May 25, 2023
As Trump’s Classified Documents Probe Wraps Up, Potential Charges Are Near
(Bloomberg) -- Special Counsel Jack Smith is wrapping up his investigation into former president Donald Trump’s refusal to return classified documents after his election defeat and is poised to announce possible criminal charges in the days or weeks after Memorial Day, according to people familiar with the matter.
As Smith’s team winds down the classified documents probe, a separate inquiry into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election continues, according to four people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing a confidential inquiry.
Trump’s associates believe the Justice Department’s investigation into documents taken from the White House after he left office is close to the end, said one of the people, but they don’t know if charges will be brought against the former president or anyone else.
Any indictments resulting from the roughly year-long investigation must be approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland and a federal grand jury.
Legal pressure is building on Trump in multiple jurisdictions. Charges in the federal documents case potentially put the former president in greater jeopardy than unrelated state charges he’s facing in New York. Trump is also under investigation by Atlanta-area District Attorney Fani Willis over efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win and by New York Attorney General Letitia James in a civil probe over his asset valuations. Willis signaled in a recent letter to court officials that she could make a charging decision in August.
Charges in the DOJ’s classified documents case, which come amid Trump’s campaign for a second presidential term, may carry significant prison time given the types of felony crimes prosecutors appear to be examining, said Roscoe Howard, a white-collar defense lawyer and a former US attorney in Washington.
A search warrant issued in the case last year indicated prosecutors were looking at obstruction of justice, which carries up to 20 years in prison, violations of the Espionage Act, which carry up to 10 years, and mishandling government documents, which can carry three years and disqualification from office, although there is disagreement among legal experts whether removal would apply to the office of the president.
The Justice Department and the special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.
A Trump spokesman didn’t address questions about the probe wrapping up the probe and whether Trump and his aides are expecting to be charged, but said in a statement that “we have requested a meeting with Attorney General Garland so that he can hear from us directly about the improper way the investigation is being orchestrated by the Special Counsel’s Office.”
A separate special counsel is investigating whether President Joe Biden mishandled classified documents when he was out of office. The status and timeline of that investigation isn’t clear.
In a letter shared by Trump on his Truth Social platform on Tuesday evening, his attorneys John Rowley and James Trusty asked Garland for a meeting about the special counsel investigation.
Trump’s outreach is unlikely to help his cause with the government, former prosecutors say.
Posting the letter online and directing copies to members of Congress suggest it was a public relations push, “not a serious legal effort,” said Peter Zeidenberg, a white-collar defense attorney and former public integrity prosecutor at the Justice Department.
“You don’t usually take ad hominem attacks at the prosecutor” when you’re asking for a meeting, Zeidenberg said.
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Garland appointed Smith in November to take over both the classified documents probe and a more sprawling inquiry into efforts by Trump and others to overturn Biden’s 2020 wins in battleground states.
Smith’s appointment was designed to remove Garland and other political appointees from day-to-day decision-making. Garland does have authority to fire Smith and he can overrule prosecutorial decisions – although he would have to notify Congress if he does.
It’s also possible that Smith declines to bring any charges. In that case, he would be expected to describe his reasoning in a confidential report to Garland, who could then decide to make it public.
The lack of activity from Smith’s office in recent weeks signals he’s winding down the documents probe, according to another person familiar with the situation: There don’t appear to be new or unresolved subpoenas for evidence or testimony.
That person said prosecutors have subpoenaed an array of people who worked at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, where the FBI recovered thousands of pages of documents during a court-authorized search last summer, including records marked at the highest levels of government secrecy.
In the election probe, witnesses are scheduled to appear before a grand jury at least into June and prosecutors continue to gather and sift through evidence, according to a third person familiar with the inquiries. The government has explored varying angles, including the actions of “fake” pro-Trump electors in states that Biden won, possible ties between Trump’s campaign and extremist groups involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, and how Trump and others raised money after the election, that person said.
Trump is expected to stage a fundraising push if he faces federal charges. Trump’s campaign said it raised $15.4 million in the days after his March indictment in Manhattan on charges related to 2016 hush-money payments to an adult film star.
--With assistance from Mark Niquette and Greg Farrell.
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