In a widely expected move, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel for two ongoing federal investigations involving former President Donald Trump just days after Trump announced his reelection bid.
“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’ve concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Garland said in brief televised remarks delivered from the Justice Department.
The appointment, Garland said, “underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters.”
A former career prosecutor, Smith, a veteran of the Justice Department who is currently the chief prosecutor in the special court in the Hague for war crimes in Kosovo, will lead two investigations currently being led by Justice Department officials.
The first is an 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 January 6, 2021,” Garland said.
The second probe involves Trump’s handling of classified documents and other records as well as the possible obstruction of that investigation, Garland said.
Smith will return to United States and begin his work immediately, Garland said.
In a statement, Smith said, “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. The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch.”
Garland’s announcement came three days after Trump announced that he would run for the presidency in 2024, a move that complicated the Justice Department’s investigations under Garland’s leadership. While the department operates independently from the White House, Garland is a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the president.
While defending the work of current prosecutors leading the investigations, Garland nonetheless said appointing a special counsel was the “right thing to do.”