Garland to Name Special Counsel for Trump Investigations
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to take over two major criminal investigations involving former President Donald Trump, including his role in events leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and his handling of sensitive government documents.
Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor who led the Justice Department’s public integrity section in Washington and who later served as the acting chief federal prosecutor in Nashville, Tennessee, during the Obama administration, has been selected to fill the role.
More recently, he has been the chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, Netherlands, that is tasked with investigating international war crimes.
Garland announced the move on Friday afternoon, three days after Trump announced he planned to run for president in 2024. He did not take questions after reading the 7 1/2-minute statement.
“The Department of Justice has long recognized that in certain extraordinary cases it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution,” Garland said.
“Based on recent developments, including the former president’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election and the sitting president’s stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” he said.
He went on to say the appointment “underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters.”
“It also allows prosecutors and agents to continue their work expeditiously and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law,” he said.
According to Justice Department regulations, special counsels can be appointed for high-level investigations when a conflict of interest arises or if there is even the possibility of an appearance of one.
In this case, the appointment of a special counsel is a way for the Justice Department to insulate its investigations against charges it is pursuing a case against Trump to upend his political aspirations.
Garland said Smith, who will immediately return to the U.S. from The Hague to take up his new role, “has built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor who leads teams with energy and focus to follow the facts wherever they lead.”
“As special counsel, he will exercise independent prosecutorial judgment to decide whether charges should be brought,” the attorney general said.
“Although the special counsel will not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the department, he must comply with the regulations, procedures and policies of the department,” Garland continued. “I will ensure that the special counsel receives the resources to conduct this work quickly and completely. Given the work to date and Smith’s prosecutorial experience, I am confident that this appointment will not slow the completion of these investigations.”
In a statement released by the Justice Department in the wake of Garland’s press conference, Smith vowed to conduct the assigned investigations with integrity adn independence.
“The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch,” he said. “I will exercise independent judgement and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate,” he said.
Trump’s supporters have long accused the Justice Department under the Biden administration of investigating Trump for political reasons.
But on Friday Garland said all of the career prosecutors assigned to Trump-related cases had conducted their work “in the best traditions of the Department of Justice.”
He went on to describe the prosecutors, FBI agents and other law enforcement personnel assigned to the investigations as “working courageously and steadfastly” and said they have served the nation honorably.
“I am grateful to them. We all are,” Garland said.
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @DanMcCue
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