Former Vice President Mike Pence has criticised the federal government’s appointment of a special counsel to oversee two criminal investigations into Donald Trump, who has accused the US Department of Justice of waging a politically motivated attack against him.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on 18 November that a former chief prosecutor from The Hague will examine the former president’s role in the attack on the US Capitol as well as his possession of sensitive government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The announcement comes just days after the twice-impeached former president – whose baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him fuelled a riot in the halls of Congress on 6 January, 2021, with a mob chanting “hang Mike Pence” – formally declared his campaign to run for president again in 2024.
At an event in Las Vegas on Friday, Mr Pence told Fox News Digital that the appointment of a special counsel is “very troubling”.
“No one is above the law, but I am not sure it’s against the law to take bad advice from your lawyers,” he added.
The former president’s legal team has claimed that Mr Trump’s possession of White House records seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate were designated “personal” by virtue of their removal from the White House, a claim roundly rejected by federal prosecutors.
Mr Trump and his allies have accused President Joe Biden’s administration of “weaponising” the Justice Department against him, calling the latest move a “horrendous abuse of power.”
“The timing of this decision – just a few short days after the president announced his intention to seek re-election, I think that the history of it, the facts that I am aware of behind it, I think it is very troubling,” Mr Pence told Fox News Digital.
Mr Garland said that the former president’s recent announcement to seek office again, following a wave of criminal and civil investigations implicating his conduct, make it in the “public interest to appoint a special counsel.”
Jack Smith – the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo – “has built the reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor,” Mr Garland said.
“Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters. It also allows prosecutors and agents to continue to work expeditiously and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law,” he added.
The Justice Department has prosecuted roughly 900 people in connection with the Capitol attack, and a parallel probe from a House select committee investigating the events leading up to and surrounding the event has also sought testimony from Mr Trump’s circle.
One element of the Justice Department probe involves the so-called alternate electors scheme, a bogus ploy from Mr Trump and his allies to assemble slates of Trump loyalists as electors who would pledge their electoral college votes in states that Mr Biden won in an attempt to overthrow the will of voters and the 2020 election results.
Hours after the mob was cleared from the Capitol on January 6, Mr Pence resumed the certifcation of electoral votes and defied pressure from Mr Trump to reject them.
A separate investigation into the possession of White House documents follows requests from the National Archives, which sought the return of hundreds of documents that Mr Trump brought to his Florida residence after leaving office. Federal law enforcement agents search the property in August and recovered a trove of materials, including some with classified markings.