Former President Donald J. Trump has been briefed that he could soon face federal charges for his efforts to hold on to power following his 2020 election defeat, potentially adding to the impressive array of criminal charges and other legal issues he faces even as he campaigns to return to the White House.
Mr. Trump was told by his lawyers on Sunday that he had received a so-called destination letter from Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating his attempts to reverse his ballot defeat, Mr. Trump and other people familiar with said the matter Tuesday. Prosecutors use target letters to tell potential defendants that investigators have evidence tying them to crimes and that they could be subject to prosecution.
« Deranged Jack Smith » sent Mr. Trump a letter Sunday evening informing him that he was a « TARGET of the January 6 grand jury investigation, » Trump said in a post on his social media platform.
Such a letter « almost always means an arrest and a charge, » wrote Trump, whose campaign is rooted in allegations of political persecution and a promise to purge the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation of personnel he considers hostile. to him and his agenda.
Mr. Smith’s spokesman did not comment.
An indictment against Trump would be the second brought by Smith, who is also prosecuting the former president for putting national security secrets at risk by taking classified documents from the White House and obstructing government efforts to reclaim the materials.
Mr. Trump is also under indictment in Manhattan on charges relating to paying money to a porn star before the 2016 election. And he faces the likelihood of indictments from the Fulton County, Georgia district attorney’s office. who conducted a wide-ranging investigation into Mr. Trump’s attempts to reverse his 2020 election loss in that state.
It’s unclear what specific charges Mr. Smith and his prosecutors might be considering, but they appear to have gathered evidence about a number of tactics Mr. Trump and his allies have used to try to stave off his electoral defeat.
Those efforts included assembling lists of so-called fake voters from swing states that Mr. Trump has lost; lobbying state officials to block or delay Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victories; try to persuade Vice President Mike Pence to prevent Congress from certifying the electoral college outcome; raise funds based on false claims of voter fraud; and rallying supporters to come to Washington and march on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
It is also unknown whether others could be charged alongside Trump. Several of his closest allies during his efforts to stay in office, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, who served as his personal attorney, and John Eastman, who promoted the idea that Mr. Pence could prevent Congress from certifying the victory of Mr. Biden, said through their lawyers that they have not received any letters of destination.
Just hours after Trump revealed he received the disposition letter, the Michigan Attorney General announced state felony charges against 16 people for their involvement in an attempt to overturn Biden’s victory in the state by convening a slate of pro- Trump.
The news of another potential indictment of Mr. Trump has underlined the stakes of an intensification of the legal and political battle whose consequences are both incalculable and unpredictable.
Mr. Trump remains a dominant favorite for the Republican presidential nomination, despite — or to some extent because of — the growing list of charges and potential charges against him.
His election strategy has been to embrace the investigation as evidence of a plot by a Democratic administration to deny him and his supporters a victory in 2024, a message that continues to resonate among his followers. He was fundraising news of the target letter within hours of revealing he received it.
But for Mr. Trump, the stakes are deeply personal, given the serious threat that he could go to jail if convicted in one or more of the cases. In that sense, a successful campaign—and the power to make at least federal cases disappear by pardoning them or ordering his Justice Department to dismiss them—is also a fight for his freedom.
Trump spent much of Tuesday promoting a scorched earth political strategy, consulting with allies in Washington, including President Kevin McCarthy and Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and one-time critic who has become one of his most fierce defenders. Mr. Trump urged Ms. Stefanik to go « on the attack » during a long phone call from her golf club in Bedminster, NJ, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
His main rival at the time for the Republican nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, said Trump has been the victim of the Justice Department’s « politicization, » continuing a pattern in which leading figures in his party remain wary of criticizing him. and drawing the ire of his supporters.
At least two grand juries in Washington have heard questions related to Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in office. A trial, if it comes to that, will likely be held in federal district court in Washington, where many of the January 6 rioters and leaders of two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, were prosecuted.
Based on the results of those trials, the jury in Washington would likely be less supportive of the former president than one that would be made up of a largely pro-Trump region around Fort Pierce, Florida, where the trial is currently underway. for confidential documents. scheduled to take place.
Two of Mr. Trump’s attorneys, Todd Blanche and Christopher M. Kise, briefly mentioned the new destination letter during a pre-trial hearing in Florida Tuesday on the documents case. While Mr. Kise and Mr. Blanche did not provide details of what the letter said, they used it to argue that Mr. Trump was essentially beleaguered by prosecutors and that the trial in the confidential documents case should be delayed until after the 2024 election.
In revealing that he received the destination letter, Trump said he has been given four days to testify before a grand jury if he so chooses. He should decline. The timetable suggested by the letter suggests he will not be charged this week, according to people familiar with the situation.
Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County, Georgia district attorney who has been pursuing her investigation into Trump and his allies, could file charges as early as next month. If he goes first, that could complicate Mr. Smith’s case. The accounts of witnesses called to testify in both cases could vary slightly, such as casting doubt on their testimony, which could explain why Mr. Smith is moving fast, according to former federal prosecutors.
Federal investigators have been slow to begin investigating all efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, overwhelmed with prosecuting the hundreds of rioters who illegally entered the Capitol. The initial plan to investigate the planners of the attack, drawn up by the Trump-appointed US attorney in Washington and subsequently adopted by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, made no explicit reference to the former president. The FBI has adopted a similar strategy.
However, in the months leading up to Mr. Smith’s appointment as special counsel last fall, there were strong indications that federal prosecutors were moving to examine whether Trump and his allies might have committed crimes.
The FBI’s field office in Washington opened an April 2022 investigation into voters who pledged allegiance to Mr. Trump in states he lost. Earlier, authorities seized the cellphones of Mr. Eastman, a legal architect of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, and Jeffrey Clark, a lawyer Mr. Trump had sought to install as interim attorney general.
Among the crimes that prosecutors and agents intended to investigate were mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of an official proceeding before Congress.
By the end of last year, the various investigations were brought under Mr. Smith, who moved quickly with a flurry of activity, including subpoenas and witness interviews.
Mr. Smith and his team don’t appear to be done. A spokesman for former Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona said Mr. Smith’s team contacted him after The Washington Post reported it that Mr. Trump had instructed Mr. Pence to lobby Mr. Ducey to overturn Mr. Biden’s narrow victory there.
The spokesman said Mr Ducey will do « the right thing » and has done so since the election. It was unclear whether the contact should require a voluntary interview by Mr. Ducey or a grand jury appearance.
Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner appeared before one of the grand juries in June, according to people familiar with his appearance. Mr. Giuliani had a recent interview with prosecutors.
Ben Protess, Jonathan Swan AND Luke Broadwater contributed report.