Attorney General Merrick Garland has named a special counsel to oversee the entirety of the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the retention of national defense information at former President Donald Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago and key aspects of the Jan. 6 investigation.
"I'm here today to announce the appointment of the special counsel in connection with two ongoing criminal investigations that have received significant public attention," Garland said.
Garland announced at a news conference Friday that John "Jack" Smith will be the special counsel tasked with investigating and deciding whether charges should be brought. He called Smith an "impartial and determined prosecutor." Smith is currently the chief prosecutor for the special counsel in the Hague.
As special counsel, Smith will begin immediately to oversee two probes. The first is whether anyone or any entity "unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the Electoral College vote held on or about January 6, 2021," Garland said. And the second is the investigation into "classified documents and other presidential records, as well as the possible obstruction of that investigation."
The attorney general told reporters, "Based on recent developments, including the former president's announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the sitting president's stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel."
Smith said in a statement after Garland's announcement, "I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice."
"The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch," he promised. "I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate."
Smith, a political independent, is also a former chief of the Public Integrity section of the Justice Department.
A Trump spokesperson called the decision to appoint a special counsel "a totally expected political stunt by a feckless, politicized, weaponized Biden Department of Justice."
The news comes days after Trump announced he's running for president a third time. Former presidents are not automatically protected from federal prosecution.