Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday defended the special counsel who led the criminal charges against him Donald Trumphis first public remarks on the impeachment of the former president.
But Garland declined to go into further detail about the prosecution of the former president over his handling of classified documents.
“As you know, I cannot speak to the specifics of this or any other pending criminal matter,” Garland told reporters at the start of a meeting with US attorneys at the Justice Department.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks during a meeting with U.S. attorneys at the Department of Justice on June 14, 2023 in Washington, DC.
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He was asked to share when he first learned that Special Counsel Jack Smith was headed for indictment. The interviewer also referred to recent wave of criticism from Trump allies and other Republicans who have accused the Justice Department of weaponizing.
“As I said when I appointed Mr. Smith, I did so because it underscores the Department of Justice’s commitment to independence and accountability,” the attorney general said.
“Mr. Smith is a seasoned professional prosecutor. He has assembled a group of experienced and talented prosecutors and agents who share his commitment to integrity and the rule of law,” Garland said.
“Any questions on this matter will have to be answered by their filing in court,” he added.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.
The exchange marked the first time Garland publicly discussed Trump’s 37-count indictment related to his alleged mishandling of classified records that were stored at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, after he left office.
The former president pleaded not guilty to the charges during his arraignment Tuesday in federal court in Miami.
Garland was also asked to specify whether he had any role in the impeachment process. “My role is fully in line with the regulations that set out the duties of the Attorney General under the Special Advocates Regulations, and I followed those regulations,” he said.
He declined another request to explain why the unprecedented federal indictment of the former president was the “best and most appropriate step.”
Garland appointed Smith in November, days after Trump announced he would run for president in 2024. The attorney general, President Joe Biden’s pick, said at the time that he made the move so that prosecutors could “decide uncontested only based on facts and law”.
Smith took the helm of the ongoing criminal investigation into the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and another criminal investigation into the events surrounding the January 6, 2021 riots at the Capitol.
Still, Trump and his defense attorneys attacked Smith before and after a federal grand jury returned its indictment. Trump attacked Smith as a “deranged lunatic” during a campaign-style speech at his New Jersey golf club following his accusation.