March 3, 2024

What is a cover letter? What is known about the document Trump received from DOJ special counsel Jack Smith

Former President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he received a letter on Sunday letting him know he is a target Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into attempts to disturb the peace transfer of power after the 2020 election.

A target letter is official correspondence that prosecutors send to people under investigation, explained CBS News legal contributor and Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson. It alerts the recipient that they are under investigation, and that the investigation is nearing its final stages.

“And usually, as this target letter apparently did, to tell the person ‘you can come and testify before the grand jury,'” Levinson said.

Trump has received two such letters in the past, Levinson said. One was in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into “hush money” payments, which Trump made was accused in April with 34 counts of allegedly falsifying business records. The other was in the Smith investigation of the Trump investigation handling of classified documents, for which he was indicted last month. He pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Trump deny to testify before a grand jury in those cases, and Levinson doubts he will testify before a grand jury in this case either.

Regardless of whether Trump chooses to testify or not, the letter is an indication that an indictment is likely soon. Levinson said she believes it could be days or weeks before a federal indictment. Former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino told CBS Detroit that he agreed an indictment was coming.

“When someone is the target of a federal grand jury investigation, they will be indicted,” Convertino said. “I can think of, in 20 years as a federal prosecutor, I can’t think of any cases where a target was not finally indicted.”


Former DOJ federal prosecutor discusses sending target letter to former President Donald Trump

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Trump revealed that the target letter was on Truth Social, his social media platform. He said he received the letter about Smith’s investigation Sunday night and expects an indictment. Trump said he was given four days to report to the grand jury.

“This witch hunt is election interference and the complete and utter political weaponization of law enforcement,” he said in his post.

How does the Department of Justice define a target letter?

Department of Justice defines “goal” as “a person for whom the prosecutor or grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the prosecutor’s judgment, is a presumed defendant.”

That is not the same as being the “subject” of an investigation – someone whose conduct is “within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.”

What was the investigation of Jack Smith and the grand jury?

According to sources close to witnesses, Smith is building a sprawling case centered on Trump’s actions after the election.

Several people in Trump’s inner circle have testified as part of Smith’s investigation, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, one-time national security adviser Robert O’Brien, the Stephen Miller’s top aide and Steve Bannon’s ally.

Investigators he interviewed Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former personal attorney, as part of his probe, a spokesman for Giuliani confirmed in late June. Giuliani has not received a target letter, according to his attorney, Robert Costello.

The special counsel’s investigators also interviewed the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Atlanta, according to a spokesman for Raffensperger. On January 2, 2021, a phone call between Trump and Raffensperger was the focus of state and federal investigations. In it, Trump was recorded saying, “I just want to get 11,780 votes” – the number he would need to overtake Joe Biden in the state.

Levinson said she believes the special counsel talked to enough people and got enough information to proceed, even without Trump’s testimony.


Trump receives target letter in January 6 investigation

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What could Trump be accused of?

Possible charges could include obstruction of official proceedings or obstruction of justice, Levinson said. There could be charges of defrauding the United States There were also several allegations of witness tampering during the investigation.

“I believe that all of these are on the table,” said Levinson.

Trump may not know exactly what he might be charged with, Convertino said. There is no standard cover letter. Some list potential charges, but others don’t spell out everything a person might be responsible for.

Could the situation be resolved?

While a target letter usually tells a recipient to contact officials to resolve the situation, that doesn’t mean there’s any kind of negotiation option, Convertino said.

“It means, if you want to settle the case, you can come in and we’ll work out a guilty plea for you,” he said.

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