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As Trump probes intensify, foes of ex-president see opening

WASHINGTON (AP) — An investigation into Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents has intensified in recent weeks, with prosecutors summoning a broad range of witnesses before a federal grand jury and zeroing in on questions of whether the former president or others obstructed government efforts to recover the records.

It remains unclear when the investigation led by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith might end or whether Trump might face charges over documents found at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate. But as probes in Washington and Atlanta proceed, Republican critics of Trump see an opportunity for intensifying legal woes to knock him off his frontrunner mantle in the 2024 presidential race in a way that an earlier indictment in New York failed to do.

The ongoing investigations “are the ones that have the meat,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime Republican donor who has become a vocal Trump critic.

”It’s very, very serious,” she said. “It ought to have a real impact on the American people. And if it doesn’t, all I can do is shake my head in bewilderment.”

A grand jury in the Mar-a-Lago case has heard testimony over the last few months from numerous Trump associates. Prosecutors have put before the panel a lawyer who helped respond to Justice Department demands for the documents last year, and have also been interested in Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage. At least one witness was asked to testify a second time, suggesting prosecutors may be looking to lock in particular testimony they view as useful, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss secret grand jury proceedings.

In a message Friday on his Truth Social platform, Trump accused Smith of “harassing and threatening my people” over the documents investigation, which he called a “hoax.” His lawyers have similarly sought to pre-emptively attack any indictment, telling the House Intelligence Committee in a letter last month that the Justice Department “should be ordered to stand down” from the probe.

Investigators have cast a wide net over the last year, interviewing witnesses about Trump’s handling of classified documents as president and trying to determine whether, more recently, he’s tried to hide any records that were taken to Mar-a-Lago or shown those documents to anyone, people familiar with the matter have said.

Prosecutors have focused on the question of potential obstruction, including the response to a subpoena they issued in May 2022 seeking the return of classified records in Trump’s possession. Among the witnesses who testified last week was Matthew Calamari Jr., the director of security at Trump Organization, Trump’s company, according to one of the people.

Calamari’s testimony could be relevant to the case since prosecutors subpoenaed the Trump Organization last year for surveillance footage from the Palm Beach property. Footage they reviewed showed a Trump associate moving boxes of documents out of a storage room after the subpoena was issued. Other media organizations reported that Calamari’s father, also named Matthew Calamari, a Trump organization executive vice president, testified last week as well.

A moment that underscored the gravity of the case came in March when Smith’s team secured the testimony of Trump lawyer M. Evan Corcoran after convincing a judge in sealed proceedings that Trump had used Corcoran’s legal services in furtherance of a crime.

Corcoran helped draft a letter last June to the Justice Department attesting that Trump’s team had conducted a “diligent search” for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago in response to the government’s subpoena. At that time, the Trump team produced roughly three dozen classified documents, on top of 15 boxes of records returned in January 2022 to the National Archives and Records Administration.

But prosecutors suspected that even more classified records remained, and they obtained a search warrant last August to seize more than 100 additional records.

In their letter, Trump’s lawyers said that Corcoran expected investigators to return to Mar-a-Lago to go through any boxes of documents that remained and that he and Trump “understood this to be the beginning, not the end, of working cooperatively.” Though the letter was addressed to lawmakers, it presumably includes arguments the lawyers would make to try to head off any indictment.

Prosecutors on Smith’s team have simultaneously pressed forward with a separate probe into efforts by Trump and allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election, winning court orders to question key advisers and aides before the grand jury. Among the witnesses to appear was former Vice President Mike Pence, who two weeks ago spent hours inside the Washington courthouse.

Georgia state prosecutors are investigating whether Trump or anyone else committed crimes in trying to undo his narrow loss in that state to Democrat Joe Biden.

The investigations are in addition to the March indictment from the Manhattan district attorney arising from hush-money payments during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to a porn actor who alleged an extramarital sexual encounter with him years earlier.

Though a blow legally, the indictment seemed a boon for Trump in the Republican Party’s evolving presidential primary contest ahead of the 2024 election. Trump’s standing in the GOP had been slipping until he was charged, when suddenly, Republicans across the political spectrum rushed to defend him against what they framed as a questionable, politically motivated prosecution.

Today, polling suggests that Trump is the dominant frontrunner in the GOP’s growing 2024 field.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s chief primary rival, has struggled to maintain the same level of strength he wielded prior to Trump’s indictment. But as the governor prepares to launch his campaign officially, his allies are quietly confident that Trump’s baggage will eventually catch up to him.

Former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a frequent Trump critic, described the New York indictment as “somewhat of a swing and a miss.”

Yet any further indictments prosecutors might bring, Duncan said, “are going to be a whole different amplitude that he’s gonna have to deal with.”

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Peoples reported from New York.

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