US Justice Department Merrick Garland has appointed a special prosecutor for the ongoing investigation into ex-President Donald Trump. Garland announced in Washington that the lawyer Jack Smith, who worked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, among other things, should oversee and direct the investigation with immediate effect.
Garland justified the step by saying that a few days ago Trump had announced a new presidential bid for 2024 and President Joe Biden had also declared his general intention to run again. Given these circumstances, it is in the public interest to entrust the investigation to an independent investigator.
On the one hand, Smith is to deal with the 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.
Attack on the US Capitol
On the other hand, the new 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.
Garland stressed that the Justice Department had conducted the investigation with the highest level of integrity. However, in certain exceptional cases, it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel to conduct the investigation independently. "Such an appointment underscores the Department's commitment to independence and accountability on particularly sensitive matters," he said. This also makes it possible to continue the work quickly and to make decisions "which are undoubtedly only based on the facts and the law". He is convinced that the pace of the investigation will not slow down.
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.
Smith: 'I will make an independent judgement'
After the nomination, Smith pledged that he would conduct the investigation and any resulting prosecution "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.