Former President Donald Trump said his lawyers warned federal prosecutors Thursday that another round of criminal charges against him would be unjustified and would destroy an already divided nation.
Mr. Trump, who is facing possible federal criminal charges for his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, disclosed the meeting his legal team had with Justice Department prosecutors in Washington, where a grand jury is mulling what would be a third stack of indictments against him.
“My attorneys had a productive meeting with the DOJ this morning, explaining in detail that I did nothing wrong, was advised by many lawyers and that an indictment would only further destroy our Country,” Mr. Trump wrote on his social media site.
The warning to special counsel Jack Smith, the federal prosecutor overseeing the Trump probe, comes amid increasing criticism that President Biden’s Justice Department is utilizing a two-tiered system to persecute the former president while offering a sweetheart plea deal for Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, over charges he failed to pay taxes and lied on a firearm background check form.
The plea deal, which spared Hunter Biden felony charges or jail time, unraveled in federal court on Wednesday after U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika forced prosecutors to declare he would remain under investigation and could face charges related to lobbying for a foreign government.
Hunter Biden’s legal team balked, revealing they were informed the plea deal would provide the president’s son with “global” immunity from additional charges.
The courtroom rift scuttled the plea deal and exposed what IRS whistleblowers had revealed earlier this month in congressional testimony: That the president’s son had quietly received favorable treatment for his crimes.
New charges against Mr. Trump are only likely to increase the view among Republican voters that the former president, now the leading contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, is being politically persecuted.
A federal grand jury convened at a courthouse in Washington Thursday to continue their probe into Mr. Trump’s efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 election and his role in provoking the Jan. 6 riot. Jurors had not met in over a week, spurring speculation that their session on Thursday signaled an indictment was imminent.
If Mr. Smith indicts, it would be the third round of criminal charges against the former president but may not be the last.
Mr. Smith has already filed 37 criminal charges against Mr. Trump in a separate case accusing him of mishandling classified government documents. Mr. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In March, a Manhattan grand jury indicted the ex-president on state charges of falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payments in 2016 to a doorman who claimed he knew about a love child and two women who claimed they had extramarital affairs with Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump denied their claims.
Mr. Trump could also face state charges in Georgia for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
A grand jury is considering evidence from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis that Mr. Trump attempted to overturn the election results in the Peach State. Ms. Willis said to expect an August announcement on whether she plans to charge the former president.
Mr. Trump scoffed at a news report that the former president’s lawyers were told during the meeting to expect an indictment.
“No indication of notice was given during the meeting — Do not trust the Fake News on anything!” Mr. Trump wrote.
Andrew Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois who served on special counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s Whitewater investigation, described the meeting as a “last chance” for defense attorneys to convince prosecutors not to indict.
“It’s an opportunity to try to resolve the situation without an indictment, but the likelihood of defense attorneys talking prosecutors out of an indictment is pretty small,” he said.
Mr. Trump confirmed last week that he received a letter from the Justice Department that identified him as a target of the grand jury probe. He said that he anticipated “an arrest and indictment” after receiving the target letter.
Federal prosecutors wrote in the letter that Mr. Trump could be charged with violating a federal law enacted to crack down on post-Civil War voting intimidation.
Mr. Smith’s letter also referred to three criminal statutes, including conspiracy to defraud the government and obstruction of an official proceeding.
Mr. Trump’s social media post hinted at a possible defense if he is indicted — that he was following the advice of his lawyers. That would enable him to claim that he was relying on the advice from his lawyers that his conduct was legal and that he can’t be prosecuted if their advice was unlawful.
At the time of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, he was repeatedly consulting with lawyers such as Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark and Kenneth Cheseboro.
However, other lawyers, including Attorney General William P. Barr, had advised Mr. Trump that some proposals such as proposing a slate of “alternate electors” had no legal basis, according to the Democrat-led House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 riot.
“Ignorance of the law is not a defense. The fact that your lawyer told you to do something illegal may give you a cause of action against your lawyer but it doesn’t give you a defense against criminal charges,” Mr. Leipold said.
It is more likely that Mr. Trump is blaming his attorneys because that will resonate better in the court of public opinion than it would in federal court as he continues his campaign for the presidency.
“It’s an argument with a great intuitive appeal. He’s floating out the idea that the law is complicated and he’s not a lawyer but was doing what his lawyers told him to do and they were wrong,” Mr. Leipold said. “It’s not a legal defense, but it will resonate with the general public.
Republicans have already signaled their view of Mr. Smith’s earlier charges.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after Mr. Trump was indicted over his handling of classified documents found 81% of Republicans believed politics was driving the case.