Who is Jack Smith, the prosecutor overseeing the Trump probes

11 months ago 15

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Jack Smith, the experienced war crimes prosecutor who unveiled an unprecedented federal indictment against former US president Donald J Trump, is no stranger to high-profile probes of public figures.

The Department of Justice veteran returned to the US last November after being appointed a special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The first mission was to consider, “whether any person or entity violated the law in connection with efforts to interfere with the lawful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the electoral college vote held on or about January 6, 2021”.

The second, which led to Mr Trump being indicted and arraigned in 37 federal charges, was about whether the former president had violated US laws prohibiting unlawful retention of national defence information and obstruction of justice.

It marked the first time in US history that an ex-president — let alone one who is a declared candidate in the next presidential election — faced criminal charges.

On 13 June, Mr Trump was arrested and arraigned on those charges in a federal court in Miami, where he pleaded not guilty.

Coming face-to-face in the courtroom, several reporters described how Mr Smith was seen staring down the former president throughout the entirety of the arraignment proceedings.

The latest development came on 18 July when the former president said he had received a letter stating that he’s a target in the federal probe into his efforts to remain in office despite losing the 2020 election, including any role he may have had in inciting the insurrection on January 6, 2021, for which he was impeached but not convicted in the US Senate trial.

A letter of that type tends to be a sign that an indictment is coming but any possible charges will take months to go through the judicial process.

On 18 July, Mr Trump shared a lengthy statement on Truth Social.

He said in part that “Deranged Jack Smith, the prosecutor with Joe Biden’s DOJ, sent a letter (again, it was Sunday night!) stating that I am a TARGET of the January 6th Grand Jury investigation, and giving me a very short 4 days to report to the Grand Jury, which almost always means an Arrest and Indictment”.

The former president has repeatedly characterised the multiple investigations against him, including the January 6 probe, as a politically motivated “hoax” and an attempt to “steal” the 2024 election from him.

On 23 July, Mr Trump published several posts on his social network Truth Social, once again calling the special prosecutor “deranged”.

He claimed that investigations into him were a “coordinated HOAX,” pointing to the probe into allegations of collusion between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia.

Mr Trump also went after President Joe Biden, claiming without providing evidence that he’s a “criminal” before going on to call him “the most corrupt and incompetent President in United States history”.

“Get smart, Republicans, they are trying to steal the Election from you!” he wrote before referring to Democrats and federal and state prosecutors as “monsters” who are “destroying our country”.

A third indictment of Mr Trump now appears likely. Mr Trump may be charged for his attempts to obstruct the congressional proceedings in relation to January 6, for possible fraud in connection to fundraising, as well as the attempts to recruit fake electors in states that he lost by small margins.

Later on 18 July, authorities in Michigan charged 16 people in the fake elector effort.

There’s little public information about what the prosecutors are focusing on, but the letter to Mr Trump pointed to statutes such as a possible charge of conspiracy to defraud the US and a wider charge in connection to a rights violation.

But Mr Trump will not be the first public figure who Mr Smith has put in the dock.

From 2010 to 2015, he oversaw anti-corruption prosecutions against multiple US politicians in his role as the head of the Department of Justice public integrity section.

One of those cases was against former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, a Republican against whom he secured a conviction on bribery charges, though the case was later thrown out by the US Supreme Court.

He also won a conviction of former GOP Representative Rick Renzi of Arizona, who received a sentence of three years in prison before being pardoned by Mr Trump.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Mr Smith also served in prosecutorial roles in US Attorney offices in the Middle District of Tennessee and the Eastern District of New York.

Jack Smith presiding during a war crimes court hearing at The Hague on November 2020

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Prior to his appointment by Mr Garland, Mr Smith lived in the Dutch city of The Hague, where he has been serving as a “specialist prosecutor” overseeing investigations into war crimes in Kosovo since 2018.

He also served as a coordinator of investigations for the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court from 2008 to 2010, where he worked on cases against foreign government officials and members of militias accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Yet will even that be ample preparation for the punishing national spotlight to which he will now be subjected, including Mr Trump’s infamous social media broadsides?

Following the indictment in June, Mr Trump lashed out at Mr Smith, accusing him of being a “Trump hater” and “a deranged ’psycho’ that shouldn’t be involved in any case having to do with ‘justice,’ other than to look at Biden as a criminal – which he is!”

Subsequently, Mr Trump’s allies and supporters began attacking Mr Smith, including Kimberly Guilfoyle, Matt Gaetz and Mark Levin.

“Special Counsel Jack Smith is atrocious,” MAGA War Room tweeted on 13 June – the day of Mr Trump’s arrest and arraignment.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced an appropriations rider to the House floor on Tuesday (12 June) to “defund Jack Smith’s Special Counsel, his office and the investigation.”

Ms Greene said: “This is a weaponized government attempt to take down the top political enemy and leading presidential candidate of the United States Donald J. Trump.”

Mr Smith has also faced repeated attacks from Mr Trump himself since the indictment was handed down.

In his post-arraignment speech at Bedminster on 13 June, the former president laid into the special prosecutor.

“He looks like a thug,” he said of Mr Smith.

“He’s a raging and uncontrolled Trump hater, as is his wife, who also happened to be the producer of that Michelle Obama puff piece.” (Mr Smith’s wife, Katy Chevigny, is a documentary filmmaker who produced 2020’s Becoming.)

But Mr Smith has been unfaltering in his response.

On 9 June, when the indictment was unsealed he struck a defiant note – a note he appeared to continue to take in his courtroom stance.

“Adherence to the rule of law is a bedrock principle of the Department of Justice, and our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world,” he told reporters.

“We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone.”

Gustaf Kilander contributed to this report

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