U.S. Justice Dept. names war crimes expert as special counsel for Trump probes

  • Trump calls special counsel appointment an ‘abuse of power’
  • Special prosecutor Smith to focus on war crimes in Kosovo

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday named war crimes prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigations related to Donald Trump, including The former president’s handling of sensitive documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Garland’s announcement came three days after Republican Trump announced he would run for president again in 2024. Garland said Trump’s candidacy and Democratic President Joe Biden’s stated intention to run for re-election warranted the appointment of a special adviser.

Special counsels are sometimes appointed to investigate politically sensitive cases, and they work somewhat independently of Justice Department leadership.

“The pace of the investigation will not stop or stop under my watch,” Smith said in a statement. “I will exercise independent judgment and will proceed with the investigation promptly and thoroughly, regardless of what the facts and law dictate.”

Garland said Smith will oversee investigations into Trump’s handling of government documents after he left the White House last year, as well as an investigation into attempts to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election.

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“Appointing a special counsel is the right thing to do at this time,” Garland, who was appointed by Biden, told a news conference.

Trump called the appointment of the special counsel a “rigged deal.”

“This horrific abuse of power is the latest in a series of witch hunts that started long ago,” he told a crowd of supporters at a formal event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Biden did not respond to loud questions from reporters about the special counsel during his only public appearance of the day. The White House was not involved in the decision to appoint Smith, said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Smith, a political independent, was until recently chief prosecutor of a special court in The Hague charged with prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo. He previously oversaw the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Unit and served as a federal and state attorney in New York.

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It is the second time in five years that the Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to investigate Trump’s conduct. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, appointed special counsel in 2017, documented contacts between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia but found insufficient evidence to indict the Communist Party. conspiracy to commit a crime.

FBI agents seized thousands of government records, some of which were marked highly classified, from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate during a court-sanctioned search on Aug. 8. Investigators are also examining whether Trump may have obstructed the investigation. Trump filed a civil lawsuit in an attempt to delay the documents probe and withhold some records from investigators.

The other investigation is a broad probe into a failed conspiracy by Trump allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting a false batch of voter rolls to the National Archives and attempting to prevent Congress from proving Biden’s electoral victory.

A grand jury is hearing evidence in the case, and prosecutors have issued a subpoena to testify, calling on the former top White House counsel and close adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.

political distance

While Garland ultimately wields power over the special counsel, appointing Smith could give Garland some political distance, boosting public confidence in the integrity of both investigations. Career prosecutors are expected to continue the investigation with Smith.

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Smith recently underwent surgery for a knee injury suffered in a bicycle accident. He did not attend the press conference.

The slew of criminal and civil state and federal investigations against Trump also includes a civil lawsuit by the New York state attorney general accusing him and his three adult children of fraud in the family real estate business.

Smith is the third special counsel appointed by the Justice Department since 2017 to handle a politically sensitive case. Mueller did not reach a firm conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, prompting then-Attorney General William Barr to make his own decision that such a charge had no merit.

In 2019, Barr appointed John Durham as special counsel to investigate the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign. Two of the three criminal charges brought in Durham have been acquitted this year.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Rami Ayub; Additional reporting by Costas Pitas, Brad Brooks, Trevor Hunnicutt and Joseph Ax; Editing by Will Dunham, Andy Sullivan and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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