We’ve many signs we’re entering the end game of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation of January 6th and ex-President Trump’s post-presidential handling of classified documents. Now we learn that Trump’s received a “target letter.” Does that mean this is actually happening? That’s our topic in today’s Backchannel.
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So Is Trump Really Toast?
Originally Published: June 8, 2023 11:52 a.m.
You probably saw that President Trump has now received a “target letter” from Special Prosecutor Jack Smith’s office. We don’t know precisely when it was received, at least not in the reporting I have seen. But presumably it is quite recent. In federal law enforcement, a “target letter” is a mix of threat and good faith warning about your status and what to expect. In other words, we’re not just looking at a potential crime that you’re proximate to or involved with. You’re the target. We are looking at you as a probable criminal defendant and we assume we’re going to indict you. So act accordingly. It provides some back stop to prevent a defendant from saying prosecutors made it like they were just a witness and not the person who was going to get indicted. Lawyers who practice in the federal courts might put the nuance a bit differently or disagree among themselves. But I think this is the gist.
If you’re focused on the “hey is this thing really going to happen?” front, the answer is, you should assume it will. It’s not a guarantee. But it makes it highly likely. And not based on what some outside commentator speculates and pieces together from the clues. This comes from the guy who does the indicting.
The one point I’d quibble with in some of the coverage is that I don’t think this in itself means charges are imminent. There are a series of circumstantial clues pointing in that direction. There are reports suggesting that it is imminent. But the target letter doesn’t tell us that in itself.
At the risk of stating the obvious, when we put this together with what we are seeing unfold in the electoral realm, we should be expecting 2024 to bring us an extremely uncommon presidential rematch (1956 was the last time) and a totally unprecedented campaign in which the major nominee of one party is running under federal indictment and possibly on trial. This doesn’t include the active indictments and trial in New York State or the potential one in Georgia, which still seems quite likely.
To answer your question, no: I don’t think any of these charges change the equation in terms of Trump’s likelihood to be the Republican nominee. The facts revealed in the indictments would have to be dramatically more damning than the ones we know. Let’s be honest, he stole a bunch of classified documents after launching a failed coup. That’s all a given at this point. What else is there? The only facts which I can imagine truly changing things would be uncontrovertible evidence that Trump sold those documents to a foreign power. I don’t think it’s likely that happened, not because I would put it past Trump but simply because it’s unnecessary.
In other words, buckle up.