DOJ announces special counsel for Trump-related Mar-a-Lago and Jan. 6 criminal investigation


Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday appointed a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigations into the storage of national defense information at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.

Both investigations implicate the conduct of Trump, who on Tuesday declared his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, making him a potential rival to President Joe Biden.

“Based on recent developments, including the former president’s announcement that he is running for president in the next election, and the current president’s stated intention to also run, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special attorney,” Garland said at the Justice Department on Friday.

Jack Smith, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Tribunal in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo, will oversee the investigations.

Smith “has built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor,” Garland said.

Trump has sought to paint the investigations as politically motivated, including at his announcement about the president on Tuesday, in which he said he was the victim of a “weaponization” of the justice system.

Speaking at the America First gala at Mar-a-Lago on Friday night, the former president called the appointment of a special counsel an “appalling announcement” and a “terrible abuse of power.”

The Mar-a-Lago probe burst into the public eye when the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Florida resort in August. Trump went to court to secure an order requiring a third lawyer to review the materials seized in the search. Documents marked classified were excluded from this review by an appeals court, allowing them to be used in the criminal investigation. Investigators have also brought witnesses before a federal grand jury empaneled in DC in the investigation.

The charges against those who physically trespassed on the US Capitol have been the most public aspect of the Justice Department’s January 6 investigation, and these will remain under the US Attorney’s office in Washington, DC. But behind the scenes, prosecutors have subpoenaed dozens of witnesses close to the former president for documents and testimony in the investigation.

“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,” Smith said in a statement Friday. β€œThe pace of the investigations will not pause or falter under my watch. I will exercise independent judgment and will expedite investigations promptly and thoroughly to the outcome that the facts and the law dictate.”

According to multiple sources, both the Mar-a-Lago investigation and the Jan. 6 probe into Trump aim to gather more information and bring witnesses to a federal grand jury in the coming weeks. Prosecutors have issued several new subpoenas related to both investigations in recent days, with expedited return dates as early as next week.

Some of the witnesses pursued this time, according to some of the sources, had not spoken to the investigators in these cases before.

Many in Trump’s inner circle had believed and hoped the investigation had slowed or even stopped after not hearing from the Justice Department for weeks after meeting their deadlines for subpoenaed documents, multiple sources said.

Some of the subpoenas in the investigation have indicated a wide-ranging probe touching almost every aspect of the effort to overturn Biden’s election victory. They signaled that investigators are interested in the scheme to turn out fraudulent voters in the states that Biden won, the work Trump allies did to make baseless allegations of voter fraud and how money flowed to support these various efforts.

Trump’s team had discussed in recent days the likelihood that the Justice Department would appoint a special counsel, multiple sources familiar with the conversations told CNN.

Trump’s lawyers had dreaded the prospect, worried it could drag out the investigation they have continually fought in court. And Trump himself has complained about the case, comparing the prospect to former special counsel Robert Mueller, who oversaw the Russia investigation.

The former president indicated Friday that he had believed federal investigations into him were slowing or over until Garland’s announcement. He repeatedly called the investigations political and said it was not a fair situation and would not be a fair investigation, telling the crowd at Mar-a-Lago, “You really wanted to say enough is enough.”

Justice Department officials had been debating for weeks whether to appoint a special counsel, CNN previously reported.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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