The Justice Department has officially notified Donald Trump that he is the target of a criminal investigation for the mishandling of classified documents. This step may signal that the federal grand jury is prepared to hand down indictments to Trump. However, delivery of this letter could mean it will be several days before any such indictments are released.
ABC News reports that attorneys for Trump met directly with special counsel Jack Smith on Monday, though it’s not clear if the letter was delivered to the attorneys at that time. Trump followed that meeting with a series of posts on his failing Truth Social media platform, including saying “The Marxists and Fascists in the DOJ & FBI are going after me at a level and speed never seen before in our Country, and I did nothing wrong.” He also called Smith “a Trump hater” and made multiple false statements claiming that President Joe Biden has kept “thousands” of classified documents. The Guardian reports that Trump's attorneys were provided with the target letter last week, several days before the Monday meeting.
The Department of Justice guidelines suggest that target letters be delivered to subjects of long-running investigations “in appropriate cases” and the prosecutor “is encouraged to notify such person a reasonable time before seeking an indictment in order to afford him or her an opportunity to testify before the grand jury."
In a sample target letter, a potential defendant is warned, “We advise you that the Grand Jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to ...” followed by a list of actions under examination. It further warns the recipient that they are a target of the grand jury's investigation and that “Anything that you do or say may be used against you in a subsequent legal proceeding.”
Ironically in this case, a target letter also includes a note advising the defendant, “that the destruction or alteration of any document required to be produced before the grand jury constitutes serious violation of federal law, including but not limited to Obstruction of Justice.”
Following their meeting with Smith, Trump’s attorneys stated that they had concerns about the “integrity” of the two federal grand juries empaneled in Washington. Smith has also seated a third jury in Florida to hear witnesses. The Washington Post has indicated that a significant portion of any charges to be issued will come from this Florida jury. Their analysis suggests that testimony conducted before the Washington, D.C., jury can still be presented to the Florida jury. The Washington jury may still present charges of obstruction or perjury over false statements made in that venue, but it would be left to the Florida jury to issue charges directly related to mishandling of classified documents.
On Wednesday afternoon, British paper The Independent reported that the grand jury was preparing to return indictments against Trump including both obstruction of justice and violations of the Espionage Act. That paper also reported that former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had taken a deal to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for providing testimony concerning Trump’s actions. However, over 12 hours later, this information remains unconfirmed by any other source.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Meadows had testified before the grand jury. If the report that Meadows is to be charged is accurate, then it is likely he had already made a deal and was testifying as a cooperating witness, or was testifying under a grant of partial immunity.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, a breaking news alert on Trump’s own Truth Social reported that indictments against Trump were pending. No sources for this information were given, but Trump appeared to have been ready with a prepared response.
Violations of the Espionage Act can carry a hefty penalty. Jack Teixeira, who leaked top secret documents connected to Ukraine in an online forum, is facing multiple violations of the act, each of which could carry a 20-year sentence, though most such convictions bring a much shorter sentence. Intelligence contractor Reality Winner received a 63-month (5.25 years) sentence for a single violation of the act as part of a plea agreement after revealing a secret NSA report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
How long the nation might have to wait between the target letter and any actual indictments isn’t clear. If the letter was delivered to Trump last week, as The Guardian article contends, then the meeting on Monday may have included discussions of whether Trump would make an appearance before the grand jury. Declining to make such an appearance may be why Trump’s attorneys made a point of casting doubt on the integrity of that jury following the meeting.
But if there’s anything that Trump is good at when it comes to legal proceedings, it’s delay. If there is a way he or his attorneys can drag this out, they will.