WASHINGTON, July 18 — Former US President Donald Trump said today he had received a letter from Special Counsel Jack Smith stating that he is a target of a grand jury investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election result.

If so, it would represent the clearest sign to date that Trump may face federal criminal charges stemming from his efforts to remain in power after losing the election to his rival, President Joe Biden.

Officials have testified that during his final months in office, Trump pressured them with unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. His supporters attacked the US Capitol in a Jan. 6, 2021, bid to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s win.

Smith “sent a letter (again, it was Sunday night!) stating that I am a TARGET of the January 6th Grand Jury investigation,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social media site.

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His attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Smith’s office declined to comment.

Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor, said receiving a target letter means the individual should “presume that you’re going to get indicted, unless you give us a damn good reason why we shouldn’t.”

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Later today, defence attorneys and federal prosecutors are due to make their first appearance in Florida before US District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over charges that Trump mishandled classified information and obstructed justice.

Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to face Biden, a Democrat, in the 2024 election, was charged last month with unlawfully retaining national defence documents after he left office in 2021 and conspiring to obstruct government efforts to retrieve them.

Smith is leading the prosecution also in that case.

As part of the 2020 election investigation, a grand jury at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., has heard testimony from high-profile former Trump administration officials, ex-White House attorney Pat Cipollone and Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence.

Most recently, Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani was interviewed by investigators from Smith’s office.

In the Jan. 6, 2021, rampage at the Capitol, Trump’s supporters used weapons including chemical sprays and riot shields to attack police and break into the building, forcing lawmakers who were in the process of certifying the results of the 2020 election to flee for their lives.

The attack came shortly after Trump told supporters in an incendiary speech near the White House to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” to “stop the steal” of the election.

More than 1,000 people have been charged with crimes connected with the riot, including some who have been convicted of seditious conspiracy.

In his Truth Social post, Trump said Smith’s office has given him “a very short 4 days” to appear before the grand jury in the probe.

In federal investigations, targets who are not called to testify before a grand jury or who do not make such a request are sometimes provided an opportunity to do so before prosecutors seek an indictment.

Trump is the first former president ever to be indicted.

In addition to the charges in the classified documents case, Trump faces New York state criminal charges accusing him of falsifying business records concerning a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she has confirmed but he denies.

He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected a bid by Trump to block a state investigation into whether he and his allies illegally attempted to meddle with Georgia’s 2020 election.

Among actions being investigated was Trump’s phone call urging a top election official to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s statewide victory.

Trump’s Republican allies rushed to his defence on Tuesday in response to the news about the target letter.

“There’s example after example after example of the Biden administration weaponising government against their political enemies,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told reporters.

Republican strategist Matt Dole said any indictment would likely help Trump with fundraising, given his base would view any charges as politically motivated. But he said the cumulative impact of the cases against Trump could deter some moderate Republicans and hinder his chances in the general election.

“I do think that it gives soft Trump supporters pause and reason to look elsewhere for a candidate with Trump’s populism, but less of the circus - someone like Ron DeSantis,” Dole said. — Reuters