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Prosecutors tell Trump that he is a target in classified files probe, sources say

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Former President Trump is the target of a probe into handling of classified documents after he left office. A source tells NPR that his lawyers were notified by the Justice Department.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

That notice gives lawyers a chance to argue against an indictment. People who get target letters are usually charged with a crime, but not always. And in a post on his social media platform, the former president, Donald Trump, said, quote, "no one has told me I'm being indicted. And I shouldn't be because I've done nothing wrong."

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been reporting on the investigation. Carrie, what do we know about the latest in this Mar-a-Lago documents probe?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: TV cameras caught Taylor Budowich going into the courthouse in Miami yesterday. He was an aide to Trump in the White House. He now runs a political action committee that supports Trump. And after his testimony, Budowich tweeted he was obligated to testify before the grand jury and that he answered the questions honestly. Then he bashed the current president, Joe Biden, and promised to help reelect Trump. As for what he was asked in the grand jury, here's what we know - Budowich was kind of a go-between for Trump and the media on some statements about the investigation into secret documents the FBI found at Trump's resort, Mar-a-Lago. And that investigation into possible obstruction and retention of defense information has been really active.

MARTÍNEZ: Active. We've reported on MORNING EDITION, mostly active in Washington, so why is there a grand jury in Florida now?

JOHNSON: The special counsel, Jack Smith, is not explaining why he's now working in Miami as well as in D.C. But for a few weeks now, I've heard about grand jury subpoenas going out from Florida. And there could be good reasons for that. If prosecutors are investigating conduct that happened at Mar-a-Lago, like possible obstruction, they may think they need to bring charges there at the scene of the alleged crime. Trump's lawyers have received notice from DOJ he's the target of the probe. And under DOJ rules, targets are supposed to get reasonable notice before they're indicted. Sometimes indictments will follow, often they will, but not always.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So we're talking about the documents probe. But that's not the only investigation Jack Smith is heading.

JOHNSON: That's right. Jack Smith is also looking into an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, including plans to substitute fake slates of electors. You know, it's some people's full-time job to stay at the federal courthouse in Washington and watch who's coming into the building and figure out how close they are to former President Trump. And, A, it's really hard to get closer to a president than being chief of staff at the White House. This week, The New York Times reported and NPR's confirmed that Trump's last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, testified to a grand jury. It's not clear what Meadows said in that closed-door proceeding. But he was with Trump in the White House in the days leading up to January 6 and on his final day, when Trump declassified certain documents. Meadows' lawyer says Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. We mentioned that President Trump - or former President Trump says he's done nothing wrong. What else has he said?

JOHNSON: Yeah, Trump has sent out fundraising appeals this week based on the activity in the grand jury. He blasted what he calls never-ending witch hunts, even though his last attorney general, Bill Barr, told CBS this week the documents probe is not a witch hunt, and that Trump's response to the government demand for documents has basically forced the Justice Department's hand and made it hard to not charge Trump with wrongdoing. We know this week, Trump's lawyers met with Justice Department officials. There are signs that investigation may be reaching an end point.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. For now, Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination next year. Campaigns, though, are starting to heat up. So how quickly is the Justice Department going to move on this?

JOHNSON: Attorney General Merrick Garland has handed off day-to-day supervision of these Trump investigations to the special counsel. And remember, Jack Smith used to run the public integrity unit at the DOJ earlier in his career. So it's safe to say he's aware of the political calendar and the first Republican debate that's currently scheduled for August. And for his part, Donald Trump has complained about investigations smack in the middle of his campaign, which he says is not supposed to happen.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Carrie Johnson. We'll talk again soon, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.