By Kaitlan Collins, Paula Reid, Sara Murray, Jeremy Herb and Kristen Holmes, CNN
(CNN) — The Justice Department recently informed Donald Trump’s legal team that he is a target in a federal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents, sources familiar with the matter told CNN, a sign that prosecutors may be moving closer to indicting the former president.
The sources have been informed of the target letter and its contents but had not seen it themselves.
Prosecutors’ decision to inform Trump he’s a target crystallizes that special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation is focused on Trump’s actions and not just the actions of people around him.
Trump’s legal team met with DOJ officials, including Smith, about the investigation on Monday. The meeting focused on the Trump legal team presenting their allegations of misconduct by prosecutors. Smith did not say anything beyond greeting those in the room in the meeting, that source said.
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.
Trump, in an interview with The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman on Wednesday, would not say whether he had been told he was a target in the special counsel’s investigation, but he denied that he had been told he would be indicted.
Multiple people who talked to Trump at length this week told CNN they were confused by the news and said Trump did not raise that he was a target or seem agitated.
Smith’s investigation into the potential mishandling of classified materials and possible obstruction of justice has appeared to be nearing the final stages for weeks now.
The special counsel’s investigation has scrutinized Trump’s handling of classified documents he brought with him to his Mar-a-Lago resort after leaving the White House, including actions that were taken after Trump received a subpoena in May 2022 to return all classified materials in his possession. Last August, FBI agents retrieved more than 100 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago after obtaining a search warrant.
Prosecutors have questioned dozens of witnesses over the past several months, including senior Trump aides and employees at his Florida resort. Most of the witnesses have appeared before a grand jury in Washington, DC, but in recent weeks a federal grand jury in Florida has heard testimony from multiple witnesses.
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, viewed as a critical witness, has testified to a federal grand jury as part of Smith’s ongoing investigations into the former president’s handling of classified documents as well as efforts to overturn the 2020 election, another source familiar with the matter said.
Asked about Trump being informed he’s a target, former Vice President Mike Pence – who launched a 2024 bid challenging his former boss on Wednesday – said he doesn’t want to see Trump indicted.
“This kind of action by the Department of Justice, I think, would only fuel further division in the country,” Pence told Dana Bash at a CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa. While he said that “no one is above the law,” he argued that indicting Trump “would also send a terrible message to the wider world.”
The Justice Department has closed its investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents found at Pence’s home and has said it will not bring charges.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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Holmes Lybrand, Tierney Sneed and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed.