The political world is bracing for the possibility of a federal indictment of former President Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential election next year.
A flurry of recent activity and posturing related to a special counsel probe into his handling of classified documents is fueling talk that an indictment could be imminent.
Trump’s attorneys met Monday with Justice Department officials, including special counsel Jack Smith, who is probing whether Trump improperly handled classified documents after leaving office. A Florida grand jury is reportedly convening this week in the case after a lengthy hiatus.
Democrats and Republicans went back and forth on Tuesday over a letter Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a vocal Trump ally and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland to obtain more information about special counsel Jack Smith’s investigations into Trump.
Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Andy Barr (R-Ky.) leave a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.
And a barrage of angry social media posts from Trump on Tuesday morning further fed into talk that the former president may be concerned about an impending announcement in the case.
“I suspect it’s near,” former Attorney General Bill Barr said Tuesday on “CBS Mornings.” “I’ve said for a while that I think this is the most dangerous legal risk facing the former president. And if I had to bet, I would bet that it’s near.”
The extraordinary activity is preceding what would be an extraordinary event — the federal indictment of a former president who is the front-runner for his party’s nomination in 2024. Trump in April was indicted at the state level over an alleged hush money scheme during the 2016 election.
The Justice Department and a Trump spokesperson declined to comment on whether any announcement about the case is imminent.
Multiple reports in late May indicated that Smith, who was appointed in November, finished obtaining evidence and testimony and was nearing the end of his investigation.
Now, Washington is watching closely for Smith’s next move, particularly in the wake of a Monday meeting with Trump’s legal team.
“There’s no purpose in having a meeting if the DOJ has already decided no charges. If they’ve already decided ‘no charges, we’re just going to write up a report’ then no meeting is necessary — no point to it,” said Tim Parlatore, who was part of Trump’s legal team on the Mar-a-Lago team until he left due to internal dynamics in May.
“If they’re resolved that they are going to charge, then it’s worth having a meeting to see, you know, it’s kind of at last resort point. Before we get past the point of no return, is there something we’re forgetting? Something we’re missing?” Parlatore told The Hill.
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Parlatore, who has argued Trump should not be charged in connection with the matter, said he puts the odds that the DOJ will bring charges at 50-50, because “I am under no false impression that they only charge people when they should.”
Experts indicated the meeting, which Smith was present for, was likely for Trump’s lawyers to express their disapproval with some aspect of the investigation.
“That wouldn’t be uncommon, and typically that’s just sort of a rote complaint,” said Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor, on MSNBC. “But what you want to do if you’re a good prosecutor is hear the defense out and make sure you haven’t missed something, because your obligation as a prosecutor isn’t to indict cases, it’s to indict the right cases.
“I suspect what we’ve seen today, however, means that there will be indictments forthcoming,” she added.
Parlatore said the meeting can be a forum for the defense.
“There’s two broad categories of things to discuss. One is specific facts and circumstances of the case — do these things actually constitute a criminal violation?” he said.
“The other part of it is what I like to call the other atmospherics … are there other problems or reasons or considerations that should be thought about when making a decision?”
The National Archives spent months seeking the return of presidential records after Trump left office, with Trump’s team eventually turning over a tranche that included nearly 200 classified records. That ignited the Justice Department investigation that spurred the August 2022 search of the property, where the FBI found more than 100 more classified records.
Trump has offered various defenses, including that he had the right to take the documents and that he could unilaterally declassify them without going through any formal process.
Multiple outlets reported last week that prosecutors obtained audio of Trump in 2021 discussing a classified Pentagon document he still had in his position, and that he indicated there were restrictions on who could view it — a comment that could undercut his defense.
Trump spent much of Tuesday morning lashing out on social media against the Justice Department, making misleading comparisons between his handling of classified information and President Biden’s.
Former President Donald Trump speaks with supporters at the Westside Conservative Breakfast, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
A separate special counsel is investigating Biden after several classified documents from his time as vice president were found at a Delaware home and an old Washington, D.C., office. Biden’s team notified federal authorities upon their discovery.
“It’s all about ELECTION INTERFERENCE. They don’t want to run against me,” Trump wrote Tuesday. “I ran twice, I did much better the second time, getting millions and millions more votes than the first, a record for a sitting President, and am leading Biden in the polls, by a lot. They are the Party of Disinformation! They are using the DOJ & FBI against me to Rigg the 2024 Election.”
Trump allies in Congress have also attempted to question the legitimacy and nature of Smith’s investigation into the former president amid speculation that charges could be coming.
“They want to smear him constantly in the headlines so that they can change public opinion and try to affect presidential elections, and we’re not going to tolerate it,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Tuesday. “There’s going to be a big fight to come with Republicans in the House and the Department of Justice, the FBI and all these people that continue to weaponize these agencies and abuse their power just to keep going after President Trump.”
Democrats have dismissed that notion.
“Law enforcement should be allowed to do its job. It is, frankly, outrageous that you have Chairman Jordan trying to interfere in an ongoing federal investigation,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.
“And by the way, the Department of Justice is just going to ignore it.”
Even some Republicans have brushed off the notion that Smith’s investigation can be categorized as a politically motivated attempt to bring down Trump in the same way the GOP has framed previous impeachment inquiries and former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“I think based on the facts, over time people will see this is not a case of the Department of Justice conducting a witch hunt,” Barr said Tuesday. “In fact, they approached this very delicately and with deference to the president, and this would have gone nowhere if the president just returned the documents.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.