AG Merrick Garland is a by-the-book kind of guy, which happens when you spend decades as a federal judge. And yesterday, he provided a rather sizable reminder of this fact, as he announced the appointment of Jack Smith as special prosecutor to oversee the two ongoing Department of Justice investigations of Donald Trump.
Garland's reasoning is that, now that Trump is a presidential candidate, it is essential to make things as fair and impartial as is possible. Speaking to the press on Friday, he said: "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."
Clearly, the AG decided weeks ago that this is how he would handle things if Trump declared. Meanwhile, everyone in the country knew Trump was going to declare on Tuesday, which meant that Garland was able to begin searching for a candidate in advance of the formal announcement. Put another way, there is simply no way that Garland identified, recruited and secured the cooperation of a special counselor in just 2 days.
Smith, of course, has an impressive résumé. He began his career as a prosecutor in New York and eventually spent several years in the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York. He left that post to work for the International Criminal Court, prosecuting war crimes committed in Kosovo, then became chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department, and then was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. When Donald Trump took office, Smith left the latter job and returned to The Hague to serve the International Criminal Court again. So, he's been on the sidelines during the Trump years. And during the years Smith was working for the government, he went after politicians from both parties, including former senator John Edwards (D) and then-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). In short, he is about as neutral as possible for someone who is a longtime public servant.
Of course, Smith could be as fair and impartial as Solomon and the Trumpers would declare him to be hopelessly corrupt and compromised. A Trump spokesperson on Friday said: "This is a totally expected political stunt by a feckless, politicized, weaponized Biden Department of Justice." And Trump himself described the appointment as "totally unfair."
Maybe the Trumpers really believe this, or maybe they are just putting on a show. You never know with them. But the fact is that the appointment of Smith is a gift to the former president. The Department of Justice could very plausibly move forward with an indictment right now, but clearly that's not happening. At very least, Smith is going to have to be brought up to speed, which could take a while, since there is so much stuff and since this is the holiday season. Further, Smith will have to do at least some of his own investigating, so that he's not just a rubber stamp for Garland. Add it up, and the former president just bought at least 3 months, and probably more. This is a fellow who loves to drag things out in general. And in this case, the longer it drags on, the closer we get to the 2024 election and the more problematic an indictment gets.
In view of all this, they should be dancing late into the night at Mar-a-Lago. Trump is savvy enough about these things that he must know that. But whether we are right about that or not, he's going to play the role of victim this week, this month, and for the entire time that Smith is at work. (Z)