Former President Donald J. Trump has been told he could soon face federal indictment for his efforts to stay in power after his 2020 election loss, potentially adding to the notable array of criminal charges and other legal problems he faces even as he campaigns for a return to the White House.
His lawyers informed Trump on Sunday that he had received an alleged targeting letter from Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating his attempts to overturn his defeat at the polls, Trump and other people familiar with the matter said Tuesday. Prosecutors use target letters to tell potential defendants that investigators have evidence linking them to the crimes and that they could be subject to prosecution.
“Upset Jack Smith” sent Trump a letter Sunday night informing him that he was a “TARGET of the Jan. 6 Grand Jury investigation,” Trump said in a post on his social media platform.
Such a letter “almost always means arrest and indictment,” wrote Trump, whose campaign is predicated on accusations of political persecution and a promise to purge the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation of personnel he views as hostile to him and his agenda.
Smith’s spokesman had no comment.
An indictment against Trump would be the second brought by Smith, who is also prosecuting the former president for jeopardizing national security secrets by taking classified White House documents and obstructing government efforts to recover the material.
Mr. Trump is also indicted in Manhattan on charges related to hush money payments to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election. And he faces the likelihood of charges from the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, who has been conducting an extensive investigation into Trump’s attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat in that state.
The target letter cited three statutes that could be applied in an prosecution of Trump by Smith’s team, a person briefed on the matter said. They include a potential charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States and a broad charge related to a violation of rights, the person said.
It’s not yet clear whether Smith and his prosecutors will choose to charge Trump with any or all of those statutes, but it appears they have gathered evidence about a number of tactics Trump and his allies used to try to prevent their electoral defeat.
Those efforts included compiling lists of so-called fake voters from the swing states Trump lost; pressuring state officials to block or delay victories for Joseph R. Biden Jr.; trying to persuade Vice President Mike Pence to prevent congressional certification of the Electoral College result; collect money based on false claims of voter fraud; and rally supporters to come to Washington and march on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021.
It is also unknown if others could be charged along with Trump. Several of his closest allies during his efforts to stay in office, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was serving as his personal attorney, and John Eastman, who promoted the idea that Pence could prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, said through their lawyers that they had not received target letters.
Just hours after Trump revealed he received the target letter, Michigan’s attorney general announced state felony charges against 16 people for their role in an attempt to overturn Biden’s victory in the state by calling a pro-Trump voter list.
News of another possible indictment against Trump underscored the stakes in an escalating legal and political battle whose consequences are incalculable and unpredictable.
Trump remains a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, despite, or to some extent because of, the growing list of charges and potential charges against him.
His campaign strategy has been to accept the investigations as evidence of a plot by a Democratic administration to deny him and his supporters a victory in 2024, a message that continues to resonate with his supporters. He was raising money from the news of the target letter within hours of revealing that he had received it.
But for Trump, the stakes are deeply personal, given the dire threat that he could face jail time if convicted in one or more of the cases. In that sense, a winning campaign—and the power to make at least federal cases go away by pardoning himself or ordering his Justice Department to dismiss them—is also a battle for his freedom.
At a Fox News town hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday night, host Sean Hannity asked Trump how he seemed unconcerned by the investigations. But Mr. Trump backed down.
“It bothers me,” Trump said. He accused the Biden administration of trying to intimidate him, but said: “They don’t scare us.”
Trump spent much of Tuesday promoting a scorched-earth political strategy, consulting with allies in Washington including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and longtime critic who has become one of his staunchest supporters. Trump urged Stefanik “to go on the offensive” during a lengthy call from her golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.
His main rival at the moment for the Republican nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, said Trump fell victim to the “politicization” of the Justice Department, continuing a pattern in which prominent figures in his party are leery of criticizing him and angering his supporters.
At least two grand juries in Washington have been hearing issues related to Trump’s efforts to stay in office. A trial, if it comes to that, is likely to take place in Federal District Court in Washington, where many of the January 6 rioters and leaders of two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, have been indicted.
Based on the results of those trials, the jury group in Washington would likely be less favorable to the former president than one comprised of a largely pro-Trump region around Fort Pierce, Florida, where the classified documents trial is currently scheduled to take place.
Two of Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche and Christopher M. Kise, briefly mentioned the new target letter at a pretrial hearing in Florida Tuesday on the documents case. While Kise and Blanche did not elaborate on what the letter said, they did use it to argue that Trump was basically being hounded by prosecutors and that the trial in the classified documents case should be delayed until after the 2024 election.
Revealing that he had received the assignment letter, Trump said he was given four days to testify before a grand jury if he so chooses. It is expected to decline. The timeline suggested by the letter suggests that he will not be charged this week, according to people familiar with the situation.
Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney who has been moving forward with her own investigation into Trump and his allies, could file charges as early as next month. If she went first, that could complicate Mr. Smith’s case. The accounts of witnesses called to testify in both cases could vary slightly, casting doubt on their testimony, for example, which could explain why Mr. Smith is moving fast, according to former federal prosecutors.
Federal investigators were slow to start investigating all efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, overwhelmed with prosecuting the hundreds of rioters who trespassed into the Capitol. The initial plan to investigate the attack planners, drafted by the Trump-appointed US attorney in Washington and later adopted by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, did not include any explicit reference to the former president. The FBI took a similar tactic.
However, in the months leading up to Smith’s appointment as special counsel last fall, there were strong indications that federal prosecutors were turning to examine whether Trump and his allies might have committed wrongdoing.
The FBI’s Washington field office opened an investigation in April 2022 into voters who pledged allegiance to Trump in states he had lost. Authorities had previously seized the cellphones of Eastman, a legal architect of Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, and Jeffrey Clark, a lawyer whom Trump had sought to install as acting attorney general.
Among the crimes that prosecutors and agents intended to investigate were mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of an official proceeding before Congress.
Late last year, the various investigations were led by Mr. Smith, who moved quickly with a flurry of activity, including subpoenas and witness interviews.
Mr. Smith and his team don’t seem to be done. A spokesman for former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he was approached by Mr. Smith’s team after The Washington Post reported that Trump had tasked Pence with lobbying Ducey to overturn Biden’s narrow victory there.
The spokesman said Ducey will do “the right thing” and has done so since the election. It was not clear if the contact was to request a voluntary interview with Mr. Ducey or a grand jury appearance.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, appeared before one of the grand juries in June, according to people familiar with his appearance. Mr. Giuliani had a recent interview with prosecutors.
ben protest, jonathan swan and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.