- Max Matza
- BBC – Washington
He appointed an independent attorney to serve as a special prosecutor to oversee the US Department of Justice’s criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced at a press conference that Jack Smith, a former war crimes prosecutor, has been appointed as a special counsel to oversee these investigations.
Smith will lead investigations into how Trump handled classified documents, and his alleged role in the Capitol riot.
Trump, who has been the subject of several other investigations, has denied any wrongdoing.
Smith will ultimately decide whether Republican Trump, who announced three days ago his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, will face criminal charges.
“In some exceptional cases, it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently administer the investigation and prosecution,” Garland said Friday.
He added, “Because of the recent developments, including the former president’s announcement of his candidacy for the upcoming elections, and the current president’s intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that the matter is in the public interest.”
He considered that this step would give the public confidence in the investigation.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Trump told Fox News on Friday after announcing his decision.
“They didn’t find anything. I declared (my candidacy) and then they appointed a special prosecutor. This is a disgrace, and it only happens because I’m ahead in every poll.”
Smith is a former prosecutor in New York and most recently served as chief prosecutor in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo.
Garland said Smith will return to the United States to begin work immediately.
Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America correspondent, believes that “nearly half of the country will view Joe Biden’s Justice Department move to indict a man who could face him in the 2024 general presidential election as suspicious, regardless of any guarantees of impartiality.”
“Handing this over to a special counsel, and giving that counsel the power to do as he sees fit, provides the Biden administration at least some measure of isolation against such allegations,” he adds. He also notes that the Justice Department believes there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Trump, because it could have simply been given up. baseless case without taking action.”
“It is my intention to conduct the required investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” Smith said in a statement after his appointment.
He added, “The pace of investigations will not stop under my supervision. I will exercise independent judgment and advance investigations expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”
Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency on Tuesday night from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and was previously searched by FBI agents and confiscated top secret documents from him. Their investigation into whether Trump broke the law by keeping the documents there after he left the White House continues.
The Justice Department is also conducting a separate criminal investigation into the January 6, 2021 riots and broader efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, but this is largely shrouded in secrecy.
The investigation has been described as the largest police investigation in US history, but the extent to which Trump was targeted is unclear.
Meanwhile, a congressional committee was examining the riots that saw Trump supporters storm the Capitol building in Washington, in an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
The committee has hinted that the Justice Department may recommend that Trump face criminal charges for his alleged role in the riots.