Who is Jack Smith, the Designated Special Counsel in the Trump Inquiries?
Jack Smith, the special counsel named by Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday to oversee criminal investigations into the retention of classified documents at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of January 6, 2021, insurgency, is a long-time prosecutor who has overseen a number of high-profile cases over the course of his career.
Smith’s background includes everything from prosecuting a sitting US senator to bringing charges against gang members who were eventually convicted of murdering New York City police officers.
Smith has recently been charged with war crimes at The Hague. His experience in several branches of the Justice Department, as well as in international courts, has allowed him to maintain a low profile in the often-boisterous legal sector.
His skills and resume will help him, at least initially, to avoid the political backlash that greeted former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. It also demonstrates his ability to manage complicated criminal cases involving both public corruption and national security, as well as his experience making difficult judgments with political ramifications.
Smith is widely expected to be tasked with making policy judgments regarding whether to charge a former US president. Garland’s words on Friday, as well as recent developments in the Mar-a-Lago and January 6 investigations, have indicated that, at the very least, Donald Trump is under investigation and could face criminal charges.
“He understands how to handle high-profile matters.” He is self-sufficient. “He will not be swayed by anyone,” former Mueller team member Greg Andres said.
Andres, who has known Smith since the late 1990s when they started at a US attorney’s office together and eventually became co-chiefs of the office’s criminal division, believes Smith’s expertise will allow him to endure public scrutiny and make difficult decisions.
“He will assess the facts and determine whether or not a case should be charged.” “He has the experience to make those decisions,” added Andres.
“He is familiar with the courtroom. He knows how to conduct a trial. “He understands how to build a case,” he continued. “It will be crucial, particularly in these circumstances, to grasp what forms of evidence are required to prove the case in court.”
Smith promised to undertake the investigations “independently and in the greatest traditions of the Department of Justice” in a statement issued after his announcement.
“The pace of the investigations will neither slow nor slow down under my supervision.” “I will use my independent judgment and bring the investigations ahead as quickly and fully as the facts and the law require,” Smith said.
According to one former colleague, Smith has prosecuted members of both parties.
“He’s going to be pretty aggressive,” the source said, adding that “things are going to pick up speed.” Smith, they claimed, “operates very rapidly” and has a unique capacity to quickly discern what is vital to a case and does not waste time “wringing his hands over things that are true sideshows.”
According to this source, Smith comes out as very down-to-earth and personable in court, which is a desirable trait to have as a prosecutor.
They said that Smith has a thick skin and will “do what he’s going to do” regardless of the politics surrounding the issue.
A prosecutor by profession
Smith began his legal career in 1994 as an associate district attorney for the New York County District Attorney’s Office. According to the Justice Department, he worked as an assistant US attorney in the Eastern District of New York in 1999, where he handled cases involving civil rights violations and police officers slain by gangs.
One of Smith’s most high-profile cases as a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York, was prosecuting gang member Ronell Wilson for the murder of two New York City police detectives during an undercover weapons operation in Staten Island.
Wilson was convicted and sentenced to death in the first capital penalty case in New York in 50 years, but a judge ultimately ruled that he was ineligible for the death penalty.
Smith was described as “one of the best trial lawyers I have ever seen” by Moe Fodeman, who worked with him at EDNY.
“He is a fantastic detective who leaves no stone untouched.” “He digs deep to uncover the truth,” Fodeman remarked.
Smith is a “truly mad” cyclist and triathlete, according to Fodeman, who is still acquainted with him.
Smith began working for the International Criminal Court in 2008 and managed war crimes investigations within the Office of the Prosecutor for two years.
In 2010, he was named chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, where he managed public corruption litigation before being appointed first assistant US attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in 2015.
Smith is recognized as a consummate public servant, despite his lack of fame in Washington, DC legal circles.
He hired waves of line prosecutors into the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section around a decade ago, supervising dozens during his tenure there.
Brian Kidd, who was hired at the unit by Smith, detailed how his employer guided him through every step of a sophisticated racketeering case involving corrupt police officers.
“He was not going to put up with a politically motivated prosecution,” Kidd explained. “And he has an exceptional capacity to motivate those who work with and for him.” He is very supportive of his squad.”
Smith has handled some of the most high-profile political corruption cases in recent memory, with varying degrees of success.
When then-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was indicted in 2014, he was the chief of the public integrity unit, and he was in meetings with the defense team and involved in decision-making leading up to the charges, according to a person familiar with the matter.
McDonnell was convicted of accepting gifts in exchange for political favors, but his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Smith was also in charge of the section when the Department of Justice failed to convict former Senator and Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards at trial.
A Republican source acquainted with Smith’s handling of the investigation of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay praised Smith’s impartiality, adding that he finally made a “fair” decision to close the inquiry without charging DeLay with any crime.
He has not lived in the United States in recent years while working at The Hague. He is no longer a member of the US Triathlon squad, but he is still a competitive cyclist.
Smith took over as interim US Attorney when David Rivera left the Justice Department in early 2017, before departing the Justice Department later that year and becoming the Hospital Corporation of America’s vice president of litigation.
In 2018, he was appointed chief prosecutor for the Hague Special Court, where he examined war crimes in Kosovo.
“Throughout his career, Jack Smith has earned a reputation as an unbiased and determined prosecutor, who leads teams with enthusiasm and determination to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Garland said on Friday. “Mr. Smith is the best choice to execute these tasks fairly and expeditiously.”
Smith Was Interviewed as Part of a Republican-led Irs Investigation
In May 2014, Smith was interviewed behind closed doors by the House Oversight Committee as part of the Republican-led inquiry into alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups.
Following a 2013 inspector general report that identified delays in the processing of applications by specific conservative groups and asking for information from them that was later deemed superfluous, then-Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa started the investigation.
Republicans sought testimony from Smith, the Public Integrity section chief at the time, because of his role in organizing a 2010 meeting between Justice Department officials and then-IRS official Lois Lerner, the official at the center of the IRS controversy.
According to a May 2014 letter signed by Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who is set to be House Judiciary chairman next year, the meeting was called to address the “changing legal landscape” of campaign finance law in the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
“It is clear that the Department’s leadership, including Public Integrity Section Chief Jack Smith, was intimately involved in engaging with the IRS in the aftermath of Citizens United and political pressure from prominent Democrats to address perceived problems with the decision,” Issa and Jordan wrote in their letter requesting Smith’s testimony.
According to a copy of Smith’s interview acquired by CNN, his office “had a dialogue” with the FBI about initiating investigations into politically active non-profits following the meeting with Lerner but did not do so in the end.
Smith claimed that he requested the meeting with the IRS because he was new to the public integrity department and wanted to understand more about the legal landscape of political non-profits in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision. He stated that Lerner explained that bringing a case on the abuse of tax-exempt status would be difficult, if not impossible.
Smith stated multiple times during the interview that the Justice Department did not pursue any investigations due to political considerations.
“I want to be clear – it would be more about examining the matter and determining whether it made sense to launch inquiries,” he said. “If we did, how would you go about doing it?”
Is there any reason to begin an investigation? That sort of thing. I can’t say anything particular as I sit here now, you know, the back-and-forth of that dialogue. I can only say that because I know one of your concerns is that groups have been targeted.
And I can tell you that we, Public Integrity, did not launch any investigations as a result of those discussions, and we certainly did not bring any prosecutions as a result of that, as you know.”
Smith also testified that he was unaware of anyone at the Justice Department putting pressure on the IRS and that he was never asked to investigate any political organizations.
“No. And maybe I can put a stop to you. I realize there are several of these questions. “I’ve never been asked these questions, and no one who knows me would ever think of asking me to do so,” Smith added.