DOJ appoints special counsel to oversee Trump investigations

By Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Meg Wagner and Seán Federico-O'Murchú, CNN

Updated 6:13 PM ET, Fri November 18, 2022
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3:52 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

Trump lashes out at special counsel appointment: "It is so unfair. It is so political"

From CNN's Gabby Orr and Kristen Holmes

Former President Donald Trump waves after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Largo home on November 15 in Palm Beach, Florida.
Former President Donald Trump waves after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Largo home on November 15 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

Former President Donald Trump said Friday he "won't partake" in special counsel investigations into his retention of classified documents after leaving office or his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

In his first public comments after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of a special counsel to oversee two ongoing federal investigations involving Trump and his associates, the former president told Fox News Digital he "hope[s] the Republicans have the courage to fight this." 

"I have been proven innocent for six years on everything – from fake impeachments to Mueller who found no collusion, and now I have to do it more?" Trump claimed. "It is not acceptable. It is so unfair. It is so political." 

In May 2019, special counsel Robert Mueller said that Justice Department guidelines did not allow him to charge a sitting president, and as a result, his office did not determine whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice.

Trump continued, "I am not going to partake in it ... I announce and then they appoint a special prosecutor." 

Trump announced on Tuesday that he intends to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

3:08 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

Newly appointed special counsel pledges to oversee investigations with independence

Jack Smith, newly appointed as special counsel by the Department of Justice to oversee criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump, promised to conduct himself with "independent judgment."

“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. 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,” he said, according to a statement from the DOJ.

Smith is the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo.

2:55 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

Trump campaign team likely not changing tactics after DOJ announces special counsel, source says

From CNN's Kristen Holmes and Gabby Orr

Former President Donald Trump announces he will run for president in the 2024 election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on November 15.
Former President Donald Trump announces he will run for president in the 2024 election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on November 15. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A source close to former President Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign said the announcement of a special counsel overseeing the investigations into Trump will not change anything about his decision to run or how his team will handle his campaign moving forward. 

“It’s our opinion that this is just another tactic,” this source said.

The campaign had been prepared for this announcement for several days, the source added.

Separately, in a statement to CNN, a Trump spokesperson responded: "This is a totally expected political stunt by a feckless, politicized, weaponized Biden Department of Justice." 

Trump has continued to say that the investigations are politically based, including during his 2024 announcement Tuesday, when he called himself a victim. 

2:45 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

Subpoena recipients in Trump’s orbit told to appear before grand jury in near future, sources say

From CNN's Kristen Holmes

Some people in former President Donald Trump’s orbit who were subpoenaed in the Department of Justice’s Jan. 6 probe have recently been given dates in the near future to appear before the grand jury, according to sources familiar with the situation. 

Many had believed and hoped that the investigation had slowed or even halted, as they hadn’t heard from the DOJ for weeks after meeting their subpoena document deadlines, multiple sources said.

2:43 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

Attorney general appoints prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel in Trump investigations

Prosecutor Jack Smith will be appointed special counsel to oversee investigations into former President Donald Trump.
Prosecutor Jack Smith will be appointed special counsel to oversee investigations into former President Donald Trump. (Department of Justice)

Attorney General Merrick Garland is appointing longtime Justice Department prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee investigations into former President Donald Trump.

His probes will center on the retention of national defense information at former Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Garland described Smith as a veteran attorney who began a decades-long prosecutorial career in New York in the mid-1990s. He is a former acting US attorney in Tennessee and once led the DOJ's Public Integrity Section, which handles election crimes and public corruption investigations.

Most recently, Smith served as a chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, where he investigated and adjudicated war crimes in Kosovo.

Smith will begin his work as special counsel immediately and will return to the United States soon from The Hague, Garland said.

The attorney general said Smith has "built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor, who leads teams with energy and focus to follow the facts wherever they lead."

Garland added that Smith will have independent prosecutorial judgment to decide whether charges should be brought in either investigation.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

4:01 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

Garland said Trump’s candidacy and Biden’s potential run prompted him to appoint special counsel

US Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks at the Department of Justice on November 18.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks at the Department of Justice on November 18. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Attorney General Merrick Garland said his decision to appoint a special counsel was driven in part by former President Donald Trump's announcement that he intends to run for president in 2024, as well as current President Joe Biden saying he also intends to run.

"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 before announcing the appointment of Justice Department prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel.

"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. Such an appointment underscores the department's commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters," he said.

Garland added:

"It also allows prosecutors and agents to continue their work expeditiously and to make decisions undisputedly guided only by the facts and the law."

2:15 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

Before the midterms, the DOJ observed a traditional quiet period. Behind the scenes, investigators were busy

From CNN's Evan Perez, Katelyn Polantz and Jeremy Herb

In the weeks leading up to the midterm election, the Justice Department observed the traditional quiet period of not making any overt moves that may have political consequences.

But behind the scenes, investigators remained busy, using aggressive grand jury subpoenas and secret court battles to compel testimony from witnesses in both the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his alleged mishandling of national security documents kept at his Palm Beach home.

Federal investigators have been planning for a burst of post-election activity in Trump-related investigations. That includes the prospect of indictments of Trump’s associates – moves that could be made more complicated after Trump declared a run for the presidency on Tuesday.

“They can crank up charges on almost anybody if they wanted to,” said one defense attorney working on Jan. 6-related matters, who added defense lawyers have “have no idea” who ultimately will be charged.
“This is the scary thing,” the attorney said.

The Justice Department brought in a brain trust for high-level advice on the Trump investigations, according to people familiar with the moves.

Top Justice officials have looked to an old guard of former Southern District of New York prosecutors, bringing into the investigations Kansas City-based federal prosecutor and national security expert David Raskin, as well as David Rody, a prosecutor-turned-defense lawyer who previously specialized in gang and conspiracy cases and has worked extensively with government cooperators.

Rody, whose involvement has not been previously reported, left a lucrative partnership at the prestigious corporate defense firm Sidley Austin in recent weeks to become a senior counsel at DOJ in the criminal division in Washington, according to his LinkedIn profile and sources familiar with the move.

The team at the DC US Attorney’s Office handling the day-to-day work of the Jan. 6 investigations is also growing – even while the office’s sedition cases against right-wing extremists go to trial.

A handful of other prosecutors have joined the Jan. 6 investigations team, including a high-ranking fraud and public corruption prosecutor who has moved out of a supervisor position and onto the team, and a prosecutor with years of experience in criminal appellate work now involved in some of the grand jury activity.

Taken together, the reorganization of prosecutors indicates a serious and snowballing investigation into Trump and his closest circles.

Read more here.

2:13 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

White House is not involved in DOJ special counsel decision, official says

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 18.
The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 18. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House was not involved in Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision to appoint a special counsel, a White House official says.

“DOJ makes decisions about its criminal investigations independently, and we are not involved,” the official said, referring further questions to the Justice Department.

2:05 p.m. ET, November 18, 2022

What is a special counsel?

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue and Angela Dewan

Attorney General Merrick Garland plans to announce that he has appointed a special counsel to oversee investigations into former President Donald Trump.

You likely remember hearing this term during the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Here's a refresher on what it means:

A special counsel is a lawyer appointed to lead an independent investigation and, if necessary, to prosecute anyone suspected of crimes.

A special counsel is typically appointed when the usual investigative bodies under the Justice Department, such as the FBI, have a conflict of interest in carrying out a probe.

The law states more broadly that the attorney general can appoint a special counsel under "extraordinary circumstances," or when in it is in the public interest to do so.

The special counsel must come from outside the government, the idea being that he or she should have the greatest possible level of impartiality and be removed from the usual chain of command.

The law says that the counsel should be a lawyer with a reputation for integrity and impartial decision-making.