A special prosecutor is taking over the ongoing investigation into ex-President Donald Trump. US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Friday in Washington that experienced prosecutor Jack Smith would oversee the investigation with immediate effect.
Because of Trump's announcement that he would run again in 2024 and President Joe Biden's stated intention to do the same, there was a "public interest" that justified the appointment of a special counsel, Garland argued. The 79-year-old Biden is considering a candidacy, but has not yet made an official decision.
Trump calls move 'pathetic'
The appointment of the special counsel underscores the Justice Department's commitment to independence on particularly sensitive matters, Garland said. Trump described the move on his online platform Truth Social as "pathetic".
The spokeswoman for the White House emphasized on Friday afternoon (local time) in Washington: "As you know, the Department of Justice makes decisions about its criminal investigations independently. We are not involved." US President Joe Biden was also not informed in advance about the appointment. She rejected the accusation that it was a politically motivated action. Trump criticizes the investigation as a whole as politically motivated and has long complained that it was just an attempt by his opponents to prevent him from returning to the White House.
Lawyer Jack Smith, who worked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, among other things, is said to be dealing with investigations into secret government documents that Trump kept in his private home Mar-a-Lago after leaving office. The FBI searched the Florida property in August and confiscated various classified documents, some with the highest level of secrecy. By keeping the documents in his private home long after Trump left office, he could have committed a criminal offense. It is still unclear whether Trump could ultimately be charged.
On the other hand, the special investigator should take care of parts of the investigation into the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. After an inciting Trump speech, supporters of the Republican violently stormed the congressional center in Washington that day. At the time, they wanted to prevent Congress from making Biden's election victory official. A committee of inquiry in Congress worked on the attack for months. Various witnesses there heavily burdened Trump with their statements. The Ministry of Justice has also been conducting extensive investigations into the attack and those involved for a long time. However, it is still unclear whether the ministry could also prosecute the ex-president because of his role in it.
Experienced prosecutor based in The Hague
Smith is a seasoned prosecutor with a variety of professional stints in the United States and abroad. From 2008 to 2010 he worked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, overseeing war crimes investigations. As of 2010, he led a team of prosecutors at the US Department of Justice handling cases of public corruption and electoral abuse. Most recently, Smith served as a prosecutor at a special court in The Hague charged with investigating and trying war crimes in Kosovo.
After the nomination, he assured that he would conduct the investigation and the resulting prosecution measures "independently and in the best tradition of the Department of Justice". The investigations would neither pause nor slow down under his supervision. "I will make an independent judgment and pursue the investigation quickly and thoroughly," based solely on what the facts and the law dictate.
Trump announced on Tuesday evening (local time) at his Florida home that he was running for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election. He is the first to announce an official candidacy for the presidency. Biden has repeatedly emphasized that he generally intends to run for a second term. However, he has not yet made a concrete decision on this, but has announced it for the beginning of the year. Before that, he wanted to consult with his family.