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Federal prosecutors tell Trump that he is a target in classified files probe

Former President Donald Trump greets supporters before speaking at the Westside Conservative Breakfast, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall
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AP
Former President Donald Trump greets supporters before speaking at the Westside Conservative Breakfast, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Updated June 7, 2023 at 11:35 PM ET

Former President Donald Trump's lawyers have received notice from the Justice Department that he is a target of their inquiry into his handling of classified documents after he left office, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

That notice gives lawyers a chance to argue against indictment. People who receive target letters are usually indicted, but not always.

On Wednesday, Trump, in a post on Truth Social, his social media platform, said: "No one has told me I'm being indicted, and I shouldn't be because I've done NOTHING wrong."

Trump has denied any allegations of inappropriate accessing of classified material once he left office. No charges have been brought forth thus far by the special counsel.

The dispute over records at Mar-a-Lago in Florida exploded into public view in August 2022, when FBI agents executed a search warrant at the property while Trump was out of town. The former president tweeted about the search, which set off a weeks-long legal tug of war in Florida and D.C.

Michael Short, a former Trump spokesman and long-time GOP operative, said he'll be watching whether some of Trump's primary opponents use the target letter to go on the offensive and attack Trump. Aside from an actual criminal indictment, a target letter should be one of the most damaging things that could happen to any political candidate.

But he said Trump is different. Trump has primed his base to see this as another politically motivated development.

"So I don't see this diminishing his standing, particularly among primary voters, at least in the short term. In fact, it may even harden his core support."

News media are set up outside of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse where a grand jury is meeting, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in Miami.
Lynne Sladky / AP
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AP
News media are set up outside of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse where a grand jury is meeting on Wednesday in Miami.

The notification to the Trump legal team followed the announcement that Mark Meadows, President Trump's former White House chief of staff, had recently testified before a grand jury. That panel is weighing the handling of classified documents once Trump left office and alleged obstruction of justice as the government probed the matter, according to a source with direct knowledge.

"Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so," George Terwilliger, Meadows' attorney previously told NPR in a statement.

Though the substance and location of Meadows' testimony were unclear on Wednesday, the apparent pacing of witness testimony could signal that special counsel Jack Smith's probe is nearing a conclusion.

These latest developments came amid media reports of a parade of high-profile witnesses testifying over the past few weeks before a grand jury in Florida and in Washington, D.C.

As special counsel, Smith can bring this matter before any federal court.

Taylor Budowich, a former aide to former President Trump who now leads the Super PAC, MAGA Inc., testified before a grand jury in Miami on Wednesday.

"Today, in what can only be described as a bogus and deeply troubling effort to use the power of government to "get" Trump, I fulfilled a legal obligation to testify in front [of] a federal grand jury and I answered every question honestly," Budowich tweeted.

But he called the case a "bogus and deeply troubling effort to use the power of government to get Trump."

Asked by a reporter on Thursday how he would convince Americans to trust the independence and fairness of the Justice Department given former President Trump's repeated attacks, President Biden said that he steers clear of directing the agency on bringing charges.

"You notice I have never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do relative to bringing any charge or not bringing any charge," Biden replied. "I'm honest."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.