That approach by prosecutors does not rule out the possibility of some charges, such as perjury or false statements, being filed in Washington in connection with grand jury appearances or law enforcement interviews that took place there, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal discussions.
A former aide to Trump, Taylor Budowich, appeared Wednesday before the federal grand jury in Miami. Other witnesses have appeared before the same grand jury in recent weeks, a person familiar with the matter said.
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If Trump is charged on his home turf, he could face a significantly different jury pool than the one in Washington. Such a move could also speed up the path to a trial, former federal prosecutor Randall D. Eliason said, because it could eliminate potential legal challenges about whether charges were being brought in the right place.
“Because these are complicated issues that might go either way, you don’t want to risk spending the first year fighting over venue” and then perhaps being forced to move, Eliason, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University law school, said in an email. “The bottom line is that the venue issues could be complicated and could easily result in two separate indictments with different charges and/or different defendants in D.C. and Florida.”
The Justice Department’s manual calls for charges to be filed where the alleged crimes or parts of the alleged crimes were committed, though in practice federal prosecutors often apply that standard loosely. For example, improperly removing documents from Washington could be charged in the nation’s capital. But wrongfully retaining documents in Florida after the government demanded them back, or showing classified information there to an unauthorized person might be more properly charged in Florida.
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The criminal investigation into Trump’s handling of classified material has been going on for more than a year, and attorneys for the former president say they expect Smith to finalize a charging decision in coming weeks. Trump advisers say they are preparing for a potential indictment of the former president, who has denied any wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, Trump posted on social media: “No one has told me I’m being indicted, and I shouldn’t be because I’ve done NOTHING wrong, but I have assumed for years that I am a Target of the WEAPONIZED DOJ & FBI.”
A spokesman for Smith declined to comment.
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Trump’s lawyers met with Smith and other officials at Justice Department headquarters in Washington on Monday to make the case that their client should not be charged, people familiar with the matter said this week. Such meetings often happen as federal investigations get close to finishing.
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Budowich, who now leads a pro-Trump super PAC, was seen arriving at the federal courthouse in Miami on Wednesday. His appearance lasted about an hour. At 11:31 a.m., Budowich tweeted that he had “fulfilled a legal obligation to testify in front [of] a federal grand jury.”
“I answered every question honestly,” the tweet said.
Prosecutors were at least partially interested in Budowich because of his role in an episode involving Trump in early 2022, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because grand jury proceedings are secret. After sending boxes of materials from his Mar-a-Lago home and private club to the National Archives and Records Administration, which catalogues and preserves presidential records, Trump drafted a lengthy statement saying he had given “everything” back to the federal government, The Washington Post has reported.
But Budowich did not release Trump’s statement after consulting with lawyers and advisers for the former president, people familiar with the episode said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. At least some of Trump’s advisers did not believe he had returned “everything” at the time, the people said, even though the archives had been asking for months for Trump to give back any government material in his possession, as required by federal law.
Several days later, Trump issued a different statement that did not include the claim that everything had been returned.
Around the same time, a Trump lawyer rebuffed the former president’s request to tell the archives he had returned everything, The Post has reported, because the lawyer was not sure such an assertion was true.
Prosecutors have reviewed a draft of Trump’s statement, which contains at least one tangent about Germany and an overseas oil pipeline, the people familiar with the matter said. Multiple witnesses have been questioned by prosecutors about the statement, the people said, and asked whether Trump ever asked them to lie or mislead anyone about whether he continued to maintain classified information in his possession.
At least one federal grand jury panel in Washington has heard months of testimony in the Trump documents probe. But evidence gathered in Washington could also be presented to grand jurors in Florida.
The Justice Department launched its investigation after archives officials found more than 100 classified documents scattered among the various items Trump sent back from Mar-a-Lago.
After further questioning about whether Trump had more classified papers at his Florida home, his legal team handed over another 38 documents last June in response to a grand jury subpoena. An FBI search of Mar-a-Lago two months later turned up more than 100 additional documents and items marked classified.
The evidence examined so far by investigators in Washington includes surveillance video showing boxes of documents being moved the day before the visit by a federal prosecutor at Mar-a-Lago, and an audio recording of Trump talking about having an apparently classified document in his possession.
Lori Rozsa in Miami and Amy B Wang in Washington contributed to this report.