Garland names a special counsel to lead investigations related to Trump

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the presence of classified documents at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, as well as key aspects of a separate investigation related to the 6/19/2021 riot and efforts to stop the election of 2020 to undo.

The move, announced just three days after Trump’s 2024 candidacy officially launched, is a recognition of the unmistakable political implications of two investigations involving not only a former president but also a current White House hopeful.

Garland said Friday that Trump’s announcement of his presidential candidacy and President Joe Biden’s expected term of office in 2024 were factors in his decision to appoint Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor, as special counsel. Garland said the appointment would allow prosecutors to continue their work “undeniably guided only by the facts and the law.”

“The Justice Department has long recognized that in certain exceptional cases, it is in the public interest to appoint a special attorney to independently lead an investigation and prosecution,” said Garland from the Justice Department panel. “Based on recent developments, including the former President’s announcement that he will stand as a candidate for President in the next elections and the incumbent President’s stated intention to also run, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel.”

Although the appointment puts in a new supervisor for the probes — both of which are expected to be accelerated now that the midterm elections are over — the special counsel will still report to Garland, who has the final say on whether charges will be filed .

Smith, a veteran prosecutor who headed the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Division in Washington and later served as an assistant attorney general in Nashville, Tenn., during the Obama administration, is scheduled to begin work “immediately,” Garland said. Smith was also Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court in The Hague charged with investigating international war crimes.

The Justice Department described Smith as a registered independent, an attempt to ward off any attack on perceived political bias. Trump is a Republican and Biden is a Democrat.

“Throughout his career, Jack Smith has built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor who leads teams with energy and focus to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Garland said. “As Special Counsel, he will provide independent prosecutorial judgment to determine whether charges should be filed.”

“The extraordinary circumstances here call for it,” Garland said of the appointment.

The special counsel’s investigation will combine an investigation into “whether any person or entity unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election” and an investigation into the classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Garland said he will ensure the special counsel has the resources to do the job “quickly and completely.”

Trump officials did not immediately respond for comment, and Biden ignored questions called by reporters about the appointment.

The decision to appoint a special counsel may still raise questions from members of Congress. Garland has repeatedly spoken of his unique focus on fact, evidence and the law in the Justice Department’s decision-making and his determination to restore the agency’s political independence after the tumultuous years of the Trump administration.

And there appears to be no apparent conflict like the one that prompted the recent appointment of a special counsel to handle Trump-related investigations. The Trump Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, and Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.

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