Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the Trump investigation

In a statement Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the attorney general, Merrick Garland, has appointed Jack Smith as a special counsel in charge of two Justice Department investigations related to former President Donald Trump. You can read a file Appointment order here.

The announcement is an important development that underscores the seriousness of the investigations into Trump – one in his attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 elections, and the other in his country. Handling confidential documents.

It’s unclear if the move would change much about those investigations, which were already going aggressively. That is: it is not about hiring a tough new attorney general to take on Trump. It is an attempt to allay fears that decision-making in the Justice Department will be driven by politics.

In the ad, Garland noted Trump launches his presidential campaign Earlier this week as well as Biden’s comments that he would likely run for re-election were factors influencing his decision to appoint a special counsel.

Smith is a professional prosecutor who previously headed the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Division Stepping down from the Ministry of Justice in 2017. After his departure, he Has been appointed Chief Prosecutor for an EU body investigating war crimes in Kosovo and operating from The Hague. He’s still out and didn’t appear at Garland’s announcement.

The special counsel operates outside the normal DOJ chain of command and is, in theory, more insulated from pressure to do the DOJ bosses’ bidding. in addition to, According to the regulationsSpecial Counsel can only be fired for “good cause”.

However, Special Advisor is not truly an independent operator. Attorney general He can still overrule Any of his decisions – although the AG has to notify Congress that he did so. This means, effectively, that any decisions on possible indictments against Trump or others will remain under review by Garland.

In practice, Smith’s recommendations are likely to carry significant weight, and much can hinge on his judgment. For example, if he recommends that Trump not be indicted, senior management officials are less likely to overrule him. And if he recommended charges, Garland might hesitate to overrule him there, too.

What Jack Smith Will – And Won’t – Investigate

Smith was assigned two important investigations.

The first investigation, Garland said, is to “investigate whether any person or entity unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election, or with the certification of an Electoral College vote conducted on or about January 6, 2021.”

Translation: It is about whether Trump or people close to him broke laws in their efforts to overturn Biden’s election victory.

Smith is not handling the investigations into the rioters who actually stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Those investigations, which led to Hundreds of trials already, will remain under the supervision of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. (The Board of Inquiry Commission January 6 is a separate matter they can’t charge anyone criminally and focus on writing a report on their findings before Republicans take the chamber in January).

The second investigation assigned to Smith, Garland said, is “the ongoing investigation of classified documents and other presidential records, as well as the potential obstruction of that investigation.”

This is the investigation into whether Trump improperly brought classified documents to his Florida club, Mar-a-Lago, or elsewhere, but note the mention of possible obstruction as well. Chris Strom from Bloomberg reported in oct that some Justice Department prosecutors believe there is enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction, apparently due to his lack of candor about whether he returned all documents in his possession.

Don’t expect Jack Smith to be Robert Mueller

The obvious comparison for Smith’s appointment is the last special counsel who investigated Trump: Robert Mueller. But this appointment looks different in some important ways.

for one, Mueller was appointed special counsel To take over an investigation that threatened the sitting president—his appointment was intended to send the message that Trump’s relations with Russia would indeed be subject to vigorous investigation even though the Justice Department was under the leadership of Trump appointees.

Here, the rationale is basically the opposite. Smith’s appointment is intended to allay fears that any final decisions on impeaching Trump may be driven by politics rather than law. (Good luck with that.)

Mueller also built his own team to greatly expand a pre-existing FBI investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, and has worked on it for nearly two years. It’s not clear whether Smith will fix things much — or take a long time.

Investigations into Trump’s election interference and classified documents have been going on at the Justice Department for some time and appear to be fairly advanced. Smith can take over the current investigations and ask his attorneys and agents for a detail to work with.

“The pace of investigations will not pause or raise a flag under my watch,” Smith said he said in a statement Friday. “I will exercise independent judgment and move investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to any outcome dictated by the facts and the law.”

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