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US Attorney General Defends Special Counsel Who Indicted Trump


FILE - U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, April 14, 2023.
FILE - U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, April 14, 2023.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday defended Jack Smith, the career prosecutor he appointed as an independent special counsel to handle the criminal investigations of former President Donald Trump.

Trump has assailed Smith repeatedly in his social media posts. He has called the prosecutor a "thug" and "lunatic," including on Tuesday, when Trump pleaded not guilty at the U.S. Courthouse in Miami to a 37-count indictment filed by Smith. The document accused Trump of "willfully" retaining 31 highly classified national security documents and conspiring to hide them when federal authorities demanded he hand them over.

"As I said when I appointed Mr. Smith, I did so because it underscores the Justice Department's commitment to both independence and accountability," Garland, the top U.S. law enforcement official, told reporters at the Justice Department he heads.

"Mr. Smith is a veteran career prosecutor," Garland said. "He has assembled a group of experienced and talented prosecutors and agents who share his commitment to integrity and the rule of law. Any questions about this matter will have to be answered by their filings in court."

Smith sat behind his fellow prosecutors in the courtroom on Tuesday, and a few meters from Trump at the defendant's table, but they did not interact in any way.

Special counsel Jack Smith arrives to speak to reporters in Washington, June 9, 2023.
Special counsel Jack Smith arrives to speak to reporters in Washington, June 9, 2023.

A Trump lawyer referred to his client as "President Trump," while the judge conducting Trump's arraignment referred to him as "the former president" and a prosecutor called him "the defendant."

Garland's defense of Smith was the first time he had commented publicly since a federal grand jury charged Trump last week. It was the first time that a former or sitting American president has faced a federal indictment.

No date has been set for a trial, which could come in the first half of 2024, as Trump tries to win the Republican presidential nomination, or even after the November 2024 national election.

Trump has also been indicted by a state prosecutor in New York, where he is accused of falsifying records at his real estate conglomerate to hide a hush money payment to a porn star who claimed to have had a one-night tryst with Trump in 2006. The payment was made just ahead of Trump's successful 2016 presidential campaign.

Smith is also investigating Trump's role in trying to upend his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden and the subsequent riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. A prosecutor in the Southern state of Georgia is also investigating Trump's efforts to overturn his loss there to Biden.

Trump has denied all the charges, calling them a "witch hunt" aimed at keeping him from winning the presidency again. He far and away leads national polls of Republicans for the party's 2024 presidential nomination.

When Trump first disclosed he had been indicted, some Republican lawmakers and several of Trump's Republican presidential opponents accused Garland's Justice Department of "weaponizing" the country's judicial system to target Trump while ignoring alleged offenses committed by Democratic politicians. Some of the attacks have continued since then.

But once the 49-page indictment was released on Friday and the critics had a chance to read it, numerous Republicans have adopted a more nuanced position on the charges against Trump, with some still attacking the prosecution but refusing to defend Trump against the specific allegations.

Mike Pence, Trump's onetime vice president who is now running against him for the Republican nomination, told The Wall Street Journal editorial board, "These are very serious allegations. And I can't defend what is alleged. But the president is entitled to his day in court, he's entitled to bring a defense, and I want to reserve judgment until he has the opportunity to respond."

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