Garland appoints special counsel on Biden classified documents

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Attorney General Merrick Garland’s appointment of another special counsel Thursday differs in several ways from the appointment of Jack Smith late last year — though they both are looking into the handling of classified records.

US Attorney Robert Hur speaks at a press conference in Baltimore in 2019. (Lloyd Fox/The Baltimore Sun/AP)

Special counsel Robert Hur has been tapped to look at document handling after Joe Biden left the vice presidency in 2017, and Smith into what happened when Donald Trump left the White House in 2020.  

But Garland’s language about the reasons for the Biden special counsel investigation signaled it’s not currently as expansive as the one involving Trump.

Hur’s appointment order said he will look at matters including the “possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records” at Biden’s private office in Washington, DC, and his Delaware residence.

The Trump investigation, in contrast, is both broader and more mature, with grand jury proceedings already underway. 

Garland’s appointment order for Smith pointed to that larger, ongoing investigation that’s looking at three possible crimes — the mishandling of information pertaining to the national defense, mishandling of federal records and obstruction of justice.

“Rob has a succinct and narrowly defined charge,” said Ed O’Callaghan, a Trump-era senior Justice Department official.

O’Callaghan was among the small group overseeing the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in 2019.

“The gamuts of the appointments are much different,” he said, noting that Smith also is overseeing an investigation into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith late last year.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith late last year. (Peter Dejong/AFP/Getty Images)

Garland also didn’t mention the possibility of Biden running for reelection on Thursday. Instead, the attorney general said “extraordinary circumstances” led to Hur’s appointment, which he said “was in the public interest.”

In contrast, Trump announcing his candidacy for president in 2024 was a central piece of Garland’s reasoning when he appointed Smith in November.

“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,” Garland said at the time.


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