Federal prosecutors in the United States have notified former president Donald Trump that he is the target of a criminal investigation regarding his handling of classified documents, US media have reported.
The move is seen as an indication that the special counsel appointed to examine the issue, Jack Smith, is nearing the conclusion of his work and that a decision on whether to charge Mr Trump may come soon.
US department of justice rules allow prosecutors to notify those who become the targets of an investigation to give them an opportunity to present their own evidence before a grand jury – although it does not necessarily mean that they will ultimately face a formal accusation initiating a criminal case.
Comprising members of the public who are typically registered voters, a grand jury hears evidence presented by a prosecutor and determines whether there is enough evidence to prosecute a person and whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
On Wednesday night former vice-president Mike Pence said that Mr Trump should not be prosecuted over his handling of classified documents.
Speaking at a town hall event in Iowa Mr Pence said that indicting a former president would “send a terrible message to the world”.
On Wednesday Mr Pence formally announced that he is running for the White House. Mr Trump is also a candidate for the position.
Mr Pence said that “no one is above the law”. However, he maintained that indicting Mr Trump would be “be terribly divisive to the country at a time when the American people are hurting”.
“This kind of action by the department of justice I think would only fuel further division in the country,” he said.
Mr Pence said he hoped the department of justice would “think better of it” and would resolve the issues without the dramatic and drastic step of an indictment, or formal accusation.
Mr Trump is the front-runner in the contest to secure the Republican Party nomination for the presidency in 2024 and has repeatedly argued that the various investigations he is facing are politically motivated.
In August 2022 the FBI seized about 13,000 documents from Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. About 100 of these were marked as classified, even though one of Mr Trump’s lawyers had previously said that all such material had been returned.
Mr Trump has argued strongly that he did nothing wrong and suggested that he declassified all the documents found in his home before he left the White House in January 2021.
However, Mr Trump has not provided evidence of this and his lawyers have not made that argument in court filings.
Meanwhile, Mr Pence said that he had “no interest or no intention” of pardoning people who assaulted police or vandalised property during the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th 2021.
Mr Pence also said that if elected to the White House he would build up the US military “to send a deafening message to China and any other power in the world that the United States will defend our interests and defend our allies and have the ability to do it”.
He also said the Chinese-owned app TikTok should not just be banned from government institutions in the United States but “should be banned from this country, period, full stop”.
Mr Pence also said that gender transition procedures should not be allowed for anyone under the age of 18.