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Garland says no pause in Trump probes amid appointment of special counsel Jack Smith

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's remarks come as former President Donald Trump has been criticizing the special counsel appointment as "political persecution."

WASHINGTON (CN) — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that special counsel Jack Smith jumped right into overseeing the Department of Justice investigations into former President Donald Trump after being appointed to do so less than two weeks ago.

Smith had been serving as the chief prosecutor for a special international criminal court in The Hague, Netherlands, when the attorney general appointed him to take over the probes 13 days ago. But Garland told reporters on Wednesday that Smith, who is also a former federal prosecutor, has already been meeting with members of his team to get up to speed on the department’s two investigations involving the former president.

There will be no pause in the ongoing probes, Garland said, which involve records taken from the White House stored at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and any efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“I understand that that is exactly what’s going on,” he said.

The attorney general’s mid-week brief, billed as a remark on efforts to “keep Americans safe, uphold the rule of law, and protect civil rights,” comes as former President Trump has been criticizing Garland’s decision to appoint the special counsel.

The special counsel announcement on Nov. 18 came three days after Trump launched his bid to take over the White House in 2024. The attorney general said his decision was partly due to the “extraordinary” circumstances surrounding the probes and the possibility that Trump will face off again with President Joe Biden, who has signaled plans to run again.

Trump meanwhile has characterized the special counsel appointment as “political persecution.”

Over the weekend, the former president posted on his Truth Social platform, calling Smith a “political hit man, who is totally compromised, and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near our already highly WEAPONIZED & CORRUPT ‘Justice’ Department and FBI, which are stuffed with, and listening to, Radical Left ‘MONSTERS,’ who will cause difficulties for our Country the likes of which we have not seen before.”

Garland however said Wednesday that the investigations into the former president are pressing on, but he did not give any details.

The attorney general also applauded Department of Justice attorneys for securing convictions on Tuesday for the rarely used charge of seditious conspiracy in the cases of two Jan. 6 defendants, Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs. Their three co-defendants were found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but were convicted on several other felonies.

Throughout the high-profile trial that lasted eight weeks, prosecutors showed records, photos and videos to support the theory that the five defendants planned, recruited and stocked up on weapons as part of a larger plot to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power. Once the riot at the Capitol was underway on Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors noted during closing arguments, the defendants saw it as an opportunity to “add bodies to the cause” and they took it.

Jurors deliberated for about three days before returning the verdict, which Garland said makes clear that the Department of Justice is committed to holding responsible all those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, a statement he has been reiterating since the one-year anniversary of the Capitol attack.

The last time the Department of Justice secured a seditious conspiracy conviction was more than 30 years ago. The federal statute governing seditious conspiracy was erected in the 1860s in the aftermath of the Civil War as another legal avenue to bring charges against ex-Confederates who largely avoided prosecution after the war.

To date, the government has brought various charges against more than 880 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Nov. 6, about 337 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and about 110 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 173 people have been sentenced to prison time. 

The attorney general declined to comment when asked if Tuesday’s convictions may signal more indictments to come.

Garland delivered remarks for less than 15 minutes at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington on Wednesday then answered a few questions from the press. He was joined by Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco; Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta; Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia.

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