U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at a press conference

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Department of Justice on October 24, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

AG Merrick Garland Appoints Special Counsel to Oversee Trump Probes

"There is a mountain of evidence against Trump, and he should be prosecuted as swiftly as possible," said one watchdog.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday that he has appointed Jack Smith, a longtime federal prosecutor, as special counsel to oversee ongoing investigations into former President Donald Trump's handling of classified documents and his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The announcement comes days after Trump formally launched his 2024 presidential bid as he faces a number of state and federal probes into his conduct as president and as head of his real estate and business empire.

"Based on recent developments, including the former president's announcement that he is a candidate for [resident 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," Garland said Friday. "Such an appointment underscores the department's commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters. It also allows prosecutors and agents to continue their work expeditiously, and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law."

Some reacted with outrage to Garland's decision. Sawyer Hackett, a senior adviser to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, wrote on Twitter that the move shows Garland is "completely feckless."

"After two years in office and after a seeping bipartisan committee laid out in-full Trump's various crimes, Garland passes the buck to special counsel for optics' sake," Hackett wrote, referring to Garland's desire to avoid accusations of partisanship.

MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan argued Friday that "the idea that a special counsel will appease the Trump base or right-wing media is beyond naive."

Smith is the former chief of public integrity for the Justice Department, and more recently he served as a prosecutor at The Hague.

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen and co-chair of the Not Above the Law Coalition, said in a statement following Garland's announcement that "there is a mountain of evidence against Trump, and he should be prosecuted as swiftly as possible."

"The DOJ must act aggressively to that end," Gilbert added. "Every day we wait, 'candidate Trump' will attempt to turn our attention from the robust evidence outlined by the January 6th Select Committee. Those who commit crimes must be punished. Our system of justice must prevail."

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