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‘Voluntary but compulsory’: Why Merrick Garland hired a special counsel to handle Donald Trump

‘Voluntary but compulsory’: Why Merrick Garland hired a special counsel to handle Donald Trump
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‘Voluntary but compulsory’: Why Merrick Garland hired a special counsel to handle Donald Trump

Donald Trump is the first ex-president in U.S. history to announce another presidential run when he was facing two major investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ): one pertaining to the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building, the other pertaining to government documents stored at Mar-a-Lago. Trump announced his 2024 presidential run on November 15, and only three days later, on November 18, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that he was appointing a special counsel, Jack Smith, to conduct DOJ’s two Trump-related investigations.

Legal experts have been stressing that in both cases, Smith already has enough evidence for an indictment. Regardless, Smith is obviously determined to proceed with caution, not unlike Garland. The word “institutionalist” has often been used to describe Garland, and it easily applies to Smith as well — which is why Garland chose him. In the past, Smith was an assistant U.S. attorney and headed DOJ’s Public Integrity Section.

But the fact that Garland decided to hire a special counsel for DOJ’s two Trump-related investigations, according to New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, doesn’t mean that he was crazy about the idea. Rather, Garland saw it as a necessary move in order to counter claims from MAGA Republicans that the DOJ investigations are politically motivated. Garland, a centrist Democrat, was appointed to head the DOJ by another centrist Democrat: President Joe Biden, who may be running against Trump in the 2024 presidential election if Biden runs and they receive their parties’ nominations.

READ MORE: Appointment of highly regarded special counsel Jack Smith viewed as sign Trump is in legal jeopardy

“Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, a stoic former federal judge intent on restoring rule-of-law order at the Justice Department, gradually came to accept that he would need to appoint a special counsel to investigate Donald J. Trump if the former president ran for the White House again,” Thrush reports in an article published by the Times on November 28. “But that did not mean he liked doing it. Mr. Garland made it clear from the start that he was not inclined to tap outsiders to run investigations and indicated that the Department was perfectly capable of functioning as an impartial arbiter in the two criminal inquiries involving Mr. Trump, according to several people familiar with the situation.”

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