IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump learns he’s a special counsel ‘target,’ turns to GOP allies

As Donald Trump is formally notified of his status as the target of a criminal probe, he’s begging congressional Republicans to help. This won’t work.


Donald Trump’s lawyers sent a strange letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland last month, requesting a meeting “to discuss the ongoing injustice that is being perpetrated by [special counsel Jack Smith] and his prosecutors.” The former president’s defense counsel was, in fact, welcomed at the Justice Department this week for a conversation — Garland did not attend — though it apparently didn’t go as well as the Republican hoped.

Shortly after the meeting wrapped up, Trump threw an online tantrum. On Wednesday, we received some additional context that helps explain why he unraveled. NBC News reported:

Trump’s attorneys were told at Monday’s meeting in Washington, D.C., with prosecutors at the Justice Department that Trump is a target of the classified documents investigation, according to two sources briefed on the meeting.

At first blush, this might not seem especially surprising. Smith and his office have been pursuing this case for months, and it’s been widely assumed that the former president was and is at the center of the investigation. By this reasoning, didn’t everyone already know that Trump was a target of the probe?

The angle to keep in mind, however, is that in the world of criminal prosecutions, “target” is a term of art. As a separate NBC News report explained overnight, “There are three general categories in criminal investigations: a witness (someone with relevant information), a subject (someone whose conduct is within the realm of the grand jury’s work) and a target (someone prosecutors believe committed a crime).”

Justice Department guidelines encourage prosecutors to notify targets in advance of filing charges — and those who receive target letters are often indicted.

Or put another way, the fact that Trump’s lawyers received such a notification on Monday was not at all good news for the Republican. A Politico report added, “The recent moves have signaled that Smith’s probe was nearing a likely charging decision, which now appears days, if not hours, away. [Monday’s] letter to Trump is yet another indication.”

For his part, the former president has not yet commented in any detail on these developments, except for an odd missive on his social media platform Wednesday afternoon in which he wrote, “No one has told me I’m being indicted, and I shouldn’t be because I’ve done NOTHING wrong.”

The same message concluded, however, “REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS MUST MAKE THIS THEIR # 1 ISSUE!!!”

For reasons unknown, Trump genuinely seems to believe that congressional Republicans have a role to play in his intensifying legal troubles. Indeed, he and his team have been unsubtle about this for weeks: In late April, the Republican’s lawyers sent a strange, 10-page letter to the House Intelligence Committee, insisting that a “legislative solution,” to be approved by Congress, is “required” to prevent federal prosecutors from pursuing the case further.

The letter proposed that the Justice Department “should be ordered to stand down” — as if members of the legislative branch have the authority to direct federal prosecutors to drop a case. (They have no such authority.)

Trump reiterated the point last month, publishing another online tantrum in which he argued that Congress should “demand” that federal prosecutors “stop the Witch Hunt against ‘TRUMP.’” (I still don’t know why he referred to himself in third person and put his name in quotes.)

It was against this backdrop that the former president returned to the subject yet again on Wednesday, begging GOP lawmakers to make his dilemma their “#1 issue.”

I honestly don’t know what he expects congressional Republicans to do. Congress has no control over who is or isn’t indicted. It’s possible that Trump has imagined a scenario in which lawmakers pass a bill to defund the special counsel’s office, thereby derailing the investigation, but even if the GOP-led House were to take up such a measure, it obviously couldn’t pass the Democratic-led Senate or receive President Joe Biden’s signature.

What we’re seeing, in other words, is a desperate criminal suspect scrambling to find someone, anyone, who can help rescue him from a crisis of his own making. Whether Trump understands this or not, his pleas won’t work.