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War Crimes Prosecutor Will Decide Whether Trump Gets Charged

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday that he had appointed a special counsel to weigh criminal charges against former President Donald Trump over two ongoing investigations: Trump’s potential mishandling and retention of classified materials, and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“The Department of Justice has long recognized that in certain extraordinary cases it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution,” Garland said Friday at the DOJ building in Washington, D.C.

Garland went on to say he had already signed an order appointing Jack Smith to serve as the special counsel.

Smith, who started out as a local Manhattan prosecutor before moving to the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes, is a veteran prosecutor who once led the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section. The Attorney General said Smith would soon be rushed back on a plane from The Hague to take on his new responsibilities “immediately.”

Trump’s Election Gambit to Avoid Charges Isn’t So Sound

Smith has a record of going after powerful targets. In addition to leading the Public Integrity Section, which handles investigations into politicians and election scandals, Smith also led a federal prosecutor’s office in Tennessee where he aggressively pursued cases against corrupt public officials—particularly those who tried to block investigations.

For example, Smith’s team took down a Tennessee judge who was accused of trading sex for preferential treatment. (The judge, Casey Moreland, was ultimately sentenced to nearly four years in prison.) And Smith also went after a sheriff who coerced female inmates into having sex with him. (The sheriff, Charles Cravens, was also eventually sentenced to nearly three years behind bars.)

Appointing Smith, Garland said, was “the right thing to do.”

“Mr. Smith is the right choice to complete these matters in an even-handed and urgent manner,” he continued.

Based on Trump’s announcement days earlier that he was running for president, and the intention of President Joe Biden—who appointed Garland—to be a candidate as well, the Attorney General concluded it was in “the public interest to employ a special counsel.”

Specifically, Garland said the special counsel would conduct investigations into Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election and disturb the electoral count, as well as an investigation into Trump hoarding top secret documents at his private club in Florida and a potential obstruction of that investigation.

According to court records unsealed in recent months, FBI special agents who searched Trump’s oceanside Florida estate of Mar-a-Lago found that government documents had been altered or destroyed—and a trove of documents remained there despite assurances from the former president’s legal team that they had turned over everything requested by the National Archives.

Donald Trump’s Latest Mar-a-Lago Filing Is a Game of Pretend

While he didn’t take questions Friday, Garland still anticipated some criticism that action at the DOJ hadn’t come quick enough. “I am confident this appointment will not slow the completion of these investigations,” he said.

Garland’s announcement comes just days after Trump declared his 2024 candidacy for president, months into the FBI’s investigation of Trump hoarding classified documents at his private club, and nearly two years into the investigation of Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and remain president.

Although Trump has believed that running for president would offer him some protection from charges, former prosecutors recently told The Daily Beast that theory isn’t so sound, and the appointment of a special counsel indicates that Garland clearly believes Trump could be indicted.

In a statement released after Garland’s press conference, Smith said he intended to conduct the investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, “independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice.”

The investigations would move forward quickly, Smith said, and he promised to follow them “to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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