Former President Donald Trump made a statement in response to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s appointment of a special counsel to investigate him, with Trump calling the move a “horrendous abuse of power,” a “hoax,” and part of a string of politically-motivated “witch hunts.”
Trump’s remarks Friday night at Mar-a-Lago came after Garland, who heads the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), announced the appointment of Jack Smith to serve as a special counsel in two federal criminal probes—one related to Trump’s handling of presidential records and classified documents and the other pertaining to his alleged interference in the transfer of power on Jan. 6.
Garland’s appointment of a special counsel came several days after Trump said he’s running for president in 2024. In announcing his bid to oust President Joe Biden from the White House, Trump said one of the “gravest threats” facing the country is a “weaponization of the justice system.”
‘Horrendous Abuse of Power’
During his speech at Mar-a-Lago, the former president expanded on this theme, asking the crowd whether they wanted him to address what he described as an “appalling announcement today by the egregiously corrupt Biden administration and their weaponized Department of Justice.”
Following approving cheers from the audience, Trump went on to characterize Garland’s move as a “horrendous abuse of power” and the “latest in the long series of witch hunts.”
Insisting he had “done nothing wrong,” Trump said he considered the investigations into his handling of documents and the Jan. 6 incident as basically “dead” until Garland’s appointment of Smith, labeling him as a “super radical left special counsel” who should be called a “special prosecutor.”
‘Independence and Accountability’
Smith joined the DOJ in 1999 and in 2008 moved to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he oversaw investigations into war crimes.
In a statement released soon after Garland’s announcement, Smith said he would conduct the investigations into Trump “independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice.”
“The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch. I will exercise independent judgement and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate,” Smith said.
Garland said in a press conference that Smith’s appointment “underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters” and that the move would allow prosecutors and agents to “make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.”
Trump, by contrast, characterized the appointment as a corrupt act of political revanchism.
“This is a rigged deal, just as the 2020 election was rigged, and we can’t let them get away with it,” Trump said. “We cannot let this happen to our country.”
“We are innocent. They are not innocent,” Trump added, labeling Biden as a “corrupt and incompetent political hack” and alleging that the Biden administration is out to subvert his run for the White House by nefarious means.
Asked about Trump’s claim that the special counsel appointment was a politicization of the DOJ, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden was not notified ahead of Garland’s decision and rejected claims of political meddling in judicial affairs.
“The Department of Justice makes their own decisions when it relates to criminal investigations,” she told reporters at a White House briefing Friday. “We were not involved.”
“We do not politicize the Department of Justice,” she added. “This is not an administration, the president has been very clear, that will politicize the Department of Justice.”
In one of the probes, Trump is under investigation for possible violations of several laws in relation to classified records and documents.
The other investigation is examining whether any person or entity interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the electoral votes on or around Jan. 6, 2021.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.