Attorney General Garland names special counsel in Trump Mar-a-Lago and Jan. 6 probes

Jack Smith, a war crimes prosecutor, was selected to oversee the investigations.

November 18, 2022, 11:02 PM

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed John L. "Jack" Smith as special counsel to oversee the entirety of the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the alleged unlawful retention of national defense information at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, as well as key aspects of its probe into the events of Jan 6.

Trump's announcement Tuesday that is running for president for a third time created a conflict of interest and triggered the appointment of a special counsel, according to the DOJ special counsel guidelines.

In his appointment order, Garland says Smith "is authorized to conduct the ongoing investigation into whether any person or entity 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 January 6, 2021."

PHOTO: Attorney General Merrick Garland announces the appointment of Jack Smith as a special counsel for the investigations of former President Donald Trump, in the briefing room of the Justice Department in Washington, Nov. 18, 2022.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announces that he is appointing Jack Smith as a special counsel for the investigations of former President Donald Trump, in the briefing room of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, Nov. 18, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Smith is further instructed to conduct the investigation into national defense information found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, according to the order, "as well as any matters that arose or may arise directly" from that investigation.

Smith "is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters," Garland's appointment order states. "The Special Counsel is also authorized to refer to the appropriate United States Attorney discrete prosecutions that may arise from the Special Counsel's investigation."

"The Department of Justice has long recognized that in certain extraordinary cases. It is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution 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 stated intention to be a candidate as well," Garland told reporters on Friday.

"I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel. Such an appointment underscores the department's commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters," Garland said. "It also allows prosecutors and agents to continue their work expeditiously and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law."

Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time as he smiles while speaking at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Garland said Smith is the right choice and that the he will make sure the investigation receives all the necessary resources.

"I will ensure that the special counsel receives the resources to conduct this work quickly and completely," Garland said. "Given the work to date and Mr. Smith's prosecutorial experience, I am confident this appointment will not slow the completion of these investigations."

Trump attacked newly appointed special counsel Smith as "super radical left" while defending himself as "innocent."

"This horrendous abuse of power is the latest in a long series of witch hunts that started a long time ago," Trump said Friday evening from Mar-a-Lago, while claiming that he thought the investigation was "dead" because Rep. Liz Cheney lost her election.

"I thought that put the final nail in the coffin, only to find out the corrupt and highly political Justice Department just appointed a super radical left special counsel, better referred to as a special prosecutor, to start the process all over again," Trump said. "We thought it was just about dead."

Trump continued to dismiss the investigation as "political," as he has done with most investigations involving him.

"They want to do bad things to the greatest movement in the history of our country, but in particular bad things to me," Trump said. "But I've gotten used to it."

"This will not be a fair investigation," Trump continued, while claiming that he has "proven to be one of the most honest and innocent people in our country."

Special Counsel Jack Smith has been tapped by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee the investigation into former Presidents Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.
Justice Department

In his remarks, Trump deflected by accusing other politicians-- including previous presidents-- of crimes, without evidence. He called for a special counsel to be appointed to look into Hunter Biden-- even though Trump himself appointed David Weiss who is investigating Hunter Biden and Garland left Weiss in place.

"They're criminals," Trump said. "I've done nothing wrong."

Smith, according to a senior DOJ official, is a political independent and formerly served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, and the chief of DOJ's Public Integrity Section, and, later, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, later becoming the acting U.S. attorney there.

From 2017-18, he served as VP of litigation for the Hospital Corporation of America, and since 2018 he has served as the chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague charged with investigating war crimes in Kosovo.

He will begin work as special counsel immediately.

In August the FBI raided Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida, looking for documents that the National Archives said were marked classified and had not been returned to the National Archives, despite them having given the former president ample opportunity to do so.

The FBI said it took 11,000 documents in the court-authorized seizure, including more than 100 documents with classified markings.

Trump sued to obtain the appointment of a special master to identify which documents were protected by attorney-client privilege and executive privilege. The review is ongoing, and the Department of Justice is seeking a fast-track appeal of the special master ruling.

There have been two special counsels in the past four years. Robert Mueller was tapped by former Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, and after that investigation was concluded, John Durham was tapped by former Attorney General William Barr to be special counsel to investigate the origins of that probe.

ABC News' Olivia Rubin and Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.