Former President Donald J. Trump has been told he could soon face federal indictment for his efforts to hold on to power after his 2020 election loss, potentially adding to the remarkable array of criminal charges and other legal troubles he faces, even when campaigning to return to the White House.
Mr Trump was informed by his lawyers on Sunday that he had received a so-called target letter from Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating his attempts to reverse his election defeat, Mr Trump and other people familiar with the matter said Tuesday . Prosecutors use targeted letters to tell potential defendants that investigators have evidence linking them to crimes and that they may be charged.
“Crazy Jack Smith” sent Mr. Trump a letter on Sunday night informing him that he was “MICHEL of the Grand Jury investigation since January 6,” Mr. Trump said in a post on his social media platform.
Such a letter “almost always means arrest and indictment,” wrote Mr. Trump, whose campaign was rooted in accusations of political persecution and a pledge to purge the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of officials he deemed hostile to him and his agenda.
A spokesman for Mr Smith had no comment.
The charge against Mr. Trump would be the second brought by Mr. Smith, who also prosecuted the former president for risking national security secrets by taking classified documents from the White House and obstructing government efforts to retrieve the materials.
Mr. Trump is also indicted in Manhattan on charges related to secret payments to a porn star before the 2016 election. And he faces the possibility of indictments by the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, who is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into attempts by Mr. Trump to reverse his 2020 election loss in that state.
The targeting letter cited three statutes that could be invoked in a prosecution of Mr. Trump by Mr. Smith’s team, a person briefed on the matter said. Those include a potential charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States and a broad charge related to rights violations, the person said.
It remains unclear whether Mr. Smith and his prosecutors will choose to indict Mr. Trump under any or all of those laws, but they appear to have gathered evidence of a range of tactics that Mr. Trump and his allies have used, to try to prevent his defeat at the polls.
Those efforts included compiling a list of so-called bogus voters from swing states that Mr. Trump lost; pressuring government officials to block or delay Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victories; trying to convince Vice President Mike Pence to block congressional certification of the Electoral College results; fundraising based on false claims of election fraud; and united supporters to come to Washington and march on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
It also remains unclear whether others may be charged alongside Mr Trump. Several of his closest allies during his bid to stay in office, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was his personal lawyer, and John Eastman, who promoted the idea that Mr. Pence could prevent Congress from certifying the victory to Mr. Biden, said through their lawyers that they had not received targeted letters.
Just hours after Mr. Trump disclosed receipt of the targeting letter, Michigan’s attorney general announced felony charges against 16 people for their involvement in an attempt to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in the state by calling pro-Trump voters.
News of another potential indictment against Mr. Trump underscored the stakes of an intensifying legal and political battle whose consequences are both incalculable and unpredictable.
Mr. Trump remains the dominant front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination despite — or to some extent because of — the growing list of allegations and potential charges against him.
His campaign strategy was to cast the investigations as evidence of a Democratic administration plot to deprive him and his supporters of victory in 2024, a message that continues to resonate with his followers. He collected money from the news about the targeted letter within hours of revealing he had received it.
But for Mr. Trump, the stakes are deeply personal, given the grave threat that he could face prison if he is convicted of one or more of the cases. In that sense, a winning campaign — and the power to get at least federal cases dropped by pardoning himself or ordering the Justice Department to dismiss them — is also a fight for his freedom.
At a Fox News town hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday night, host Sean Hannity asked Mr. Trump how he seemed unfazed by the investigations. But Mr. Trump pushed back.
“That worries me,” Mr. Trump said. He accused the Biden administration of trying to intimidate him, but said, “They’re not intimidating us.”
Mr. Trump spent much of Tuesday promoting a scorched-earth policy strategy, consulting with allies in Washington, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and one-time critic who has become one of the most its staunch defenders. According to a person familiar with the conversation, Mr Trump urged Ms Stefanik to launch an “attack” during a lengthy call from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
His main challenger now for the Republican nomination, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, said Mr. Trump was the victim of the “politicization” of the Justice Department, continuing a pattern in which prominent figures in his party remain wary of criticizing him and drawing the ire of his supporters.
At least two grand juries in Washington have heard matters related to Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in office. If it comes to that, a trial 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 prosecuted.
Based on the results of those trials, the jury in Washington is likely to be less favorable to the former president than those drawn from the largely pro-Trump region around Fort Pierce, Florida, where the trial is currently taking place. classified documents scheduled to be held.
Two of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche and Christopher M. Kisse, briefly mentioned the new targeting letter at a preliminary hearing in Florida on Tuesday in the documents case. Although Mr. Kisse and Mr. Blanche did not elaborate on what the letter said, they used it to argue that Mr. Trump was essentially under siege by prosecutors and that the trial in the classified documents should be delayed until after the 2024 elections.
Revealing that he had received the targeting letter, Mr Trump said he had been given four days to testify before a grand jury if he chose. He is expected to decline. The timeline suggested in the letter suggests he will not be charged this week, according to people familiar with the situation.
Fannie T. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, who has continued her own investigation into Mr. Trump and his allies, could file charges as early as next month. If she proceeds first, it could complicate Mr Smith’s case. The accounts of witnesses called to testify in both cases may differ slightly, casting doubt on their testimony — which may explain why Mr. Smith moved quickly, according to former federal prosecutors.
Federal investigators have begun slowly probing all attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, overwhelmed by prosecutions of the hundreds of rioters who illegally entered the Capitol. The original plan to investigate the masterminds of the attack, drawn up by the Trump-appointed US attorney in Washington and later accepted by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, did not specifically mention the former president. The FBI took a similar tactic.
However, in the months leading up to Mr. Smith’s appointment as special counsel last fall, there were strong indications that federal prosecutors were moving to investigate whether Mr. Trump and his allies may have committed crimes.
The FBI’s Washington field office began an investigation in April 2022 of voters who pledged allegiance to Mr. Trump in states he lost. Authorities earlier seized the cellphones of Mr. Eastman, a legal architect of Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 election loss, and Jeffrey Clark, a lawyer whom Mr. Trump sought to appoint as acting Attorney General.
Among the crimes prosecutors and agents intended to investigate were mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of official proceedings before Congress.
At the end of last year, the various investigations were handed over to Mr Smith, who moved quickly with a flurry of activity, including subpoenas and witness interviews.
Mr. Smith and his team don’t seem ready. A spokesman for former governor Doug Ducey of Arizona said Mr. Smith’s team had contacted him after The Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump had tasked Mr. Pence with pressuring Mr. Ducey to overturn Mr. Biden’s narrow victory there.
The spokesman said Mr. Ducey would do “the right thing” and had done so since the election. It was not clear whether the contact was to request a voluntary interview from Mr. Ducey or a grand jury appearance.
Mr. 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 recently had an interview with prosecutors.
Ben Protest, Jonathan Swan and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.