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Attorney General Garland emphasizes special counsel's 'independence' in Trump probe

Garland declined to comment on the indictment of former President Donald Trump, pointing to regulations that leave special counsel Jack Smith to make the decision to prosecute.
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WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland declined to answer questions about the indictment of former President Donald Trump on Wednesday, saying only that his own limited role in the process was spelled out in Justice Department regulations and that special counsel Jack Smith had assembled a team of veteran career prosecutors and agents to examine the facts of the case.

“As I said when I appointed Mr. Smith, I did so because it underscores the Justice Department’s commitment to independence and accountability,” Garland told reporters assembled in the attorney general’s fifth-floor conference room on Wednesday, where he was meeting with federal prosecutors across the country to discuss violent crime.

“Mr. Smith is a veteran career prosecutor. He assembled a group of experienced and talented prosecutors and agents who share his commitment to integrity and the rule of law,” Garland said.

Garland pointed the public to the special counsel regulations, which leave Smith to make the prosecutorial decision and allow the attorney general to overrule only in limited circumstances. In that scenario, Garland would have had to inform Congress about his decision to overrule Smith. Because Smith moved forward with a prosecution, there was no role for Garland to play in the process.

Trump and his supporters have made unsubstantiated claims that President Joe Biden and Garland directed Smith to charge Trump. Garland, a former judge, said Wednesday that his role was spelled out in the regulations, though he declined to specify when exactly he was informed of Smith’s decision to charge Trump in the case.

The federal grand jury in Florida returned an indictment against Trump on Thursday, and the indictment itself was unsealed on Friday. Trump made his first court appearance on Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty.

Garland’s comments came the day after NBC News first reported that two officials with the Nevada Republican Party had appeared to testify before a federal grand jury in D.C. that is investigating the “fake electors” scheme as well as Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 and his efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of power.