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Origins, Powers, and Expectations in Hunter Biden Probe: Special Counsels Discussed

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel, David Weiss, to oversee the investigation into Hunter Biden.

The recent appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation into Hunter Biden has sparked interest in the role of these prosecutors throughout American history. Attorney General Merrick Garland has chosen David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware, to lead the investigation into the financial and business activities of the president's son. Weiss requested this appointment, believing that his investigation has reached a critical stage. This move follows previous appointments of special counsels to handle sensitive cases, such as the investigation into classified documents found at Joe Biden's home and the probe into Donald Trump's Florida estate and the events surrounding the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

A special counsel is an attorney appointed by the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute a case in which the department sees a conflict of interest or believes it is in the public's best interest to have an external party take charge. The special counsel must have a reputation for integrity, impartial decision-making, and a deep understanding of criminal law and Department of Justice policies. Although they are not directly supervised by the Justice Department, special counsels must still adhere to its regulations, policies, and procedures. They report to the attorney general, who has the power to dismiss them if necessary.

Special counsels have a budget and can request additional attorneys, both from within and outside the department, to assist them. They possess the authority to issue subpoenas, search warrants, and bring indictments. For example, Robert Mueller, as special counsel during the Trump administration, issued thousands of subpoenas and executed hundreds of search-and-seizure warrants during his investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election and its connection to the Trump campaign.

It is important to distinguish special counsels from independent counsels. Independent counsels operated outside the supervision of the Justice Department and conducted significant investigations into various administrations. However, due to concerns about the cost and scope of these probes, Congress allowed the provision governing independent counsels to expire in 1999. In response, the Justice Department established new regulations for special counsels, granting them less autonomy to avoid excessive entanglement in politically sensitive matters. Special counsels were appointed to handle investigations related to the Trump administration, such as the Russia probe led by Mueller and the ongoing investigation into the origins of that probe led by John Durham.

David Weiss, the newly appointed special counsel, has been Delaware's U.S. attorney since 2018. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor and in private practice, focusing on commercial litigation. Weiss has been leading the federal investigation into Hunter Biden's financial and business dealings, and as special counsel, he will have broader authority to conduct a more comprehensive investigation. In June, Hunter Biden was charged with two misdemeanor crimes related to unpaid taxes, but the plea deal fell apart in July. House Republicans are also conducting their own investigation into Hunter Biden's business activities, attempting to establish a connection to his father, but have yet to produce evidence of any wrongdoing.

Overall, the appointment of a special counsel in the Hunter Biden probe reflects the Justice Department's commitment to conducting a thorough and impartial investigation into the president's son. Special counsels play a crucial role in handling cases where conflicts of interest exist or when it is deemed necessary to have an external party take charge. As David Weiss takes on this new role, he will have the authority and resources to delve deeper into the financial and business dealings of Hunter Biden, ensuring a comprehensive investigation.

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