What to Know About Target Letters & President Trump

Target letters are a critical element in criminal investigations, signaling the focus on a specific individual by federal prosecutors. These letters serve as formal notifications to inform the recipient that they are the target of a criminal investigation, and their actions are under scrutiny. One of the most prominent cases involving target letters in recent times is the investigation surrounding former President Donald Trump.  


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, we are committed to educating our fellow community members about criminal law and how it may apply to everyday Americans. The appearance of a legal document like a “target letter” in the popular media gives us an opportunity to explain what such a target letter is, what it means when someone receives one, and why anyone who receives a target letter should immediately contact an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. 



Target Letters Explained 


A target letter is usually issued by federal prosecutors when they have enough evidence to believe that an individual has committed a crime. The letter’s purpose is to inform the subject that they are the primary focus of an ongoing investigation. It often requests the recipient to cooperate with the investigation by providing information or testimony voluntarily.  


Of course, the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment entitles the target who receives the letter to decline to speak with law enforcement and to exercise their right to remain silent. While the letter creates an opportunity for a named target to reach out to the prosecutors, no one should ever do so without first retaining the services of a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney. 


Your attorney will discuss the facts and the law with you in depth before advising you whether there is any advantage to be gained by speaking with the government. In many cases, the attorney will contact the prosecutors to learn as much as possible about the state of the investigation and the quality of the evidence in their possession. 


Significance of Target Letters 


Target letters are significant document in the criminal justice system for several reasons: 




Receiving a target letter removes any ambiguity about an individual’s status in an investigation. It informs them that they are directly implicated, potentially leading to criminal charges. 


Permitting Cooperation 


The letter may serve as an incentive for the target to cooperate with authorities in the hope of obtaining favorable treatment, such as reduced charges or sentence leniency. This will be the subject of a long and involved conversation between the person targeted and their defense attorney. 


Assessing the Stage of the Investigation 


Target letters are often issued after a substantial amount of evidence has been collected against the individual. This signifies that prosecutors believe they have a strong case. Target letters are often issued when the government is nearing the completion of the investigation and they provide an opportunity for the target to consider cooperating before an indictment is issued. 


Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer 


Target letters prompt individuals to seek legal representation. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help navigate the complexities of the investigation and protect the target’s rights throughout the process. In some cases, your lawyer may be able to present evidence to the prosecution that they were unaware of that challenges their own evidence or mitigates the target’s culpability enough to alter the course of the investigation. 


Trump’s Case and Target Letters 


In the case involving former President Donald Trump, he received target letters from the federal special prosecutors as did several close associates as part of multiple investigations. While specific details of the letters have not been publicly disclosed due to the confidentiality of ongoing investigations, we know from subsequent events that the letters notified former President Trump that he was under investigation for illegal retention of secret government documents, and more recently, for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to interfere with Congress’s certification of the 2020 election results. 


Like all targets of federal criminal investigations and accused criminal defendants, President Trump remains innocent unless and until evidence is presented to a jury that constitutes proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 


Target Letters Are Not Guarantees of Future Indictment 


When a person receives a target letter, the government is merely notifying them that they are the subject of an ongoing investigation of a grand jury. The government is obliged to notify any target of their status before they appear as a witness before a grand jury.  


The government’s policy to notify targets before they offer testimony to a grand jury is intended to honor the potential defendant’s right to full disclosure before they unwittingly present incriminating evidence against themselves.  


But receiving a target letter does not guarantee an indictment is definitely going to be issued. Using former President Trump’s cases as examples, it’s important to remember that the Russia investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller that inquired about Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election issued several target letters to various individuals who were not ultimately indicted. 


Target letters play a crucial role in criminal investigations, providing clarity to individuals about their status and presenting them with an opportunity to cooperate with prosecutors. In the context of the investigations surrounding former President Donald Trump, target letters were sent to him and his close associates in connection with several potential offenses.  


 Read More > What to Do if You Receive a Target Letter from the FBI


Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer if You Receive a Target Letter 


If you or someone you know receives a target letter notifying them that they are the subject of a criminal investigation by a grand jury, contact a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. Do not contact anyone else before speaking confidentially with your own criminal defense advisers.  


Give Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law a call at 813-280-1244 for immediate guidance from experienced criminal defense lawyers. Remember, seeking counsel ensures the protection of your rights and helps you navigate the complexities of the legal process. 


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