Former President Donald Trump received a letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) informing him that he is the subject of a federal criminal investigation into an alleged mishandling of classified government documents, US media reported.
According to the sources cited in those reports, the letter was sent in recent weeks by the office of special counsel Jack Smith, who is in charge of the investigation. The sources were informed of the letter and its contents, but did not have direct access to them.
The notification is, so far, the clearest sign that special counsel Smith, who is conducting the investigation, is on the threshold of bringing federal charges against Trump for allegedly hiding classified documents in his Mar-a-Lago home and conspiring to prevent federal authorities from finding them.
Constitutional Attorney Joseph Malouf, legal analyst for Noticias Telemundo, commented that "on certain occasions prosecutors have the discretion to notify the person they are investigating and give them the opportunity to present evidence in their defense before the grand jury. But [the communication sent to Trump] is important because it shows that [investigators] are nearing the end of the investigation."
Donald Trump in Criminal Court in Manhattan, New York, on April 4, 2023.POOL/REUTERS
Under DOJ regulations, prosecutors can notify people who are targeted by an investigation that they have become targets, although this does not necessarily mean that charges will be brought against the investigation.
According to lawyer Malouf, "they are not obliged to do so. The last word is going to be the nation's attorney general [Merrick Garland]. So you still can't rush and say this is going to happen. But clearly that's what's happening. No one wants to see a former president of the United States under investigation. Notifying [Trump] that he is the subject of an investigation and then not charging him makes no sense."
Several close Trump aides have appeared before the grand jury investigating the classified documents case, including: Evan Corcoran, Trump's lawyer; Taylor Budowich, a former spokesman for the former president, and Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff.
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After the press reports, Trump published a message on his social network, Truth Social, in which he criticized the investigation and called it a "witch hunt" again.
"No one has told me I'm being charged, and I shouldn't be because I haven't done anything wrong, but I've assumed for years that I'm a target of the DOJ and FBI," the former president wrote.
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None of the media reported that Trump had been charged, but only reported that he had been notified that he was the target of a federal investigation. The communication sent by the DOJ could be the prelude to the filing of charges, but it is not necessarily an indication of it.
Trump's lawyers met Monday with DOJ officials. According to sources, Smith and a DOJ official participated in the meeting.
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On June 1, news outlets reported that DOJ investigators had obtained an audio recording of Trump made after he left the White House, in which the former president talks about staying in possession of classified Pentagon documents about a potential attack on Iran.
According to CNN, the first media outlet to report on the recording, Trump suggested on the tape that he wanted to share with others the information contained in the document, but that he knew there were limitations on his ability to declassify files after leaving the White House.
The comments in the recording, made in July 2021 at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, appear to undermine the former president's repeated claims that he had declassified documents he brought from the White House to his residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, after the presidency ended.
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The investigation began last year after the National Archives and Records Administration alerted the FBI to the presence of classified documents in 15 boxes sent back, belatedly, to Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.
Investigators initially sent formal requests for the rest of the files to be turned over, but after they only received about three dozen during a visit to the residence in June 2022, they returned with a search warrant two months later and retrieved 100 more documents marked as classified.
Special counsel Smith is also investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which is also the subject of an investigation by prosecutors in Atlanta. Prosecutors in New York also accused Trump earlier this year of falsifying business records.
With information from CNN, Politico and ABC News