Jack Smith, the special counsel named Friday by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee the criminal investigation into the storage of classified documents at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the Jan. 6, 2021 coup, has a long job. -time prosecutor who has overseen a variety of high-profile cases in a career spanning decades.
Smith’s experience ranges from prosecuting a sitting U.S. senator to prosecuting gang members who were eventually convicted of murdering New York City police officers. In recent years, Smith has been accused of war crimes in The Hague. His career in several parts of the Justice Department, as well as in international courts, has allowed him to keep a relatively low profile in the often cutthroat legal industry.
His experience and resume will allow him, at least initially, to escape the kind of political blows that quickly faced former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. It also shows that he is adept at handling complex criminal cases involving both public corruption and national security, and that he has a track record of making difficult decisions with political implications.
Smith is expected to be tasked with making policy decisions on whether to indict the former US president. Garland’s statements on Friday and the recent steps taken in the Mar-a-Lago and Jan. 6 investigations suggest that at least Donald Trump is being investigated and could possibly be charged with a crime.
“He knows how to handle high-level cases. He is independent. He’s not going to be influenced by anybody,” said Greg Andres, a former teammate of Miller’s.
Andres, who has known Smith since the late 1990s, when they started working together at the U.S. attorney’s office and eventually became co-chairs of the office’s criminal division, said Smith’s breadth of experience will allow him to withstand public scrutiny and make it tough. judgment calls.
“He will evaluate the evidence and understand what type of case should be charged or not. He has the experience to make those kinds of judgments,” Andres said.
“He understands the courtroom. He understands how to try a case. He knows how to prove a case,” he added. “Especially in these circumstances, it’s going to be important to understand what kind of evidence is needed to prove a case in court.”
In a statement after his announcement, Smith pledged to conduct the investigation “independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice.”
“The pace of the investigation will not stop or flag in my view. I will exercise independent judgment and move the investigation forward expeditiously and diligently to the outcome that the facts and law dictate,” Smith said.
One former colleague pointed out that Smith has accused members of both parties.
“He’s going to be really aggressive,” the person said, adding that “things are going to accelerate.” They said Smith “works very quickly” and has a unique ability to quickly identify things that are important and doesn’t waste time “hanging over things that are real sideshows.”
In court, Smith comes off as very down-to-earth and friendly, the person said, describing that as a good quality for a prosecutor.
Smith also won’t care about the politics of the case, they said, adding that he has a very thick skin and will “do what he’s going to do.”
Smith began his career as an assistant district attorney in the New York City District Attorney’s Office in 1994. In 1999, he served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where he prosecuted criminal cases, including civil rights violations and the killing of police officers. gangs, according to the Justice Department.
As a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York, one of Smith’s biggest and most high-profile cases was the prosecution of gang member Ronnell Wilson for the murders of two NYPD detectives during an undercover gun operation in Staten Island.
Wilson was convicted and sentenced to death in what was then New York’s first capital case in 50 years, although a judge later ruled that he was not eligible for the death penalty.
Moe Fodeman, who worked with Smith at the EDNY, called him “one of the best trial lawyers I’ve ever seen.”
“He is a phenomenal investigator; he leaves no stone unturned. He’s digging to get to the real facts,” Fodeman said.
Fodeman, who remains friends with Smith, said he was a “literally insane” cyclist and triathlete.
Beginning in 2008, Smith worked at the International Criminal Court and for two years oversaw war crimes investigations under the Office of the Prosecutor.
In 2010, he became Chief of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Division, where he oversaw the prosecution of public corruption cases, before being appointed First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in 2015.
Although he is not widely known in Washington, D.C., legal circles, Smith is described as an outstanding public servant.
About a decade ago, he hired a series of prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Division that oversaw the decades he led there.
Brian Kidd, who Smith hired into the department, recalled how his boss guided him through every complex racketeering case against corrupt cops.
“He was not going to tolerate a politically motivated prosecution,” Kidd said. “And he has an incredible ability to motivate the people who work with him and under him. He’s incredibly supportive of his team.”
Smith handled some of the most high-profile political corruption cases in recent memory — with mixed results.
He was the head of the public integrity unit when then-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was indicted in 2014, and he sat in on meetings with the defense team and was involved in the decisions that led to the charges, a person familiar with the matter said. .
McDonnell was initially convicted of accepting gifts for political favors, but his conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Smith was also at the helm of the unit when the DOJ failed to convict former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
A Republican source familiar with Smith’s oversight of the investigation into former House Majority Leader Tom Daley praised Smith’s nonpartisan approach, saying he ultimately made a “fair” decision to close the investigation without alleging any wrongdoing by Daley.
He has not lived in the US in recent years while working in The Hague. He is no longer on the USA Triathlon team, but remains a competitive motorcyclist.
Smith took over as acting U.S. attorney when David Rivera left in early 2017, but left the Justice Department later that year to become vice president of litigation at the Hospital Corporation of America. In 2018, he became the chief prosecutor of the Special Court in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo.
“Throughout his career, Jack Smith has built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor who leads teams with energy and purpose to pursue the facts wherever he leads them,” Garland said Friday. “Mr. Smith is the right choice to resolve these issues equally and with urgency.
In May 2014, the House Oversight Committee interviewed Smith behind closed doors as part of a Republican-led investigation into alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups. Then-Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa launched the investigation after a 2013 inspector general’s report found that certain conservative groups were delaying processing applications and requesting information from them that was later deemed unnecessary.
Republicans sought testimony from Smith, then head of the Public Integrity Division, because he was involved in arranging a 2010 meeting between Justice Department officials and then-IRS official Lois Lerner, the official at the center of the IRS scandal. The meeting was called to discuss the “legal landscape” of campaign finance law following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, according to a May 2014 letter written by Isa and Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is expected to be the House Judiciary. chairman next year.
“It is clear that department leadership, including Chief of Public Integrity Jack Smith, was closely involved in working with the IRS following political pressure from Citizens United and prominent Democrats to address perceived problems with the decision,” Issa and Jordan wrote. letter requesting Smith’s testimony.
Smith testified that his office “had a dialogue” with the FBI about opening an investigation into politically active nonprofits after meeting with Lerner, but ultimately did not., according to a transcript of his interview obtained by CNN.
Smith explained that he requested the meeting with the IRS because he wanted to learn more about the legal environment for political nonprofits after the Citizens United decision, as he was relatively new to the public integrity section. He said Lerner explained that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute a case of abuse of tax-exempt status.
Smith reiterated at several points in the interview that the Justice Department did not conduct any investigation because of politics.
“I want to be clear – it would be more about looking at whether it makes sense to open an investigation,” he said. “If we did, you know how you would do it? Is there a prognosis, a reason to start an investigation? Things like that. I can’t tell you how I’m sitting here right now, specifically, these back and forth discussions. I can tell you this because I know one of your concerns is that organizations were targeted. And I can tell you that we, Public Integrity, did not initiate any investigation as a result of these discussions, and that we certainly, as you know, did not initiate any case.
Smith also testified that he was not aware of anyone at the Justice Department pressuring the IRS and that he had never been pressured to investigate any political group.
“No. And maybe I can stop you. I know there are a bunch of these questions. I’ve never been asked these things, and no one who knows me would ever even consider asking me to do something like that,” Smith said.
This story has been updated with additional information.