Trump and the January 6 probe: What is a federal target letter?

Trump says he has received a letter from Special Counsel Jack Smith asking him to report to a grand jury amid an investigation of his role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots.

Former US President Donald Trump has revealed that he has received a letter from federal authorities advising that he is being investigated as a “target” by the Justice Department over the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots.

Trump said in a statement on Tuesday that he had received a letter from Special Counsel Jack Smith on Sunday asking him to report to a grand jury – an investigative panel – in four days, “which almost always means an Arrest and Indictment”.

This latest legal setback facing the 77-year-old comes amid existing state and federal charges Trump is dealing with in New York and Florida, and a separate election interference investigation nearing conclusion in Georgia – all while he remains the Republican frontrunner for the 2024 United States presidential elections.

Here is what you need to know about the latest charges:

What is a federal target letter?

A target letter sent by the federal government is a written communication from prosecutors to inform an individual they are a subject of a criminal investigation.

Such a letter often precedes an indictment and is used to advise individuals under investigation that prosecutors have gathered evidence linking them to a crime.

The correspondence also details the crime or list of crimes of which the defendant is accused, and may ask them to testify in front of a grand jury, as Trump has been requested in the letter received from Smith.

What is Trump’s involvement in the Capitol riots?

Officials have testified that during his final months in office, Trump pressured them with false claims of widespread voter fraud.

Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. The attack came shortly after Trump told supporters in an incendiary speech near the White House to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” to “stop the steal” of the election.

More than 1,000 people have been charged with crimes connected with the riot, including some who have been convicted of seditious conspiracy.

Most of them face charges of illegally entering the Capitol or causing property damage, but some 350 have been charged with assaulting law enforcement officers or resisting arrest.

Others, including members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, have been convicted of the more serious charge of seditious conspiracy.

What has been the reaction to the letter?

Speaking on Fox News, Trump accused the Democratic Party of using the Department of Justice to tank his political career.

“The DOJ has become a weapon for the Democrats, an absolute weapon,” he said. “They want to try and demean, and diminish, and frighten people.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s nearest rival for the Republican nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis criticised the investigation as politically motivated and said Trump should not be charged.

“We’ve gone down the road in this country of trying to criminalise differences in politics,” he said on CNN.

What other charges does Trump face?

In June, Trump was indicted by Smith for keeping classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.

Trump is charged with “willful retention of national defense information,” conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements and other offences.

In addition to the charges in the classified documents case, Trump faces New York state criminal charges for allegedly falsifying business records. Those state-level charges came in relation to a hush-money payment made to a porn star in advance of the 2016 elections.

He has pleaded not guilty in that case as well.

On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected a bid by Trump to block a state investigation into whether he and his allies illegally attempted to meddle with Georgia’s 2020 election.


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