(Updated with new information throughout.) A big move from Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday: He named a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department's investigation into the presence of classified documents at former President Trump's Florida estate as well as key aspects of a separate probe involving the Capitol riot and efforts to undo the 2020 election. The move, 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, per the AP.
Garland said Friday that Trump’s announcement of his presidential candidacy and President Biden’s likely 2024 run were factors in his decision to appoint Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor, to be the special counsel. Garland said the appointment would allow prosecutors to continue their work “indisputably guided” only by the facts and the law. “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. “The extraordinary circumstances here demand it."
Smith, who led the Justice Department's public integrity section in Washington and who later served as the acting chief federal prosecutor in Nashville, Tennessee, during the Obama administration, is set to begin his work “immediately,” Garland said. Smith has also been the chief prosecutor for the special court in the Hague that is tasked with investigating international war crimes. 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 ultimate say of whether to bring charges. Trump representatives didn't immediately return messages seeking comment. (Read more Merrick Garland stories.)