The Biden administration on Nov. 18 announced that it's appointing a special counsel for a probe involving former President Donald Trump, who just launched a 2024 presidential bid.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden appointee who heads the Department of Justice (DOJ), announced the appointment in Washington.
"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 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.
Mar-a-Lago RaidFBI agents raided Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in August and seized thousands of records, including about 100 that were marked classified.
Trump has said that he declassified the records and has fought to get the documents back. He has been unsuccessful so far, although authorities have returned passports of his that they had seized.
The special counsel will also take over a Washington-based investigation looking into 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, but will not take over portions of that investigation that deal with people who were physically present on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021, according to Garland.
“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 released by the DOJ. "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.”
The appointment of a special counsel underscores the DOJ's commitment to independence and accountability, Garland said. It also enables prosecutors and agents "to continue their work expeditiously and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law," he added.
'Top to Bottom Overhaul'During Trump's Nov. 15 announcement, the former president said that "the gravest threats to our civilization are not from abroad, but from within."
"None is greater than the weaponization of the justice system, the FBI, and the DOJ. We must conduct a top to bottom overhaul to clean out the festering rot and corruption of Washington D.C.," he said, highlighting how authorities raided his home but not the homes of other living former presidents who have acknowledged taking presidential records with them.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a longtime Trump critic, was among those to say Trump running for president again wouldn't protect him against prosecution.
"Under our Constitution, we don’t have an office of former president of the United States. A former president of the United States is just a citizen, acts of the case and the law," Raskin said on CNN.
"He can still be tried. I think the Department of Justice has been clear about that. All that matters is the facts of the case and the law. There is a slight exception to that that they don’t bring cases against candidates several weeks or maybe a month before an election," he added. "But other than that, running for office is not something that will immunize you against prosecution.”