Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday named a special counsel to investigate the entirety of the criminal probe into the unlawful retention of national defense information at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, Fox News has learned.
Garland appointed former Justice Department official Jack Smith to the role. Smith, a former assistant U.S. attorney and chief to the DOJ's public integrity section, will oversee the investigation into Trump's retention of classified documents after leaving the White House and whether the former president obstructed the federal government's investigation into the matter.
Smith is also tasked with overseeing the investigation into whether Trump or other officials and entities interfered with the peaceful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election, including the certification of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, 2021.
"It is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution based on recent developments, including [Trump'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," said Garland.
Garland clarified that when it came to the investigation into Jan. 6, Smith would not be handling the investigation or prosecution of Trump supporters that breached the U.S. Capitol. Rather, Smith would focus on whether Trump or individuals and entities had tried to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power.
FBI agents seized classified records from former Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago during the agency's unprecedented raid on Aug. 8, including some marked as top secret, according to a warrant and property receipt.
A warrant signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart gave agents the authority to seize "all physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed" in violation of U.S. Code, including documents with classification markings and presidential records created between Jan. 20, 2017, and Jan. 20, 2021.
According to the property receipt, FBI agents took approximately 20 boxes of items from the premises, including one set of documents marked as "Various classified/TS/SCI documents," which refers to top secret/sensitive compartmented information.
Records covered by that government classification level could include human intelligence and information that, if disclosed, could jeopardize relations between the U.S. and other nations, as well as the lives of intelligence operatives abroad. However, the classification also encompasses national security information related to the daily operations of the president of the United States.
The government conducted the search in response to what it believes to be a violation of federal laws: 18 USC 793 — Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information; 18 USC 2071 — Concealment, removal or mutilation; and 18 USC 1519 — Destruction, alteration or falsification of records in Federal investigations.
The allegation of "gathering, transmitting or losing defense information" falls under the Espionage Act.
The former president and his team are disputing the classification and believe the information and records to have been declassified.
Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.