A former high-ranking Justice Department official under the Trump administration questioned Sunday the attorney general’s decision last week to appoint a special counsel to investigate the former president.
Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Attorney General Merrick Garland may believe outside counsel will lend more credibility to the probe.
“It’s easy to second guess from outside the department. I don’t know exactly what Merrick Garland knows, what information was available to him. He didn’t say that he was required to appoint the special counsel. He said that he thought it was the right thing to do,” said Mr. Rosenstein, who served as deputy attorney general under Mr. Trump from 2017 to 2019.
Mr. Garland on Friday appointed Jack Smith, the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo, to lead investigations into Mr. Trump and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and in the stashing of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
“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,” Mr. Garland said at a press conference.
Mr. Rosenstein said that the circumstances he faced with the appointment of Robert Mueller, it was the right thing to do during the Trump-Russia investigation, but Mr. Garland’s choice to appoint a special counsel now is a “discretionary decision.”
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“The department had been handling this itself for two years and could have continued to handle it itself, but he believed that this would help to promote public confidence,” he said.
Mr. Rosenstein continued, “It’s easy to second guess from outside. I think, my inclination, given that the investigation had been going on for some time and given the stage which they’ve reached, is that I probably would not have, but I just can’t tell from the outside,” he said.
From an America First gala at Mar-a-Lago on Friday, Mr. Trump said the DOJ investigations against him were a “horrendous abuse of power” and called the appointment an “appalling announcement.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat and member of the Jan. 6 committee, applauded the appointment of the special counsel. He hoped the same prosecutors previously investigating Mr. Trump and others could be moved to the special prosecutor’s team.
“There’s every reason to do it, no reason not to do it, and, I think the person who was chosen seems to be eminently capable and qualified,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “My concern, frankly, has been leading up to this point, which is they were very slow at the department to work up the multiple lines of effort to overturn the election.”