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Donald Trump indictments passed to ‘special prosecutor’ by US Attorney General, prompting justice delay claims

The i 11/21/2022 Michael Day
It was Donald Trump’s entry to the 2024 presidential race, announced last Tuesday night at Mar-a-Lago, that led the attorney general to determine that his hand had been forced (Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP) © Provided by The i It was Donald Trump’s entry to the 2024 presidential race, announced last Tuesday night at Mar-a-Lago, that led the attorney general to determine that his hand had been forced (Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

It is generally not necessary to reach for a sledgehammer when you’re seeking to crack a nut. But that is precisely what US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, did on Friday, with regard to the criminal cases (plural) being built against former president Donald Trump.

In selecting career prosecutor Jack Smith for the role, Mr Garland will have been aware that headline writers would immediately zero in on his experience as a war crimes investigator. Mr Trump isn’t accused of any of those yet, but there is no doubting the bellicose potential for the two probes into his conduct that are currently under way.

One may lead to Mr Trump facing charges relating to last year’s deadly Capitol Hill uprising by his election-denying, conspiracy theory-believing supporters. The other is probing crimes that may have been committed when the former president allegedly carted box-loads of classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago estate, instead of depositing them with the National Archives where they properly belong,

The appointment of a semi-independent special prosecutor heralds a decision by the Department of Justice that an investigation is too politically hot for the attorney general – nominated by the president of the day – to oversee. Mr Smith will now assume responsibility for all aspects of the Trump probes, determine whether criminal charges are warranted, and then make appropriate recommendations to Mr Garland.

Special prosecutors (also known as “special counsels”) have a storied history in Washington. Richard Nixon’s 1973 decision to fire Watergate investigator, Archibald Cox, lay at the heart of the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” that led ultimately to the president’s resignation. In more recent times, Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton’s relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, led to charges of perjury and to the 1998 impeachment by the House of Representatives of America’s 42nd president.

Mr Trump, of course, has already seen off one special prosecutor. Robert Mueller, appointed by Trump’s then deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, found insufficient evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. While indicting 34 other people during the course of his investigation, Mr Mueller ultimately demurred on whether Mr Trump himself had engaged in obstruction of justice.

It was Mr Trump’s entry to the 2024 presidential race, announced last Tuesday night at Mar-a-Lago, that led Mr Garland to determine that his hand had been forced. “Based on recent developments,” he told reporters, “I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel… Mr Smith will begin his work immediately.”

But many supporters of the Biden administration fear that Mr Smith, now beating a hasty retreat from his current post at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, will not act as “expeditiously” as his own Friday statement pledged. Special prosecutors are granted budgets to set up offices, hire prosecutors, depose witnesses, review millions of pages of evidence already gathered by the Department of Justice, and then make recommendations that must seek to avoid any hint of political taint. It’s a laborious process, and Trump’s insistence on Friday that “I am not going to partake in it” indicates his determination to slow it down for as long as possible.

The attorney general found himself between a legal rock and a hard place, after saying in the summer that he would not bring charges against the former president nor members of his inner circle within a 60-day window of the midterm elections. Once that window closed on 9 November, no charges were laid before Mr Trump in the six days that elapsed before his entry into the 2024 presidential race.

Former federal prosecutor, Glenn Kirschner, asked rhetorically on Twitter: “Will justice EVER come for Donald Trump?” On Friday, he told Sirius/XM Radio that Smith’s appointment “will involve…significant delay by many, many, many months. We don’t have time for more delay…there should have been indictments prior to the mid-terms.”

Author and prominent Trump critic, Don Winslow, concurred, calling Mr Smith’s appointment “a cowardly act by Merrick Garland” that “delays the prosecution of Donald Trump for likely two years”.

It also extends the Republican Party’s Trumpian nightmare. For months to come, every development in the special prosecutor’s probe will make headlines and – now restored to Twitter – provide Trump with fresh opportunities to air his persecution complex.

At the very moment some Republican leaders hoped an opening might exist to steer the party away from Trump’s undying influence, the former president’s capacity to inflame his followers and portray himself as a political martyr may fuel substantial resistance to the prosecutorial sledgehammer.

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