US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday named former federal prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel for two pending criminal investigations by the Department of Justice of former President Donald Trump.
Smith’s appointment came three days after Trump, a Republican, announced plans to run for president in 2024.
Trump’s move directly led to Garland’s decision to appoint a special counsel.
One case that Smith will handle is focused on whether Trump broke the law and obstructed justice in connection with his removal of hundreds of documents from the White House, which were shipped to his residence at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
The other probe is related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by a mob of Trump supporters.
In addition to previously serving as a career DOJ prosector, Smith most recently was serving as chief prosecutor for the special court in the Hague, in the Netherlands. In that post, which he resigned to take the special counsel post, he investigated war crimes in Kosovo.
Former US President Donald Trump claps as he announces that he will once again run for US president in the 2024 US presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, November 15, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Garland revealed the appointment during a public statement from the DOJ.
“It is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution based on recent developments including the former president’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election and the sitting presidents stated intention to be a candidate as well,” Garland said.
The attorney general said that he was “confident” that the appointment “will not slow the completion of these investigations.”
“I will ensure that the Special Counsel receives the resources to conduct this work quickly and completely,” Garland said.
Garland’s appointment of a special counsel could tamp down concerns that he would have a conflict of interest if he were the one to decide whether Trump should be proecuted. The attorney general was appointed by President Joe Biden, a Democrat who defeated Trump in his 2020 re-election bid.
Biden could again face Trump again in the 2024 election.
A White House official told NBC News on Friday, “DOJ makes decisions about its criminal investigations independently, and we are not involved, so I would refer you to DOJ for any questions on this.”
Barbara McQuade, an NBC News legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, in a Time magazine article on Thursday argued against the idea of a special counsel being appointed in the Trump probes, saying it could potentially delay prosecution so long that he would avoid being held accountable for potential crimes.
“Practical consideration also militate against appointing a special counsel: time,” McQuade wrote.
“Appointing a new lawyer to take over the investigation will create delay. A new lawyer would need to hire his own staff, all of whom would need time to get up to speed,” she wrote.
“If Trump is seeking to regain the Oval Office, then DOJ must complete not only the investigations, but the trials before Jan. 20, 2025. That’s when a newly sworn in President Trump could take the ultimate act of partisanship in prosecution — and pardon himself.”
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