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Trump could face federal indictment soon over effort to overturn 2020 election defeat

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On this Monday, we're also watching for another indictment of former President Donald Trump.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has already been indicted twice. One is state. One is federal. If it happens soon, this would be another federal indictment over his effort to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Johnson is following this story. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What makes it seem like an indictment is near?

JOHNSON: Donald Trump has told us all that he received a target letter about a week ago. And that's a strong signal that the special counsel, Jack Smith, is moving toward a grand jury indictment of the former president. In order to indict, the grand jury would have to find probable cause that Trump broke the law. Now, that's a lower standard than what's needed to convict in a courtroom, but it's still a very significant step. And Trump's lawyers are suggesting a number of possible charges may be on the table, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of Congress on January 6. Trump says he's, quote, "completely innocent," and he's been fundraising off this target letter for several days now.

INSKEEP: Which might be one reason that one would release such a letter, I suppose - to marshal political and financial support. Now, with each of these indictments, we have to learn or relearn about another pattern of alleged criminal conduct. What would the alleged conduct be here?

JOHNSON: You know, in some ways, Steve, this would be the most serious criminal case against Donald Trump if it goes forward. More than two years ago, we all watched rioters storm the U.S. Capitol. They beat up police officers with their fists and with flagpoles and other instruments. They stopped, at least for a little while, the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

And, you know, the Justice Department and the FBI have already arrested about a thousand people in connection with the riot. But whether the people who spread lies about election fraud in 2020 would ever face justice has been a big and open question. This target letter for Donald Trump is a sign special counsel Jack Smith is moving to hold the former president accountable. Grand juries here in Washington, D.C., continue to hear from witnesses and issue subpoenas for documents, so their work is not done yet.

INSKEEP: How is the former president defending himself in case after case while also campaigning for another term as president?

JOHNSON: You know, Trump has made a different decision here than others. He's making his legal problems a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. He's casting himself as someone who's been targeted for political reasons. That's even though the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to try to insulate these investigations from politics. And Trump is going to be in and out of court for most of the next year. He has a criminal trial in Manhattan over hush-money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels in March 2024. He now has a trial date in Florida for May 2024. Steve, that's the case that accuses Trump of hoarding classified documents at his resort in Florida and obstructing the FBI's efforts to recover those papers. Trump has pleaded not guilty in Florida. He signaled he's going to try to get those charges and some of the evidence against him there dismissed.

INSKEEP: Isn't there even another possible indictment looming?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. There's a grand jury in Georgia that's been looking into Trump's efforts to pressure state officials to find him more votes in 2020. Georgia's governor has also confirmed he's been contacted by the Justice Department's special counsel. But Georgia could also be important for another reason. If these federal cases are not wrapped up by the next election and Donald Trump wins, he could try to direct his Justice Department to get rid of these federal cases or even pardon himself. Trump would not have that same kind of power to get rid of any state cases that are happening in New York or Georgia.

INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks as always for your insights.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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