Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland designated a former federal and international war crimes prosecutor as special counsel to supervise investigations of former President Donald Trump by the Justice Department.
Jack Smith, a former leader of the Justice Department’s public corruption branch since 2018 and the leading prosecutor at The Hague prosecuting Kosovo war crimes, will be the third special counsel in five years to investigate Mr. Trump’s affairs.
He will direct the investigation into the handling of secret information at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and the broader Justice Department inquiry into Mr. Trump and his associates’ efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat.
In a short document appointing Mr. Smith, Mr. Garland stated that the Special Counsel is empowered to pursue federal offenses stemming from this inquiry.
The letter stated that Mr. Smith’s jurisdiction does not cover proceedings against anyone physically present during the disturbance at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, caused by Trump supporters attempting to reverse his defeat and maintain him in power. Prosecutors have prosecuted over 900 suspected rioters, and over half have pled guilty.
The appointment occurred three days after Mr. Trump began his re-election candidacy. Mr. Garland said in remarks on Friday that he believes that appointing a special counsel is in the public interest given recent events, including the announcement by the former president that he will run in the next election and the announcement by the current president that he plans to run as well. This appointment will not delay the conclusion of these probes.
“Here we go again!” Mr. Trump stated on his Truth Social platform that he believed the January 6 probe to be “dead” and that the fake document case was “dead” or “dying fast.” Trump also stated that the Democrat Justice Department has nothing but Trump haters, so they immediately hired a Special Prosecutor to pursue him. “Disgraceful!”
According to the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, the president was not informed of Mr. Garland’s plan to appoint a special counsel. She stated that the Department of Justice makes autonomous choices about criminal investigations.
According to the Justice Department, Mr. Smith, who was still at The Hague on Friday, is anticipated to assume his new job immediately. Mr. Smith stated in a statement given by the agency that he would undertake the investigations independently. Under his watch, the speed of the investigations will not slow or falter, he stated.
The selection of Mr. Smith, a political independent, illustrates the sensitivity of Mr. Garland supervising any probe against Mr. Trump now that he has launched his candidacy for president. President Biden, who has announced his intention to compete for re-election in 2024, chose Mr. Garland to lead the Justice Department partly because the former judge pledged to shield the department from political interference. As president, Mr. Trump has repeatedly declared that the attorney general owes a president personal devotion and should use the Justice Department against his political rivals.
Several legal professionals anticipated such an appointment. The regulations regulating special counsels permit the attorney general to appoint an outsider if he considers that the investigation or prosecution constitutes a conflict of interest for the department and that the recusal of particular employees is insufficient to alleviate the concerns. Special-counsel investigations may continue into succeeding administrations.
Some former Justice Department officials and prosecutors have stated that such a nomination would do nothing to quell Mr. Trump’s supporters’ criticism of the FBI and Justice Department. Others said that the nomination establishes an unwarranted precedent for adding outsiders to high-profile investigations and conveys the impression that the Justice Department cannot be trusted to make decisions about politically sensitive subjects.
The attorney general was in a difficult position, said a former Deputy. After appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel regarding the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Trump campaign ties, Rod Rosenstein faced intense criticism from fellow Republicans. He stated that Garland broke new ground in appointing a special counsel to investigate an opponent of the current administration rather than an ally.
A special counsel’s appointment will not eliminate the appearance of any conflict of interest, as Mr. Garland and other officials are still likely to be involved in some investigation-related decision-making, according to individuals with knowledge of past special counsels.
The attorney general stated that he would guarantee Mr. Smith had the resources necessary to complete his task efficiently. The special counsel has the right to recruit extra personnel, although it is likely that professional prosecutors will continue their job.
Given the tumultuous history of the last two appointments, the next special counsel will likely demonstrate the complexities of investigating a former president and a current presidential contender. Mr. Mueller, whose team in 2019 identified Russia as conducting a two-pronged effort of misinformation and computer hacking against Democrats, uncovered numerous communications between Russia-linked companies and Trump campaign aides around the same period but did not prove a conspiracy.
He did detail repeated efforts by Mr. Trump to curtail or shut down his investigation, and he prosecuted several of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers for lying to investigators or other financial crimes, as Mr. Trump for months publicly attacked Mr. Mueller as conducting a partisan “witch hunt” based on insufficient evidence. In his closing days in office, Mr. Trump pardoned the aides. Then-Attorney General William Barr ruled that the information presented by the special counsel was inadequate to demonstrate that Mr. Trump had committed a crime.
Mr. Barr named John Durham as a second special counsel to examine the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation. One of Mr. Durham’s two criminal cases concluded with an acquittal last month. In the coming weeks, he is anticipated to give a final report. Still, his stint as special counsel remains alive, marking the first time in Justice Department history that two special counsels are operational.
FBI agents searched Mr. Trump’s Florida home in August. They seized boxes of government records, including approximately 100 classified documents that could only be viewed in special government facilities, following a months-long tug-of-war between Mr. Trump’s team and federal officials from the National Archives and the Justice Department.
In the following months, Justice Department investigators pursued interviews with several of Mr. Trump’s top aides, granting at least one immunity in exchange for his testimony and informing another who had handled some of the boxes in question that they believed he provided a misleading account of his actions.
It is also believed that the Justice Department has served more than a dozen subpoenas on individuals associated with Mr. Trump, including by sending fake slates of electors from several battleground states to Congress and planning the rally preceding the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that prosecutors are also investigating the behavior of a former Justice Department employee who attempted to help Mr. Trump reverse his defeat.
Mr. Trump has maintained that he committed no wrongdoing and has continued to accuse the Justice Department and the House select committee examining the events of January 6 of conducting a politicized witch hunt.