Garland chose Jack Smith, a federal prosecutor with a lot of experience, as a special counsel to look into whether former President Donald Trump was involved in the uprising on January 6, 2021, and how he may have handled sensitive information.
F.B.I. operatives were dispatched by the Attorney General to Mar-a-Lago to gather hundreds of sensitive documents.
During a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, he said, “The corrupt and very political Justice Department has chosen a super-radical left, super-special counsel.”
My colleague Amy Davidson Sorkin pointed out that even if Trump were found guilty, he would still be able to run for president.
It might not be clear until the Republican primaries for president in 2024 whether the appointment of a special counsel or a possible criminal prosecution will hurt or help Trump.
Attorney General Merrick Garland made a statement late Friday afternoon that might have gotten praise from both sides at a different time in American politics. Garland chose Jack Smith, a federal prosecutor with a lot of experience, as a special counsel to look into whether former President Donald Trump was involved in the uprising on January 6, 2021, and how he may have handled sensitive information. He did this because of “exceptional circumstances.” The way Republicans reacted to Garland’s announcement and how quickly, completely, and fully Trump has put his policies into action have shown the huge holes in the rules put in place after Watergate to make sure no president is above the law.
Garland made his usual monotone statements while squatting in front of a line of American and Justice Department flags. “The Department of Justice has known for a long time that in some unusual situations, it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to handle an investigation and prosecution independently,” he said, standing next to three senior Justice Department officials.
Garland, a former federal judge who still acts like a judge, was talking about past criminal investigations, like the Teapot Dome scandal and Watergate, in which the government put independent prosecutors in charge of cases involving political people. The goal is to show the public that a person’s political views or beliefs have nothing to do with whether or not they will be charged with a crime. The mission is to protect the four-word principle “Equal Justice Under Law,” which is written on courthouses all over the United States and dates back to Athenian democracy.
The conditions are extraordinary in this situation. Trump revealed this week that he would be running for president once more. At his urging, fans stormed the Capitol to stop Joe Biden from taking office. And Biden has said he intends to run as well. Garland said that appointing a special counsel shows that the department is committed to both independence and accountability in very sensitive situations. He’s being too modest. It is uncommon for the current president’s appointees to be prosecuting the outgoing president on criminal charges while they are both candidates for the presidency. There has never been another time like it in American history.
The announcement was the latest move in a very important battle between Garland and Trump. F.B.I. operatives were dispatched by the Attorney General to Mar-a-Lago to gather hundreds of sensitive documents. The Justice Department was compared to the Gestapo in response to Trump. The Justice Department then made public the search warrant that listed all of the top-secret documents that Trump had been saving. Trump says that Garland and anyone else who disagrees with him are part of a corrupt group in Washington. This means that staying quiet is not an option. Garland is trying to convince Americans that the legal system is still a place of truth, decency, and, most importantly, fair public service.
Smith, the special counsel Garland appointed, is currently working on that project. Garland says that Jack Smith “has made a name for himself as a fair and persistent prosecutor who leads teams with energy and focus to follow the facts wherever they lead.” A former federal prosecutor who had worked with Smith told me that she agreed and praised him for being fair and professional. “He’s fantastic,” she said.
Smith went to Harvard Law School and the State University of New York at Oneonta. He has never been given a position of power by a government official before. After serving as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn and Long Island, he oversaw the Justice Department’s office of public integrity, which brought charges against Republican and Democratic officials for breaking campaign finance laws, including John Edwards, a former Democratic senator and vice presidential candidate. Edwards was found not guilty. Smith is presently serving as the head prosecutor for a special court in The Hague that looks into Kosovo war crimes.
Following Garland’s announcement, Trump launched an attack. During a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, he said, “The corrupt and very political Justice Department has chosen a super-radical left, super-special counsel.” He said that the ongoing investigations were a “never-ending witch hunt” and, as usual, put the blame on someone else. He asserted that Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden should all be punished if they are going to look into him. He added, “If they are going to look into me, they have to examine all of these other presidents—and they have to do it right now.” He declared, “We’re in a terribly corrupt country right now; we’ve never had anything like it.” Our elections are flawed, manipulated, and corrupt.
Smith’s selection by Garland drew criticism from several veteran prosecutors who feared it would stall the Trump probes and maybe let him run for president unchecked. It might also set a precedent that anyone who is under investigation and says they are running for political office deserves to have a special prosecutor assigned to their case. Others said that Smith’s appointment would speed up the investigation because he wouldn’t be limited by Justice Department rules.
“We need to win this war politically,” said Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin, a steadfast Trump foe, to me in an interview last year. The fact that several Trump-backed candidates lost their contests in this week’s midterm elections showed once more to Democrats that it is feasible to beat Trump at the polls without being charged criminally. Multiple investigations into Trump’s financial dealings and two impeachments demonstrate that revealing his malfeasance alone won’t be enough to destroy his political standing. My colleague Amy Davidson Sorkin pointed out that even if Trump were found guilty, he would still be able to run for president.
Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, told me that Garland’s careful efforts to show the Justice Department’s objectivity are not likely to convince Trump voters in this time of extreme political polarization. But these plans could affect moderates and independents who didn’t vote for Trump’s ally in the midterm elections. Garland’s goal, and now Smith’s, is to put politics aside and finish the investigations as quickly and fairly as possible. It might not be clear until the Republican primaries for president in 2024 whether the appointment of a special counsel or a possible criminal prosecution will hurt or help Trump. It partially boils down to problems that are unrelated to Garland, Somin said. How much momentum [Ron] DeSantis or another Republican contender builds against Trump could determine the outcome. The best thing that could happen to Trump’s campaign would perhaps be nonstop news coverage of his trial.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network