Attorney General Merrick Garland named a special counsel on Friday 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 probe involving the Jan. 6 insurrection and efforts to undo the 2020 election.
The appointment of veteran prosecutor Jack Smith, announced just three days after Trump formally launched his 2024 candidacy, is a recognition of the unmistakable political implications of two investigations that involve not only a former president but also a current White House hopeful.
It installs a new chain of command over sensitive probes seen as likely to accelerate now that the midterm elections have concluded, with Garland citing Trump’s entry into the race and President Joe Biden’s stated intention to run again as reasons for Smith’s sudden appointment.
Though the appointment installs a new supervisor atop the probes — both of which are expected to accelerate now that the midterm elections are complete — the special counsel will still report to Garland, who has the ultimate say in whether to bring charges.
“The Department of Justice has long recognized that in certain extraordinary cases, it is in the public’s interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution,” Garland said from the Justice Department’s podium.
Smith, who led the Justice Department’s public integrity section in Washington and later served as the acting chief federal prosecutor in Nashville, Tennessee, during the Obama administration, is set to begin his work immediately, Garland said. He has been serving since 2018 as chief prosecutor for the special court in the Hague that is tasked with investigating international war crimes.
Smith Is a Registered Independent
The Justice Department described Smith as a registered independent, an effort to blunt any attack of 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 exercise independent prosecutorial judgment to decide whether charges should be brought.”
“The extraordinary circumstances here demand it,” Garland said of the appointment.
In a statement released by the Justice Department, Smith said he intended to do his work independently and “in the best traditions of the Department of Justice.”
“The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch,” he vowed.
Trump Spokesman Labels Appointment a ‘Political Stunt’
A Trump spokesperson responded to the appointment by calling it “a totally expected political stunt by a feckless, politicized, weaponized Biden Department of Justice.”