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Trump receives a target letter in Jan. 6 special counsel investigation

Trump receives target letter in Jan. 6 probe
Trump receives target letter in Jan. 6 investigation 04:04

Former President Donald Trump revealed on social media on Tuesday that he received a letter indicating he is the target of a criminal investigation by a grand jury investigating attempts to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election.

Multiple sources confirmed to CBS News that the former president's post is accurate, and a senior Trump source said that Trump did receive a target letter on Sunday night to report to the grand jury, which was related to special counsel's Jan. 6 probe.

The former president said on Truth Social, his social media platform, that he had received a letter saying he's "a TARGET" of an investigation from special counsel Jack Smith Sunday night. Trump said he was given four days to report to the grand jury.

He repeated his claim that the special counsel is engaged in a "witch hunt" and criticized the investigation as a "complete and total political weaponization of law enforcement."

The target letter highlights three federal statutes, according to a senior Trump source. Two of the statutes include potential charges of conspiracy to commit an offense or to defraud the U.S., and deprivation of rights under color of law. The third indicates potential charges ranging from obstruction of an official proceeding to tampering with a witness, victim or an informant. Hundreds of defendants in the Justice Department's probe into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack have faced the obstruction-related charge.

What is the special counsel investigating? 

Smith, according to sources close to witnesses, is building a sprawling case focused on how Trump acted after he was informed by many of his allies — and especially his own lawyers — that claiming the election had been rigged could put him at legal risk. 

Smith is also examining whether Trump criminally conspired to block congressional certification of the Electoral College votes by unlawfully applying what many of his attorneys told him was a baseless legal theory authored by constitutional scholar John Eastman as a means of asking then Vice President Mike Pence to not take steps to certify the election on Jan. 6, 2021, until further action was taken in several states.

At the same time, the special counsel is also probing how Trump pressured Republicans in states to consider sending alternate slates of electors declaring that he won Georgia and other states. Smith is also looking into any efforts by Trump to urge state officials and governors to make statements to make it seem like there was a basis for overturning Mr. Biden's victories in those states.

Former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani's efforts to assist Trump with his election fraud claims have been extensively discussed in questioning of witnesses, and the special counsel is building and expanding a chronology of Trump's pressure campaign with more evidence, according to the sources.

Giuliani has not received a target letter, according to his attorney, Robert Costello. Attorneys for Eastman also said their client has not received a target letter.

Sources close to the investigation believe Trump occupies the center of Smith's investigation, as a driver and instigator, not as an accomplice, though possible charges against the former president are not yet clear. The focus on conspiracy and fraud, however, suggests where the special counsel could be leaning.

The special counsel's office has examined a meeting at the Oval Office on Dec. 18, 2020, where Trump talked about bringing in attorney Sidney Powell as special counsel at the White House and seizing voting machines by an executive order. 

Earlier this month, CBS News' Robert Costa reported special counsel investigators are digging into whether Trump believed the fraudulent claims of election fraud raised at that meeting, weeks ahead of Jan. 6, even though White House lawyers told him in person that night — and after — the claims were not true. 

Several members of Trump's inner circle have testified as part of the special counsel's probe, including former Vice President Mike Pence, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, national security adviser Robert O'Brien, top aide Stephen Miller and close ally Steve Bannon.  

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump asked in a phone call on Jan. 2, 2021, to "find" 11,780 votes — just enough to give Georgia's electoral votes to the former president — has also testified in the probe. 

In addition to the attempts to "find" votes in Georgia, a group of phony electors from battleground states won by President Biden met in December 2020 and signed a certificate falsely declaring that Trump had won the presidential election in their states and that they  themselves were the state's "duly elected and qualified" electors. 

Ahead of the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump also publicly pressured Pence to "do the right thing" and refuse to accept the election results. At a rally near the White House ahead of the joint session, Trump encouraged followers to "walk down" to the Capitol to support him as Congress conducted the largely ceremonial affirmation of the Electoral College votes.

Thousands of Trump's supporters then stormed the Capitol, and lawmakers were sent fleeing amid the violence, delaying the certification of the election results for hours. Pence finally announced Mr. Biden as the winner of the election after 1 a.m. on Jan. 7. 

Other investigations into Trump 

Smith was appointed last November by Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate not only the events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol but also Trump's handling of national defense-related documents since leaving office. In June, Trump and longtime aide Walt Nauta were charged with multiple federal felony counts related to the documents. Trump pleaded not guilty on June 13 to the 37 charges against him.

A special purpose grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, earlier this year wrapped up its investigation into alleged attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said she will announce decisions on possible charges related to that investigation this summer. 

Trump has also separately been charged in New York for allegedly falsifying business records in connection to a "hush money" payout to porn star Stormy Daniels. He pleaded not guilty in April to those state charges. 

What is a target letter?

Target letters are sent by federal prosecutors to individuals to inform them of their status in a criminal investigation. The Justice Department defines a "target" as "a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant." 

What is a target letter like the one Trump received over Jan. 6 probe? 07:25

This differs from being the "subject" of an investigation — a person whose conduct is "within the scope of the grand jury's investigation." 

Sending a target letter is often one of the final steps a prosecutor will take before charging a person with a federal crime.

A target letter can also be sent to an individual who is being required to testify before a grand jury. 

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