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When I read that Donald Trump said on Truth Social that he received a “target letter” from the Department of Justice, I figured I was not the only person who thought, “Huh?”

Luckily, University of California, Davis criminal law scholar Gabriel J. Chin was on hand to explain what these official letters mean and why the Justice Department sends these warnings to people ahead of likely criminal charges.

Turns out, target letters can benefit both prosecutors and defendants, giving a signal of justice in an investigation. Chin spells out what they tell us about the ongoing criminal case regarding Trump’s alleged involvement in the Capitol attack.

“Advising an individual that they are a target might induce cooperation, and it promotes the appearance of fairness,” Chin writes.

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Amy Lieberman

Politics + Society Editor

Former President Donald Trump appears at a campaign event in Florida for his reelection in July 2023. Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

What is a target letter? 3 things to know about how the Justice Department notifies suspects, like Donald Trump, ahead of possible charges

Gabriel J. Chin, University of California, Davis

The Justice Department issues target letters to people who are about to be charged with crimes, giving them a warning and a chance to get legal counsel.

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