It's official: Donald Trump is a target of the Jan. 6 investigation
The move from Special Counsel Jack Smith means charges are likely. [Update: Michigan felony charges announced in "fake electors" scheme.]
On Tuesday morning, Donald Trump let it be known that he was informed that he is, formally, a target of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into efforts to undermine or reverse the 2020 presidential election.
With that, we’re now on Trump Indictment Watch 3.0 (and 4.0, technically). And while it’s easy to start seeing all of these indictments as cumulative, this — an indictment of the former president relating to the actions of Jan. 6, 2021 — would be a truly historic moment and an important step for the country.
Although the specific charges that would be expected are not yet known, any decision to indict Donald Trump relating to his efforts to undermine or reverse the results of the 2020 election would be a rare instance in U.S. history of holding a former president accountable for actions that took aim at our democracy and harmed our nation.
Trump is already facing federal charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith in connection with Trump’s handling of classified records and his alleged obstruction of the investigation into his retention of those records after he left the White House. (A hearing in that case is taking place Tuesday in Fort Pierce, Florida. The always amazing Zoe Tillman is there, so expect more from her.) Trump is also facing state charges in New York relating to hush money and “catch and kill” agreements surrounding the 2016 election.
While Trump learning that he is a target of the Jan. 6 investigation (which NBC News confirmed from “[t]wo sources with direct knowledge of the matter”) seems obvious, the formal notification both means that an indictment is likely and that Trump is being given an opportunity to appear before the grand jury. Trump said that Smith’s letter gave him through Thursday to do so. Presuming that he will not appear, any indictment would then follow that.
We don’t know when any indictment would come or what it would look like, but things moved relatively quickly in the classified records case once a target letter was issued. Although Trump did not appear before the grand jury in that investigation, his lawyers did meet with Smith in the days before the indictment was issued.
The decision to charge Trump in the Jan. 6 investigation and, specifically, the decision of what charges to bring could be among the most serious prosecutorial decisions made in the nation’s history.
The Department of Justice has already secured convictions of multiple people involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection — from both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — on charges of seditious conspiracy. There are also many other pieces of the effort to reverse the 2020 election — like the fake electors schemes and efforts to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence and others — in which those groups had no involvement yet that it is known Smith’s office has been investigating. Among other already notable actions taken by Smith’s office in the investigation, Pence himself was compelled to testify before the grand jury.
Of course, Trump also is a candidate for president again in 2024, lending a surreal feeling to this moment — but also raising unusual and sensitive questions for prosecutors, particularly in light of the fact that the investigation is into people who sought to disrupt our electoral process and took ultimately unsuccessful actions in 2020 and 2021 to do so.
That’s not at all to say such an indictment should not be brought. Very much to the contrary. I just think it’s important to acknowledge what this means, and why it matters.
If, as the target letter signifies, the decision has been made that Trump is likely to be indicted in connection with this investigation, Smith himself likely has decided both that the charges he will bring can be sustained at trial — and also that such charges are necessary to be brought.
Two side-notes that could become more relevant in coming weeks:
Unlike the classified documents case, which was brought in Florida in the federal court district where Mar-a-Lago is located, the Jan. 6 investigation likely would lead to an indictment in federal court in Washington, D.C. — a jury pool (and judge pool) more to the prosecutors’ liking.
The Justice Department recently appealed the sentences given to several Oath Keepers, including the 18-year sentence given to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, believing that the sentences are too low.
Finally, it’s not only Jack Smith.
Grand juries in Georgia that could be considering any Trump indictment there have begun meeting and the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected a Trump move to halt Fulton County Prosecutor Fani Willis from proceeding in her effort to act on a special grand jury’s report relating to efforts to disrupt the 2020 election in Georgia. Trump, the court ruled, “has not shown that he would be entitled to the relief he seeks.”
Michigan “fake electors” charges
[This section was added at 4:45 p.m., with a final update at 6:00 p.m.]
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed multiple felony charges against 16 people in connection with the Michigan “false electors” scheme.
Nessel announced the charges — including election law forgery — on Tuesday afternoon, detailing the efforts to create and submit a fake slate of electors who backed Donald Trump and claim that their slate was the legitimate Michigan slate of electors.
Nessel, a Democrat, highlighted other election fraud cases brought by her office, then noted that she “could not possibly justify” such prosecutions if she ignored that circumstances alleged here, which she described as “an organized effort to circumvent the lawfully cast ballots of millions of Michigan voters” in the presidential 2020 election.
As claimed in the affidavit accompanying the complaints, “Over the course of the investigation, it was discovered that a fraudulent ‘Certificate of Votes of the 2020 Electors from Michigan’ was created; that none of the sixteen signatories to this document were lawfully selected electors for the offices of President and Vice-President; and that the document was made and published with the intent to defraud the National Archives, President of the U.S. Senate, and others.”
On Tuesday, Nessel said of that, “A failure to act in the face of such evidence would constitute malfeasance of the greatest magnitude.”
The counts, as detailed in the felony complaints, are one count of conspiracy to commit forgery, two counts of forgery, one count of conspiracy to commit uttering and publishing, one count of uttering and publishing, one count of conspiracy to commit election law forgery, and two counts of election law forgery.
All counts are felonies, and all 16 individuals face all eight of the charges.
This update was originally posted as a note:
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