Federal prosecutors have informed former President Donald J. Trump’s legal team that he is a target of their investigation into his handling of classified documents after he left office, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The notification to Mr Trump’s team by prosecutors from the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith was the clearest signal yet that the former president is likely to be charged in the investigation.
It remained unclear when Mr Trump’s team was told he was a target of the special counsel’s investigation, but the report suggested prosecutors working for Mr Smith had largely completed their investigation and were on their way to the filing a complaint.
In court filings last year, prosecutors indicated they were investigating whether Trump had violated laws governing the handling of national security documents and whether he had interfered with government efforts to recover them.
Mr. Trump was found to have had more than 300 secretly marked documents at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, including some found in a search there by FBI agents two months after lawyers for the former president launched a diligent search had not reappeared.
Notifying a potential defendant that he or she is a target is a formal way of indicating that the person is the immediate target of a criminal investigation and often precedes the filing of charges. The notice typically opens the door for defense attorneys requesting a meeting with prosecutors to tell their side of the story.
On Monday, three of Mr Trump’s lawyers – James Trusty, John Rowley and Lindsey Halligan – met with Mr Smith and others at the Justice Department for nearly two hours in what people close to Mr Trump described as a last-ditch effort to finish charges to be filed and alert top prosecutors of what they believe is misconduct in Mr. Smith’s investigation.
On Wednesday, witnesses continued to appear before a federal grand jury in Miami hearing the evidence in the documents case — including Taylor Budowich, one of Trump’s former spokesmen.
Trump aides and advisers spent the day in a state of high tension. When Mr. Budowich completed his Grand Jury appearance, John Solomon, a conservative journalist who serves as one of Mr. Trump’s representatives at the National Archives, published an article claiming that prosecutors were on their way to “killing Mr. Trump” immediately”.
NewsMadura contacted Mr Trump directly to ask if he had indeed been told he would be charged, saying it was “not true”.
But when asked if he had been told he is a target of a federal investigation, Mr. Trump did not immediately answer, saying “you need to understand” that he had no direct contact with prosecutors. He then repeated that “it is not true” that he has been told he will be charged.
A short time later, Mr. Trump, who was at his club in Bedminster, NJ, posted a message on his social media platform denying Mr. Solomon’s allegation.
“Nobody told me I am being charged,” wrote Mr. Trump, “and I shouldn’t be, because I have done NOTHING wrong, but I have assumed for years that I am a target of the DOJ & FBI ASSEMBLED.”
Most of the documentary review has been conducted by a grand jury sitting in Washington, which has heard numerous witnesses in recent months, including some White House advisers to Mr. Trump, some low-ranking employees at Mar-a-Lago and more than 20 members of his Secret Service security detail.
Only a handful of witnesses — including some Mar-a-Lago employees — have so far appeared before the grand jury in Miami, which appears to have begun hearing evidence last month, according to people familiar with its operation. It remains uncertain how many more witnesses will testify before the Miami grand jury.
According to several people familiar with its operation, there have recently been indications that the grand jury in Washington has ended or paused the hearing of testimony. Some of those people said the last witnesses to appear for questioning in Washington did so in early or mid-May.
Should prosecutors eventually charge Trump — an outcome he and some of his advisers say is likely — it remains an open question whether Mr. Smith’s team will press charges in Washington, Miami or both cities.
The Office of the Special Counsel is also conducting a separate investigation into Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The status of that investigation seems to lag somewhat behind the secret documents case.
Mr. Trump is already being sued in New York by a local prosecutor in a hush case and is under investigation by a Georgia prosecutor for trying to reverse his 2020 election loss in that state.
Federal prosecutors appeared to be still collecting evidence in the document search on Wednesday. Mr. Budowich showed up at the Miami courthouse around 9 a.m. for an hour or two asking questions for the grand jury.
One case prosecutors wanted to ask about was a statement that Mr. Trump had his aides drafted shortly after news broke that National Archives officials recovered 15 boxes of material belonging to him in January 2022. Mr Budowich was Mr Trump’s spokesman at the time.
The statement Mr. Trump initially intended to send said, according to two people briefed on the matter, that he had returned all of the presidential materials he had. A draft has been written, according to people familiar with the case. Prosecutors have that draft and have asked witnesses about emails aides sent about it, according to people briefed on the case.
The claim in the draft statement that Mr. Trump returned all government documents in his possession was found to be false. After determining that the 15 boxes contained highly sensitive documents, prosecutors issued a subpoena demanding the return of all classified documents still in Mr Trump’s possession. Mr. Trump’s lawyers subsequently turned over more, but the later FBI search found more.
The statement that Mr. Trump actually sent after the return of the 15 boxes in early 2022 did not claim that he had returned all government materials in his possession.
After his grand jury appearance ended, Mr Budowich posted a message on Twitter saying he had answered “every question honestly”. He described the investigation as “a false and deeply disturbing attempt to use government power to ‘get’ Trump.”
His attorney, Stanley Woodward Jr., declined to comment.
While many of the central events in the documentary investigation took place in Florida — perhaps most notably last summer’s search of Mar-a-Lago — the case was opened by national security prosecutors working from the Justice Department in Washington. worked. Legal experts have debated which location would provide prosecutors with the best location to pursue criminal charges.