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Special Counsel Taking Over Trump Investigations
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Special Counsel Taking Over Trump Investigations

Plus: Qatar's troubling road to the World Cup.

Happy Tuesday! Yesterday was the pardoning of the national turkey, also known as the White House’s annual open mic night. 

“The votes are in. They’ve been counted and verified. There’s no ballot stuffing. There’s no fowl play,” President Biden told the assembled crowd, promising not to “gobble up” too much of their time. “The only red wave this season is going to be a German Shepherd, Commander, knock[ing] over the cranberry sauce on our table.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • One day after the Turkish Defense Ministry launched a series of airstrikes targeting Kurdish militants in northern Syria and Iraq, those same Kurdish militants on Monday reportedly fired rockets back across the border, killing two people in the Turkish border town of Karkamis and wounding 10 others. Turkish officials blame those Kurdish militants for a bombing in Istanbul last week that killed six people and wounded dozens others, but the Kurdish groups have denied responsibility for the attack. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also fired drones and missiles at Kurdish military bases in northern Iraq on Monday, the second such attack after Iran accused the groups of encouraging and fomenting the domestic protests plaguing Tehran.
  • Long-standing ethnic tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo have reportedly erupted in recent weeks, resulting in the heaviest fighting in nearly a decade as warring militias and rebel groups vie for control of the region and its natural resources. The conflict has led to food and fuel shortages for millions of people in the area.
  • A 5.6-magnitude earthquake on the Indonesian main island of Java killed at least 162 people Monday afternoon, West Java Gov. Ridden Kamil said in a briefing. The quake also injured at least 326 people and damaged more than 2,000 homes—displacing about 13,000 people—but officials with Indonesia’s meteorological agency said it wouldn’t create a tsunami.
  • Network decision desks on Monday projected GOP Rep. David Valadao—one of 10 Republicans to vote in favor of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment—will defeat Rudy Salas, his Democratic challenger in California’s 22nd congressional district. Salas did not publicly concede last night, but Republicans have now won—or are leading in—222 congressional districts, compared to Democrats’ 213.
  • Penguin Random House’s deal to acquire Simon & Schuster for $2 billion officially collapsed on Monday, weeks after a federal judge blocked the proposed merger on antitrust grounds. Penguin Random House intended to appeal the ruling, but couldn’t after Simon & Schuster’s parent company opted not to extend the purchase agreement and terminated the pact instead.

Special Counsel Taking Over Trump Investigations

Former President Donald Trump. (Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images.)

Aside from a desire to stave off potential Republican challengers and a general need for people to be talking and/or thinking about him at all times, one of the main reasons Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential bid last week was to throw a series of wrenches into the myriad criminal investigations he is facing. But a person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.

Citing Trump’s Mar-a-Lago announcement speech—though not by name—Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Friday he had appointed a special counsel to oversee two federal criminal investigations implicating Trump, regarding potential interference in the transfer of power and the potential mishandling of classified documents and other presidential records. “I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a Special Counsel,” 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 their work expeditiously, and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.”

By the letter of the law, Garland’s decision was probably the correct one. As CFR § 600.1 states, the attorney general “will” appoint a special counsel when the investigation of a matter presents “a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances.” That the subject of the investigations at hand is running to unseat Garland’s boss is about as clear-cut a conflict of interest as you’ll get. (That Biden likely wants to run against Trump again in 2024 because he’d be the easiest Republican to beat is beside the point.)

But in the real world, a special counsel will almost assuredly fail to assuage concerns from Trump supporters and skeptics of the Biden administration that the investigations—whatever their conclusions—were conducted free from any political pressure. Sure, the DOJ is required by law to inform Congress if the attorney general overrides an investigative step the special counsel wants to take. And sure, the special counsel can only be removed by the attorney general in the event of “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or … violation of departmental policies.” But at the end of the day, any federal prosecutor—special or otherwise—is a member of the executive branch and reports to the attorney general, who will still be tasked with deciding whether or not to accept the special counsel’s recommendations.

Because the special counsel is being brought on to conclude investigations already underway—and is expected to retain the bulk of the staff already assigned to the probes—those recommendations could come sooner than you think. “The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch,” said special counsel Jack Smith in a brief statement upon his appointment. “I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”

The perfect candidate to lead one of the thorniest and most politically fraught prosecutions in American history doesn’t exist, but Smith was probably the best Garland could do. A longtime prosecutor and registered independent—his former colleagues claim not to know his politics—Smith’s career began three decades ago in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but he’s spent the bulk of the Trump years abroad, investigating war crimes committed in Kosovo at The Hague. In between, he led the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which focuses on corruption and election-related crimes involving elected officials. In that capacity, he and his team pursued cases against former Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell of Virginia and former GOP Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona, while declining to bring charges against former GOP Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas—despite the DOJ spending six years investigating his relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. McDonnell’s corruption conviction was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court a few years later, and Trump pardoned Renzi on his final day in office.   

Speaking of Trump, the former president is none too pleased with Smith’s arrival on the scene, as he told Fox News Digital on Friday. “This is the worst politicization of justice in our country,” he claimed. “I have been proven innocent for six years on everything—from fake impeachments to [former special counsel Robert] Mueller who found no collusion, and now I have to do it more? It is not acceptable. It is so unfair. It is so political.” He pledged that he wouldn’t “partake” in the investigation.

But unlike the last time Trump claimed political persecution—after the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in August—the Republican Party’s response has been far more muted. Former Vice President Mike Pence described the move as “very troubling,” Sen. Ted Cruz labeled it “Trump derangement syndrome … with a gun and badge,” and a handful of House Freedom Caucus members sent some angry tweets. But by and large, GOP leaders—either burned by their knee-jerk instinct to defend Trump after the Mar-a-Lago raid or quietly happy to see him bogged down heading into 2024—have kept their thoughts on Smith to themselves.

One person who hasn’t? Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr. “If the Department of Justice can show that these were indeed very sensitive documents, which I think they probably were, and also show that the president consciously was involved in misleading the department, deceiving the government, and playing games after he had received the subpoena for the documents, those are serious charges,” he told PBS News in an interview that aired Friday. “Given what’s gone on, I think they probably have the evidence that would check the box. They have the case.”

Ugly Shadows Cloud the Beautiful Game

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is sick and tired of all the whining about the World Cup being held in Qatar—including complaints about a last-minute announcement that the Muslim country would block alcoholic beer sales in or near stadiums for all but the most premier ticketholders.

“If for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive,” Infantino said Saturday in an hour-long speech decrying critics. “If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup, I will resign immediately and go to the beach and relax.”

He’ll have to postpone that vacation, because this World Cup has been dogged by far more serious problems than the beer switcheroo. From allegations of corruption surrounding Qatar’s bid, to the deaths of thousands of migrant workers, to the country’s poor human rights record, the location of the 2022 games has cast a shadow on one of the world’s largest sporting events, which attracted a record 3.5 billion viewers four years ago.

The trouble started back in 2010, when Qatar won the right to host this year’s tournament—beating out bids from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia despite the Arab country’s lack of existing infrastructure or soccer fandom, extreme temperatures, and limited space. Qatar expects to host one million visitors for the tournament despite being smaller than Connecticut, and it had never qualified for the World Cup before winning its bid. The implausibility led the U.S. Justice Department and Swiss authorities to allege FIFA officials had accepted bribes from Qatar, and though that’s never been proven, 18 members of the soccer authority’s 24-person executive committee have since been investigated or implicated in various scandals.

Qatar’s preparation for the World Cup has also brought attention to its treatment of migrant workers, as the country poured some $220 billion into constructing new stadiums, hotels, and other infrastructure. Outside laborers—many from India, Nepal, and Bangladesh—account for some 90 percent of Qatar’s workforce of about 2 million people. Estimates vary due to incomplete data and difficulties assessing causality, but The Guardian reported in early 2021 that more than 6,500 migrant workers from South Asia alone had died in Qatar since 2010, while Amnesty International believes more than 15,000 non-Qataris have died in the country in the last decade. It’s unclear how many of those deaths are directly related to working conditions or World Cup preparations specifically, and FIFA and Qatar dispute those figures, reporting just 40 deaths among stadium construction workers over the time period—three of which were deemed “work-related.” That said, Qatar hasn’t vigorously investigated deaths attributed to cardiac or lung failure that could be brought on by working in the country’s heat, which can top 110 °F in the summer.

But while FIFA agreed to hold the tournament during the winter to spare players and fans Qatar’s summer heat, migrant workers preparing for the tournament—who have long complained of abusive conditions—didn’t have that luxury. According to various reports, these laborers had their pay and passports withheld, were provided limited access to water while working in heat, and were forced into overcrowded accommodations. From 2011 to 2020, migrant workers paid an estimated $1.5 billion in recruitment fees for the right to work in Qatar, and many who died suddenly after arriving left their families in debt.

International scrutiny has helped spur some reforms. In September 2020, Qatar became the first country in the region to outlaw the “kafala” system, establishing a minimum wage and allowing workers to change jobs without their employer’s permission. It also officially limited working hours during the hottest months, required annual health checks for workers, and promised to penalize employers that withheld wages. Still, security guards at the World Cup park alleged just this month they earned less than $1 an hour and got just one day off per month.

Qatar also has a poor record on other human rights issues. Women need permission to marry, study abroad, or work a government job, among other restrictions, and it’s illegal to criticize the country’s emir, blaspheme against Islam, or spread “false news”—a measure the country has used to punish dissidents and journalists. In addition, sex between men is punishable by seven years in prison in Qatar, and LGBTQ people in the country report frequent harassment and beatings from law enforcement. Officials have sought to reassure LGBTQ fans they won’t face persecution if they travel to the tournament, but recent comments from Qatari World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman describing homosexuality as “damage in the mind” brought their concerns back to the fore. “Everybody will accept that [LGBTQ fans] come here,” Salman said. “But they will have to accept our rules.”

Players on seven European teams—England, Wales, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland—planned to wear rainbow armbands protesting Qatar’s treatment of LGBTQ people, but they backed down this weekend after FIFA threatened sanctions, including an automatic yellow card. (Players receiving two yellow cards in a game can be suspended from matches.) 

Qatari leaders have brushed such criticism aside, insinuating that it’s hypocritical and stems from anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. Qatar “has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced,” Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said last month. “It has unfortunately prompted many people to question the real reasons and motives.” FIFA leaders have echoed those talking points. “Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel [like] a migrant worker,” Infantino said in his press conference on Saturday. “This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy.”

The United States, Canada, and Mexico will jointly host the next World Cup in 2026, but if FIFA leaders want to avoid a repeat of the headaches that come with choosing an oil-rich country with a dubious human rights record to host, they should think carefully about their pick for 2030: Saudi Arabia is rumored to be eyeing a joint bid.

Worth Your Time

  • Over at Politico, Olivia Beavers, Jordain Carney, and Sarah Ferris report on GOP centrists’ preparations to “flex their muscles” in the next Congress. “The unexpectedly small majority [Kevin] McCarthy will be working with next year as he seeks the top gavel has undoubtedly bolstered the leverage of his right flank,” they write. “But the House Freedom Caucus’ vocal criticism is drowning out clear signals from some members of his more moderate wing: They say McCarthy should know that any deal with rebellious conservatives could face resistance from centrists who see themselves as the GOP’s ‘majority makers.’ ‘Kevin’s not stupid,’ said Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), who leads the centrist Republican Governance Group. ‘He’s trying to add to his numbers, not destroy his base. And so I count on his political acumen to know what’s acceptable to the rank and file inside the conference.’ Whether centrists are willing to withhold their speakership votes from McCarthy on Jan. 3, as some conservatives have indicated, remains to be seen.”
  • A lot of journalists have convinced themselves they need Twitter to do their jobs, but … do they really? “Frequently, people I respect have tweeted things that make me think less of their judgment. Trolling is rife, not only between accounts of dubious verifiability, but between professional people who, if they had met in a real-world setting, undoubtedly would have been able to disagree more courteously,” Sarah Green Carmichael writes for Bloomberg. “As I began enjoying Twitter less, I started spending more time reading books. One book I read this year with the time I used to spend scrolling is ‘No One Is Talking About This,’ a novel whose protagonist spends a massive amount of time using a Twitter-like app she calls ‘the portal.’ The author, Patricia Lockwood, is sometimes called the poet laureate of Twitter. One passage has stuck in my mind: ‘The people who lived in the portal were often compared to those legendary experiment rats who kept hitting a button over and over to get a pellet. But at least the rats were getting a pellet, or the hope of a pellet, or the memory of a pellet. When we hit the button, all we were getting was to be more of a rat.’”

Something Brave

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! Before you check out for the Thanksgiving holiday, join David, Kevin, and other Dispatchers for a riveting discussion touching on the headlines of the week. As always, there will be plenty of time for viewer questions. Members will receive an email today with details on joining.
  • The conventional wisdom ahead of 2024 is that a large Republican field would split a divided GOP electorate and allow Donald Trump to squeak through. But Nick has a take in yesterday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒) that’s “hotter than a Thanksgiving turkey fresh from the oven.” Could a crowded field actually work against Trump this time around?
  • Kevin is fine with House Republicans looking into Hunter Biden and the Justice Department appointing a special counsel to wrap up its Trump probe, as long as both investigations are … investigations. “There are two ways to mess up the rule of law in these cases—erring on the side of permissiveness or on the side of vindictiveness—and it is important to avoid both of them,” he writes in his latest Wanderland (🔒). “Investigations, yes. Theater, no.”
  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the rumors of another Alito leak and DC’s corrosive obsession with “access” before turning to the Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel for its various Trump investigations and law schools’ decision to pull out of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Plus: Advisory Opinions bingo is here!
  • On the site today, Audrey examines the midterm blame game currently taking place in the Pennsylvania state Republican party and Anthony Ruggiero describes how the U.S. should strengthen its diplomatic and economic response to North Korea’s continued missile-test provocations.

Let Us Know

Will you trust the results of the Justice Department’s various Trump investigations more, less, or the same amount after Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision to appoint a special counsel?

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Declan Garvey

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

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Esther Eaton

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.