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Attorney General Merrick Garland names special counsel in Justice Dept.'s Trump probes

Garland named John L. Smith, a former federal prosecutor with experience at the Hague, as special counsel. Smith will focus on Trump’s handling of classified documents and Jan. 6.
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WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump will be the subject of a second special counsel investigation, this one focused on his handling of classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home and “key aspects” of the investigation into his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday.

“Based on recent developments, including Trump’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the current president’s intention to be a candidate in the next election, I have concluded it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Garland said at a news conference.

Garland's decision to appoint a special counsel was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Garland said that on Friday morning he signed a letter formally naming John L. Smith, known as Jack Smith, a prosecutor at The Hague and a former federal prosecutor, to begin serving as special counsel “immediately.” Smith was previously the chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, where he oversaw public corruption and elections-related investigations.

Smith is assigned with investigating whether anyone violated the law in connection with efforts to “interfere with the lawful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the Electoral College vote held on or about January 6, 2021, as well as any matters that arose or might arise directly from this investigation.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia will continue investigating those individuals who stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Garland said that Smith will also have in his portfolio "the ongoing investigation involving classified documents and other presidential records" taken from Trump's White House "as well as the possible obstruction of that investigation.”

In remarks at an event at his Florida resort Friday night, Trump called Smith's appointment “appalling” and a “horrendous abuse of power,” and referred to him as a "super radical left special counsel."

“This is a rigged deal,” Trump said of the probes, complaining that he'd "been going through these hoaxes, investigations and scams since day one."

"We are innocent," he added.

Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign this week. Given that Garland was appointed by President Joe Biden, naming a special counsel would give Garland more distance from the investigation into Trump, who could be Biden’s rival if the president decides to run for re-election.

“This is a totally expected political stunt by a feckless, politicized, weaponized Biden Department of Justice," a Trump campaign spokesman said in a statement.

Following his appointment, Smith emphasized in a statement that he will conduct an "independent" investigation. "I will exercise independent judgement and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate," he said.

Trump was previously under investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller, who issued his report in 2019 focusing on Russian interference in the 2020 election and Trump’s efforts to interfere with the Justice Department investigation.

Garland said he was confident in the DOJ's ability to investigate Trump, but, "I also believe that appointing a special counsel at this time is the right thing to do. The extraordinary circumstances presented here demand it."

Garland added that he will ensure Smith “receives the resources to conduct this work quickly and completely.”