Former President Donald Trump is a target in a federal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents, and special counsel Jack Smith is using a second grand jury in Miami to gather new evidence.
The developments come after a period of escalating activity in the federal criminal probe, which has focused around Trump having dozens of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort after he left the White House.
Up until this point, Smith has been using a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, but the panel hasn’t been observed meeting since early May. It’s unclear why he has now decided to use a second grand jury in Miami, as he appeared to be reaching the final stages of his probe and is weighing possible indictments. (Trump denies all wrongdoing and says the probe is political.)
Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on Florida and what we know about the fast-developing situation.
Smith is investigating Trump’s handling of national security records at his Mar-a-Lago resort and elsewhere. His team is trying to determine if Trump or his aides committed crimes by keeping the documents after his presidency. Those were sensitive government documents that Trump had no legal right to hold onto, prosecutors have said in court filings.
Prosecutors are also investigating whether Trump or his allies obstructed the investigation.
It’s common for ex-presidents to accidentally keep some classified documents when they move out of the White House.
Notably, President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence both found classified papers at their homes, from their time as vice president. But Trump’s case appears to be far more serious, because of the sheer volume of classified records involved, and because of his repeated efforts to stymie federal officials who tried to claw back the materials.
As part of the inquiry, witnesses have testified to Smith’s grand juries in DC and Miami, according to CNN’s reporting.
The newly revealed grand jury in Florida has raised a host of questions about the endgame of Smith’s investigation.
Legal experts have speculated that the development might indicate that Smith is exploring bringing parts or all of a criminal case in Florida federal court instead of DC federal court, or possibly in addition to DC. Prosecutors can’t simply file charges wherever they please – they need to establish that they have the proper venue, and they need to connect part of the crime to where the case is filed.
A significant amount of the conduct under investigation occurred in Mar-a-Lago, located in Palm Beach.
A top prosecutor from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team previously co-wrote an analysis of the hurdles Smith would need to clear if he wants to bring the case in DC instead of Florida, where the jury pool might be more friendly to Trump.
Prosecutors have told Trump he’s a target in the investigation, CNN reported.
The so-called target letter is a part of the Justice Department process that is often a sign an investigation is coming to a close.
Justice Department regulations allow for prosecutors to notify subjects of an investigation that they have become a target. Often a notification that a person is a target is a strong sign an indictment could follow, but it is possible the recipient is not ultimately charged.
Those notifications aren’t required, but prosecutors have the discretion to notify subjects that they have become a target. Once informed, a target has the opportunity to present evidence or testify to the grand jury if they choose.
Former Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, who now runs a pro-Trump super PAC, appeared before the Florida-based grand jury Wednesday and testified for less than an hour. After he left the courthouse, he tweeted that he “fulfilled a legal obligation to testify in front a federal grand jury” and that he “answered every question honestly.”
He is the first person to be publicly named as testifying before Smith’s grand jury in Florida. However, CNN previously reported that “multiple witnesses” have gone before the Florida grand jury in recent weeks, and at least one more is expected after Budowich.
Prosecutors revealed the specific statutes that they were investigating when they searched Mar-a-Lago last year, a search that uncovered dozens of classified documents, even after Trump’s team swore they turned everything over.
However, that was before Smith took over the probe as special counsel, and it doesn’t mean these are the only possible crimes he’s examining. But it provides a roadmap of possible charges – because when seeking the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, prosecutors needed to convince a judge there was probable cause that they’d find evidence of these crimes.
The first is 18 USC 793, which is part of the Espionage Act. That federal law deals with the illegal retention of “national defense information,” a broad term that encompasses classified documents and other sensitive government materials. This law can apply to people who are authorized to handle classified information but knowingly kept the material in an unsecured location, or to people who aren’t supposed to possess the information in the first place.
The second is 18 USC 2071, which deals with the illegal removal of government records from US custody.
The third is 18 USC 1519, which is obstruction of justice. This could come into play if prosecutors conclude that Trump or his aides intentionally tried to impede their inquiry – by moving boxes around so prosecutors wouldn’t find classified documents, by possibly questioning complying with subpoenas including for surveillance tapes that prosecutors believe captured the movement of the boxes, by failing to fully comply with a subpoena, or by falsely swearing that all classified files had been returned.
This story has been updated with additional developments.