Garland tasked Smith with taking over parts of the DOJ’s investigation into the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, as well as the department’s classified and presidential records investigation into documents seized from Trump’s residence in Mar-a-Lago. The move by Garland comes days after Trump announced his 2024 bid for U.S. president.
“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,” Garland said in a Friday press briefing. “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 intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public’s interest to appoint a special counsel.”
“Appointing a special counsel at this time is the right thing to do. The extraordinary circumstances presented here demand it. Mr. Smith is the right choice to complete these matters in an even handed and urgent manner,” he added.
Trump is facing potential criminal prosecution over two investigations from the DOJ. The investigation related to the events of January 6 is over whether Trump incited an insurrection or otherwise attempted to unlawfully interfere with the certification of the 2020 election. That investigation has produced hundreds of prosecutions against protesters who entered the U.S. capitol.
Trump is also being investigated over a trove of documents the FBI recovered in an August raid on Mar-a-Lago. Trump faces potential charges related to the holding of those documents as well as potential obstruction of a federal investigation, according to Garland.
As special counsel, Smith will decide whether Trump faces any charges related to either investigation.
A DOJ leak earlier this week revealed that FBI investigators working on the classified documents case reportedly believe that Trump moved White House records to Mar-a-Lago after his term as president largely because of his ego. The former president wanted to keep the records as mementos from his time in the Oval Office. FBI agents do not suspect, as some theories have suggested, that Trump sought to sell U.S. secrets to foreign powers or others, according to The Washington Post.