Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a prosecutor to investigate Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of Attorney General Jack Smith as special counsel in two investigations into former President Donald Trump.
The first investigation concerns whether “a person or organization interfered with the transfer of power in the wake of the 2020 election”.
The second is looking into whether Trump mishandled public documents and other presidential records after he left office, and whether he obstructed the investigation of those documents.
Garland cited Trump’s decision on Tuesday to set up the 2024 presidential election, as well as US President Joe Biden’s intention to run, as reasons for creating a special counsel.
“It is in the best interest of the people to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation and prosecution based on recent events, including the fact that the former president has announced his candidacy for the next election and the incumbent president has said he wants to be president as well,” Garland said.
After his defeat in 2020, Trump claimed that the election was “stolen”, fueling conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of the vote.
Such claims contributed to the January 6 violent attack on the US Capitol, where Trump supporters tried to stop Congress from confirming Biden as president. Trump’s involvement in the attack and what happened are part of an ongoing investigation.
Throughout the press conference, Mr. Garland insisted that the special judge “will make an independent decision to decide whether to prosecute”. Garland also said the special counsel would be empowered “to prosecute any charges that may arise as a result of this investigation”.
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan said Garland’s decision to recuse herself from the investigation and appoint a special counsel was aimed at preventing “conflict of opinion”.
“This is a situation where the Department of Justice is trying to make sure that this process is completed but there is no way to accuse the department of trying to lean or oppose Donald Trump, or [of] we’re working with Joe Biden,” Jordan said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday that Biden “did not respond” to Garland’s announcement, referring their questions to the US Department of Justice.
“I just want to make it clear: We were not informed in advance. The Ministry of Justice makes its own decision about criminal investigations. We did not participate,” said Mr. Jean-Pierre.
Smith, a newly appointed special prosecutor, currently serves in the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague, Netherlands, where he investigates war crimes. Previously, he served as the head of the Public Integrity Section at the US Department of Justice from 2010 to 2015.
Smith will return to the US immediately to lead the investigation.
In a statement, Garland described Smith “as an unbiased and determined prosecutor who leads powerful teams and looks to pursue the truth wherever he leads”.
He also mentioned Smith’s previous work with the Department of Justice of the United States, where he “led a team of more than 30 prosecutors who worked on corruption and election crimes”.
“Based on the work done to date and Mr. Smith’s judicial experience, I am confident that this appointment will not detract from the completion of this investigation,” Garland said.
“The men and women who are doing this research are doing it according to the highest level of expertise. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”