WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland On Friday, a special counsel was appointed to oversee two major criminal investigations that involved former President Donald J. TrumpThis article examines his role in the events that led to Jan. 6’s attack on Capitol Hill and his decision not to destroy sensitive documents from his Florida home.
In naming Jack Smith, the former head of the Justice Department’s public integrity section and a veteran war crimes prosecutor, Mr. Garland The department is trying to protect itself from claims that Mr. Trump They are motivated by politics
Mr. Garland Mr. Trump He was inspired by President Biden to take an “extraordinary” step. Mr. Trump On Tuesday, he announced that he would be pursuing a third bid for Biden has stated that he will run for the presidency in 2024.
“Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” “Mr. GarlandThe final decision on whether Mr. Trump After Mr. Smith makes recommendations, the accused is charged with a crime.
Mr. Garland Smith stressed that the move would not slow down the pace of either investigative, especially the documents inquiry, which is progressing faster than the Jan.6 case. In a statement, Smith promised that the investigations would progress quickly. “to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”
Mr. Trump The appointment was quickly attacked, claiming it to be an extension of the many investigations he’s faced since his presidency started.
“I have been going through this for six years — for six years I have been going through this, and I am not going to go through it anymore,” Mr. Trump told Fox News Digital. “And I hope the Republicans have the courage to fight this.”
He called for the appointment “the worst politicization of justice.” White House officials denied that they were involved in the decision.
Special Counsels are usually more autonomous than regular prosecutors, but report to the attorney general. If Mr. Smith decides there is sufficient evidence for Mr. Trump, for instance, Mr. Garland You would still need to sign off.
Even before Mr. Smith’s appointment, there were signs that prosecutors in both cases were accelerating their investigations after a brief slowdown before the midterm elections.
Learn the Story of January 6
Recent days saw documents being subpoenaed by the Justice Department from Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign and from Save America, the political action committee his aides formed shortly after Election Day two years ago as Mr. Trump According to two people briefed, they tried to reverse the results.
Mr. Trump Subpoenas were also issued to Make America Great Again, and to a joint fund-raising committee. This indicates that the Justice Department wants to determine if Mr. Trump’s aides knew he had lost but continued to raise money to fight the outcome.
A few Mr. Trump’s aides were alerted to subpoenas in connection with the documents case, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Mr. Garland’s move has the practical effect of merging two concurrent investigations that had not officially intersected before Friday. Perhaps the confluence was inevitable. In recent weeks, witnesses were contacted regarding both inquiries. Trump His false claims about 2020 election supporters were supported by his associates, who vociferously supported him in the documents case.
Senior department officials stressed that Mr. Smith was registered as an independent political candidate, and that Mr. Garland I made it a point to express gratitude to F.B.I. and federal prosecutors. Agents already involved in the investigation, some of which have been targeted by Trump supporters.
Since 2018, Mr. Smith has been the chief prosecutor at The Hague’s special court, which prosecutes war crimes in Kosovo. Although a Justice Department official stated that he would soon be moving to Washington, he wasn’t present. for The announcement was made because he had recently hurt his knee in a bike accident.
Smith was a well-known prosecutor in New York’s Eastern District. for Former colleagues spoke highly of his confidence and willingness to take on politically sensitive cases.
“Jack is the consummate prosecutor and public servant: intelligent, balanced and fair,” James McGovern is a partner at Hogan Lovells, who was a co-worker with Mr. Smith for years at the federal prosecutor’s office in Brooklyn. “I have no idea what his political beliefs are because he’s completely apolitical. He’s committed to doing what is right.”
Even though Mr. Garland cast his decision as an effort to ensure public faith in the impartiality in the department’s investigations of Mr. Trump, it remains unclear if Mr. Smith’s appointment will influence public perception in a meaningful way.
Mr. Trump His supporters claim that Mr. Biden used the department to attack his chief political opponent. One day earlier, Mr. Garland’s announcement, House Republicans signaled their intention to investigate the department when they take control of the chamber in January. Many Democrats and anti-democratic groups also supported the move.Trump Anything less than Mr. Trump’s indictment and conviction.
Still, if he abides by Mr. Smith’s recommendations, Mr. Garland can say he was adhering to the guidance of an arbiter with a greater degree of independence than prosecutors in the department’s typical line of authority.
On Friday, Mr. Smith signed the order to appoint Mr. Smith. Garland, named Mr. Trump In connection with the documents case. It also authorized the special counsel. “conduct the ongoing investigation into whether any person or entity violated the law” The following is a connection to the “lawful transfer of power” After the 2020 elections.
The investigation into Mr. Trump As part of its extensive investigation into the Jan. 6, attack, it brought about 900 prosecutions. A portion of that investigation has been focused on the so-called fake election scheme, in which Mr. Trump A collection of purported voters was assembled and pledged to Mr. Trump Swing states won by Mr. Biden
The documents investigation began quietly. There were increasing requests from the National Archives for hundreds of records Mr. Trump Shipped from White House to Mar-a-Lago his private resort, Mar-a-Lago. This changed when federal agents searched the property. They found a wealth of sensitive government documents that included some marked with the most restrictive classification marks. Trump’s legal team said all such material had been returned.
The case for documents has increasingly been centered around Mr. TrumpAfter the Justice Department obtained a subpoena for the material in May, it was recovered from him and his family.
Federal prosecutors referenced a section in the Espionage Act, which makes it illegal to possess documents of national security that could be obtained by foreign powers and an obstruction statute in their request for a search warrant.
Special Counselors are available for High-ranking investigations where there may be a conflict or appearance of conflict of interest. They cannot be removed if their misconduct is committed. If an attorney general rules against a special counsel’s request, the department must notify Congress.
Under anonymity, department officials said that Mr. Smith was the first person to be considered for Mr. Garland His team began to think about the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor this year. This is due to his extensive experience and reputation for being a fair and hard-nosed prosecutor.
Harvard Law School graduate, Mr. Smith had previously investigated war crimes. for the International Criminal Court and helped prosecute officers in a police brutality case in New York before taking on the role that most overlaps with his new assignment: running the Justice Department’s public integrity section from 2010 to 2015.
It is difficult to find a comparable assignment as investigating a former president or active presidential candidate. Smith is a veteran in high-profile investigations into corruption within government, including cases involving members Congress.
Some of the cases he investigated were not prosecuted.
One of the most notable cases the public integrity section did pursue under his watch was the successful prosecution of the former Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, on corruption charges — a conviction later overturned by the Supreme Court. He was also responsible for the prosecution of Rick Renzi, a Republican congressman from Arizona. This case was later overturned by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Smith was also involved in the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling (a former C.I.A. agent). officer. He was convicted of mishandling national security secrets and of obstruction of justice in connection with accusations that he leaked information about a secret operation to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program to a reporter for The New York Times.
“Jack is not political at all,” said Lanny Breuer, the former assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s criminal division, who recruited Mr. Smith to the job. “He is straight down the middle.”
Mr. Smith worked then for For many years, he was the No. Two federal prosecutors in Nashville before returning to Europe to handle war crimes cases.
For Mr. TrumpIt will be a return of a familiar dynamic. In the first half his term, he was subject to a special counsel investigation by Robert S. Mueller III. This probe examined various connections between his 2016 campaign, Russia, and his presidency.
Mr. Trump’s supporters have already accused the Justice Department under the Biden administration of investigating him for Some Republicans are open to the idea of Mr. Impeaching for political reasons. Garland If he brings charges against the former President. The tension will only grow with the arrest of Mr. Trump Are you a candidate? for Again, president
The department has “a true conflict of interest, real or perceived,” Claire Finkelstein, a University of Pennsylvania professor of law and the founder of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law. “Garland won’t be running for president, but his direct boss will be. It would be difficult to put measures in place that would reassure people that the Justice Department was acting with independence on the Trump investigation.”
Katie Benner, Adam Goldman And Michael S. Schmidt Contributed reporting