Politics

Biden documents investigation means US has 3 special counsel investigations at once. What are they?

WASHINGTON – If it seems like several special counsels are investigating government today, that’s because there is.

Special advisors – or their predecessors, independent advisors – are prosecutors typically assigned a topic to scrutinize that operates independently of the Justice Department to investigate officials in the executive branch. The inquiries are open, often last year and cost millions of dollars.

That conditions that justify special advice have been rare enough that they tended to operate one at a time for relatively high-profile inquiries. But now there is three special advisers operating at once. This is in addition to prosecutors being used for special inquiries as part of their regular job. The special advisers are:

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Here’s an overview of what each advisor examines:

Special Counsel from left to right: Jack Smith, John Durham and Robert Hur.

Special Counsel from left to right: Jack Smith, John Durham and Robert Hur.

But first, what is special advice?

The purpose of the special prosecutors is to provide a criminal investigation independent of the Ministry of Justice. But the way prosecutors have been appointed over the past 45 years has changed due to complaints about the size and cost of the open positions.

Congress authorized the appointment of independent counsel under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. The legislation came in response to the Watergate scandal, when then-President Richard Nixon ordered the Justice Department to fire a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was investigating him.

Under the ethics law, the attorney general could ask a three-judge panel to appoint an independent counsel. But the provision expired in 1999 after debate over the power and independence of prosecutors investigating the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration and Whitewater during the Clinton administration.

Then the Justice Department developed rules allowing the attorney general to appoint a special counsel if the department faces a potential conflict of interest.

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On April 29, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon points to transcripts of the White House tapes after announcing during a nationally televised address that he would turn the transcripts over to House of Representatives investigators.

On April 29, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon points to transcripts of the White House tapes after announcing during a nationally televised address that he would turn the transcripts over to House of Representatives investigators.

Requests for special counsel are open and cost millions of dollars

Special advisor inquiries can be expensive and time-consuming.

Durham’s relatively modest investigationwhich has yielded a guilty plea and two acquittals at trial, cost nearly $7 million since October 2020.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election charged 34 people and three companies, with eight people convicted of crimes. His query cost about 16 million dollars.

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What is Hur’s task?

U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, Middle District of Maryland, speaks during a 2019 news conference in Greenbelt, Md.

U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, Middle District of Maryland, speaks during a 2019 news conference in Greenbelt, Md.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur on Jan. 12 based on a recommendation from John Lausch, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, who conducted the initial review of Biden’s classified documents.

Biden’s private lawyers discovered the documents from his time as vice president while packing up a former office on Nov. 2 at the Penn Biden Center. A wider search then revealed documents on December 20 in the garage and an adjoining room of his home.

Garland said he based his appointment on Lausch’s recommendation, saying it underscored the department’s commitment to “independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters.”

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What is Smith’s task?

Jack Smith

Jack Smith

Garland appointed Smith in November, just days after Trump declared his candidacy for the 2024 presidency.

The department had been investigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack for nearly two years; the search of Mar-a-Lago for evidence of possible obstruction or violation of the Espionage Act had been months earlier.

But Trump’s candidacy highlighted the political ramifications of a president’s Justice Department investigating his political rival.

Garland said he believed the department could handle all investigations with integrity, but that the extraordinary circumstances required a special counsel.

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What is Durham’s task?

John Durham examines the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian election meddling.

John Durham examines the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

Then-Attorney General Bill Barr asked Durham in May 2019 to review law enforcement and intelligence gathering during the 2016 presidential campaign. Barr asked Durham to expand the investigation into a special counsel investigation in October 2020.

Durham’s job was basically to investigate the investigators. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, as a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 election.

Mueller’s final report found that Russia supported Trump against his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, but not that his campaign colluded with Russia. Mueller documented several actions of potential obstruction of Trump’s investigation, but chose not to decide whether he should be charged because the Justice Department has a policy against targeting sitting presidents.

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Trump claimed exemption from Mueller’s final report. Barr tasked Durham with investigating the FBI’s surveillance of the Trump campaign and the Mueller investigation.

The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, issued a scathing report in December 2019 criticizing how the FBI won court orders to wiretap Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser.

So far, Durham has charged three people with lying to or to the FBI. Former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to spoof an email used to support the monitoring of Page.

But cybersecurity attorney Michael Sussmann and Think tank analyst Igor Danchenko was acquitted during the trial to lie to the FBI.

President Joe Biden is leaving the White House on Thursday to travel to California, where he saw damage caused by recent storms.

President Joe Biden is leaving the White House on Thursday to travel to California, where he saw damage caused by recent storms.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Special Counsels Jack Smith, Robert Hur. What are they investigating?

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