WASHINGTON – Less than two weeks after the 2022 midterm elections, the 2024 presidential race has its second major development: A special counsel investigating recently announced presidential candidate Donald Trump.
As people absorbed the news, at least two things appear likely: Trump will try to turn the appointment of the special counsel into a political issue itself, and the addition of a new top official will probably delay resolution of two major federal investigations, perhaps into 2024.
In announcing the appointment of veteran prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel, Attorney General Merrick Garland cited another 2024 factor: President Joe Biden will almost surely seek re-election.
‘Not above the law’:Why Trump’s decision to run for president won’t change his legal woes
All those investigations:Trump investigations set to accelerate in coming weeks
Donald Trump vs. … Jack Smith?
If initial reactions are any guide, Trump – who began the 2024 presidential cycle early by announcing his candidacy on Tuesday, just a week after the midterms – will all but try to turn Smith into Biden’s running mate. Trump has long argued that the government is targeting him for political reasons and served notice Friday he will continue to do so.
In an interview with Fox News Digital, Trump called the special counsel probe “unfair,” and said “the Republican Party has to stand up and fight.”
Other Republicans echoed Trump, and some complained as soon as Garland made the announcement.
“Now that President Trump’s announced for president, they’re going to put a permanent entity in place that can hang this cloud over him until 2024,” said Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., speaking on Fox Business.
No one is sure whether this will work, even among Republican voters.
Other potential Republican candidates, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, have not talked about the investigations into Trump. It’s hard to imagine that won’t change, eventually.
Some of the candidates, including Trump, are scheduled to speak this weekend during a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
A delay of events?
A number of attorneys said the new appointment will likely delay answering the key question: Will the Justice Department indict and prosecute the former president?
“Ironically, by announcing a Special Counsel this late in the game Garland just made it more likely that any potential prosecution of Trump will bleed into the 2024 general election season,” said national security lawyer Bradley P. Moss.
The appointment:AG Merrick Garland appoints special counsel to oversee Trump criminal investigations
The counsel:Who is Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed to lead Trump investigations?
The new special counsel is charge of two investigations.
One involves alleged efforts to steal the 2020 election from Biden, a probe that includes the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
The other concerns Trump’s removal of classified documents when he left the White House in January of 2021.
The Georgia investigation : Still burning
Smith’s appointment affects only federal investigations; Trump still has trouble at the state level, namely the state of Georgia.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her staff are moving along with an investigation into whether Trump broke the law when he pressured Georgia election officials to find votes and overturn his loss of the state to Biden.
Before the midterm elections, some Democrats had suggested that Biden consider stepping aside in 2024 because of his age. (He turns 80 on Sunday.)
That talk ceased after the midterms, and Garland seemed to confirm Biden’s plans in announcing the appointment of Smith to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Said the attorney general: “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.”