Merrick Garland Taps Special Counsel to Handle Trump Investigations

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday named a special counsel to oversee two ongoing criminal investigations involving former President Donald Trump, a decision intended to put some distance between a top member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet and investigations into Trump, who formally launched his 2024 campaign for President this week.

The appointment removes Garland from being in direct control of the two high stakes investigations targeting Trump, one exploring the former President’s role in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and the other looking into his taking of classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida when he left office. Garland made clear in his announcement that the timing was tied to Trump’s campaign launch three days ago.
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“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 it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Garland told reporters at the Department of Justice on Friday.

Garland named veteran prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel. Smith is a former chief of the Department of Justice’s public integrity section, has served as a U.S. attorney, and has extensive experience supervising complex war crime cases in international courts. Smith most recently has been prosecuting war crimes committed in Kosovo in the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office at the international criminal court at The Hague. Smith is “an impartial and determined prosecutor,” Garland said.

The move signals that the federal investigations into Trump are moving forward in a robust way and that prosecutors are looking closely at Trump’s role in blocking the peaceful transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election, as well as how he handled highly sensitive documents after leaving office and whether he obstructed federal investigators looking to retrieve them.

Read more: How Trump Survived Decades of Legal Trouble

Trump told Fox News Digital on Friday that he is “not going to partake” in the special counsel’s investigations and called on the Republican Party to “fight” on his behalf.

Trump sees the Department of Justice investigations as an extension of six years of inquiries into his conduct, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump, Trump’s first impeachment in December 2019 for trying to get Ukraine to launch a politically-motivated investigation into Joe Biden, as well as his second impeachment in January 2021 for inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“For six years I have been going through this, and I am not going to go through it anymore,” Trump told Fox News Digital in an interview. “I am not going to partake in it,” Trump said. The decision to hand both investigations to a special counsel is “political” and “a disgrace,” he said.

“It is unfair to the country, to the Republican Party, and I don’t think people should accept it. I am not going to accept it,” Trump said. “The Republican Party has to stand up and fight.”

Read more: What Would Trump Be Like Back on Twitter?

As special counsel, Smith will lead the Department of Justice’s “investigation into whether any person or entity unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the electoral college vote held on or about Jan. 6, 2021,” Garland said. Smith will also oversee “the ongoing investigation involving classified documents and other presidential records, as well as the possible obstruction of that investigation referenced and described in court filings,” said Garland.

Smith will be the one who decides whether to bring charges in those cases. “As special counsel, he will exercise independent prosecutorial judgment to decide whether charges should be brought,” Garland said.

The FBI searched Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 and found dozens of documents with classified markings mixed in with Trump’s personal effects. Trump denied he had blocked federal requests to return the documents, but the National Archives has said that officials had engaged with Trump’s lawyers for more than a year over returning the papers.

The Department of Justice has also been moving forward in its investigation of who around Trump orchestrated slates of fake electors following Trump’s 2020 election loss and organized efforts to disrupt the certification of electoral college votes in the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Garland’s decision to put that investigation under the special counsel as well is a sign that prosecutors are targeting Trump’s involvement in disrupting the transfer of power.