Trump Election Probe Case Crowds Active Campaign Calendar

The Justice Department appears to be on a fast track to charge former President Donald Trump with election interference before a potential case is brought in Georgia next month.

(Bloomberg) — The Justice Department appears to be on a fast track to charge former President Donald Trump with election interference before a potential case is brought in Georgia next month.

The avalanche of legal troubles facing Trump comes just as the Republican presidential primary season heats up.

Special Counsel Jack Smith notified Trump this week that he’s a target in the department’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, meaning that a new round of federal charges against the former president could be coming within days.

The move signals that the Justice Department is aiming to get ahead of Atlanta-area district attorney Fani Willis, who has indicated she could announce charges against Trump and others in August for interfering in Georgia’s 2020 election. 

The development also means that Trump’s legal challenges are piling up and will consume more of his time as he revs up his campaign to return to the White House. Trump is currently the frontrunner to be the Republican candidate for president in next year’s election.

A federal judge in Florida didn’t immediately set a trial date in the classified documents prosecution against Donald Trump Tuesday, but expressed skepticism about arguments from both the government and the former president’s lawyers.

Trump revealed in a post on his Truth Social account earlier Tuesday that he received the target letter Sunday night from Smith, who is investigating Trump’s actions in the aftermath of the presidential election, including the insurrection at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

In the post, Trump said he was given four days to testify before Smith’s grand jury, adding that the notification “almost always means an Arrest and Indictment.”

At a Fox News town hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Tuesday night, Trump said the timing of the target letter shows that prosecutors are in a hurry.

“I got the letter on Sunday night. Think of it. I don’t think they’ve ever sent a letter on Sunday,” Trump said. “And they’re in a rush because they want to interfere. It’s interference with the election.”

Trump has already been charged by Smith with mishandling classified information and obstructing justice, and by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg with falsifying business records to conceal hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The Jan. 6 target letter lists multiple federal criminal laws that Trump could be charged with violating, according to a person familiar with the contents.

The statutes listed include one that makes it a crime to obstruct an official proceeding, among other things — a charge that has been featured in numerous prosecutions against individuals who attacked the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — and conspiring to commit an offense or defraud the United States. 

Rolling Stone, which earlier reported details on the target letter, also said the document listed an offense for willfully depriving a person of their rights under the US Constitution and other laws.

So far, Trump’s legal troubles have helped him with GOP primary voters as he claims President Joe Biden’s administration has weaponized the Justice Department to politically attack him.

Since being arraigned in Florida on June 13 in the documents case, Trump has extended his lead over his top rival by 3.5 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. He now leads Florida Governor Ron DeSantis 54% to 20%.

During a CNN interview Tuesday, DeSantis suggested that looming trials could prove a distraction to Trump and limit his effectiveness in the general election campaign. 

“If I’m the nominee, we’ll be able to focus on President Biden’s failures and I’ll be able to articulate a positive vision for the future,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also said the country was “going down the road of criminalizing political differences.”

An indictment in the election interference case would add another trial date to Trump’s crowded calendar, with two trials scheduled for the heart of the 2024 primary election season.

Trump is also a defendant in a civil trial brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, who claims that Trump sexually assaulted her and defamed her after she won a $5 million judgment against him. That trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 15 — the same day as the Iowa Caucuses — and could continue through contests in New Hampshire and Nevada.

The criminal case in Manhattan is scheduled to begin March 25, tying him up for the Rhode Island and Wisconsin primaries.

Other trials could take Trump away from the campaign trail and into a courtroom for months in the coming election year.

The criminal cases have been a boon to Trump’s online fundraising, bringing in tens of millions of dollars in the days following his first two indictments. Many of those were prized first-time donors.

Trump’s Republican challengers have been mostly unwilling to use the indictments to score political points — with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson being notable exceptions. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has said he would pardon Trump if elected.

On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected Trump’s bid to shut down the inquiry by Willis, the Fulton County district attorney.

Trump sought to disqualify Willis and quash the report of a special grand jury that heard from 75 witnesses. The foreperson of that panel said in interviews that the panel secretly recommended indicting more than a dozen people, hinting one would be Trump.

A new grand jury that could indict Trump has been empaneled in Atlanta, and it could reach a decision on charges next month, Willis has said.

She has investigated matters including Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021 telephone call during which he asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia. Willis’s probe also involves an effort to submit an alternative slate of Trump electors before Congress counted the Electoral College votes.

It remains to be seen if any of Trump’s associates are charged in the Justice Department’s election interference probe. A congressional committee that investigated the events leading up to and on Jan. 6 referred Trump for criminal prosecution, along with conservative lawyer John Eastman.

Eastman hasn’t received a target letter, said his lawyer, Charles Burnham, in a statement Tuesday. “We don’t expect one since raising concerns about illegality in the conduct of an election is not now and has never been sanctionable,” Burnham said. 

Trump associate Rudolph Giuliani also hasn’t received a target letter and his lawyer doesn’t expect him to be charged, CNN reported Tuesday. 

–With assistance from Zoe Tillman.

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