Update: Merrick Garland named Jack Smith, pictured above, as special counsel. More soon.
The big news of the day: We could get an announcement as early as this afternoon from Attorney General Merrick Garland that he is naming a special counsel to handle the various federal investigations of former President Trump.
The Wall Street Journal was the first I saw to report the news, but other Main Justice beat reporters have the same info.
Politico is reporting that the special counsel has already been appointed and will oversee the Mar-a-Lago and 2020 election subversion cases against Trump.
The big issue with this move is the time it will require. It takes time to get up to speed on an investigation you haven’t been involved in, more time to assemble a team, more time yet to get immersed enough in the law and facts to render a decision on whether to prosecute.
I’m reasonably confident that Garland and Lisa Monaco, his top deputy, are well aware of the risk and cost of delays. Or at least they are now. Much of 2021 was lost to delays and slowness that cost crucial time. But that’s water under the bridge now to some extent (the reasons for a special counsel now are not THAT much more pronounced than they were then; Trump’s re-election announcement alone should not be enough to trigger a special counsel appointment).
Despite the delay this move is likely to cause, there are some upsides. Any prosecutions of Trump will be dragged out for months or years and may not be completed before the end of Biden’s term. A special counsel probe is more likely to survive a change of administrations, much like the shambolic special counsel John Durham is still around more than two years after Trump was defeated for re-election.
Furthermore, there may be ways for DOJ to minimize delays. I’ll be looking for (i) who the special counsel will be; (ii) how much of the existing prosecution teams they inherit; and (iii) how tight of a leash Garland suggests he’s going to keep on the special counsel. Those will be early indicators of whether the special counsel will be starting from scratch (bad) or hitting the ground running from this point forward (better).
We still don’t have a name. Garland is scheduled to make his announcements at 2:15 p.m. ET. You can watch here.