Attorney General Merrick Garland tapped longtime federal prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee a multi-pronged investigation into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and the unauthorized transfer of highly classified government documents to his Florida estate after exiting the White House.
Garland’s appointment is an attempt to shield the Justice Department from conflicts of interest in an unprecedented criminal investigation after Trump recently announced a bid to retake the White House now occupied by Garland’s boss, President Joe Biden.
A former top Justice Department official, Smith has served as chief of the department’s Public Integrity Section, and as investigations coordinator in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands.
In that capacity, he supervised sensitive investigations of foreign government officials and militia for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
The action immediately recalled the Trump Justice Department’s decision more than three years ago to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 vote to assist the Trump campaign.
That inquiry, which ran more than two years and resulted in the prosecution of several Trump aides, did not find evidence that the campaign conspired with Russia’s efforts to sway the election. And while Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed the investigation, then-Attorney General William Barr concluded that the president’s conduct did not constitute a crime.
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Under provisions of the special counsel statute, Garland – like Barr –would maintain some oversight authority in the investigation. But any decision to overrule the appointed counsel requires notification to the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.
The Justice Department has been pursuing multiple avenues of inquiry: from efforts to subvert the 2020 election and summoning the mob in the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol last year to Trump’s handling of highly classified documents that prompted an unprecedented search of a former president property to recover a tranche of sensitive government records.
More:Trump served subpoena at Mar-a-Lago home 2 months before FBI search
Federal prosecutors have been most explicit about the possible criminal consequences in the documents’ investigation, indicating that authorities are weighing possible violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice.