On Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland named Jack Smith, a former Justice Department official in charge of public integrity, to oversee the department’s criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump.
Smith will be in charge of major facets of the department’s Jan. 6 probe as well as inquiries into any mismanagement of presidential records and secret papers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
“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,” Garland said at a news conference.
“Such an 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.”
Three days after Trump declared his intention to run for president again and after Republicans won control of the House in the upcoming Congress, Garland made his decision.
“I strongly believe that the normal processes of this Department can handle all investigations with integrity. And I also believe that appointing a Special Counsel at this time is the right thing to do,” Garland said. “The extraordinary circumstances presented here to demand it. Mr. Smith is the right choice to complete these matters in an even-handed and urgent manner.”
Smith most recently held the position of the chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague responsible for looking into and making decisions about war crimes in Kosovo.
As an assistant US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, he joined the Justice Department in 1999. In 2008, he relocated to the International Criminal Court, where he oversaw all war crimes investigations carried out by the Office of the Prosecutor, until taking over the Justice Department’s public integrity office in 2010.
“I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” Smith said after he was publicly named.
“The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch. I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”
At a gathering on Friday night at his Florida club Mar-a-Lago, Trump discussed the appointment of a special counsel. He invoked terminology from earlier investigations, including as his two impeachment proceedings, by calling the probe a “hoax” and “witch hunt.”
Aside from addressing individuals in the Biden Administration, he ran down a list of current events without mentioning any specific actions he was taking or his intentions to respond to the special counsel.
Robert Mueller, a special counsel, looked into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election while Trump was still in office.
Trump’s campaign did not collude with Russia, according to Mueller, and the president was not indicted. But Mueller did file charges against more than 30 individuals and three businesses.
Eight Trump allies, including Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to the president, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, were found guilty or entered guilty pleas as a result of his efforts.
Later, John Durham was appointed as special counsel to look into potential wrongdoing by the FBI and others in the Russia probe by Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr.
Durham’s only two cases that went to trial both ended in losses. A low-level FBI lawyer who had admitted to changing an email used to get surveillance warrants against a former Trump campaign adviser did, however, enter a guilty plea.