he held that day as a “festival of love” and a “beautiful thing”. He also embraced defendants jailed for their alleged role in the uprising, including pledging to pardon “a large proportion” and issuing a formal apology to them if he was re-elected.
In June, he spoke at a fundraiser for the defendants and earlier this year collaborated on a song called “Justice for All,” a version of the Star-Spangled Banner that was sung by the defendants’ choir on January 6 and recorded over the prison’s phone line overlaid with Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Several Trump campaign officials and allies argue that the country has largely moved on from January 6 and view the latest investigation as similar to others, believing it will have little impact.
One purpose of a target letter is to notify a potential defendant that he or she has the right to appear before a grand jury. Trump said in the post that he had been given “4 very short days to report to the Grand Jury, which almost always means Arrest and indictment.” The aide did not immediately respond to inquiries seeking more information.
Prosecutors in Georgia are conducting a separate investigation into Trump’s efforts to reverse his election loss in that state, with the top attorney in Fulton County hinting that he will announce an impeachment decision next month.
In his post on Tuesday, Trump wrote that “they have now effectively charged me three times… with a fourth possibility coming from Atlanta.” He added in capital letters, “This witch hunt is about election interference and the full and total political arsenal of law enforcement.”
Trump was indicted last month on 37 federal felony counts in connection with allegations of illegally storing hundreds of classified documents at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago. He pleaded not guilty. A pretrial conference in the case was held Tuesday in Fort Pierce, Florida, where a judge said he hoped to decide on a trial date soon.