Jack Smith, the former Justice Department official-turned-war crimes prosecutor who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland this week as a special counsel for investigations dealing with former President Donald Trump’s personal behavior, is getting right to it.
Smith issued a prepared statement on Friday outlining his readiness for the job. “I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” Smith said. “The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch. I will exercise independent judgement and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.” Smith’s area of authority includes the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents that he harbored even after leaving office and the multi-faceted probe that directly relates to Trump regarding conduct after the last presidential election meant to disrupt the transfer of power, including the Congressional proceedings scheduled for certifying the presidential election outcome.
Those specifications mean Smith will not be directly handling the prosecutions of individuals who personally participated in the assault on the Capitol that took place under Trump’s inspiration early last year, but he will likely be handling the inquiries into issues like the assembling of essentially faked electoral votes for Trump in swing states that Biden won in 2020. Both main avenues of investigation that Smith will be leading could result in criminal charges, and an order from Garland outlining Smith’s selection specifies he will have the power to both bring charges and refer individuals for prosecution by another official in the department.
The nature of the special counsel position will help with establishing the independence with which the department is approaching these politically sensitive probes. Smith will operate largely independently, although still within the ordinary rules of much of the department. However, he won’t be directly reporting to anybody on a daily basis — which means none of those political appointees will even have the opportunity for input that could be perceived as politically oriented. “Further delineation of the authorizations between the Special Counsel and the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia will be provided as necessary and appropriate,” Garland’s order this week adds, since there could be some overlap in riot-related investigations underway. The selection of a special counsel will also help with ensuring the continuance of the investigations, since dismissing a special counsel is what The New York Times described as more “arduous” than removing normally designated prosecutors.
Garland explained picking a special counsel as related to the potentially impending match-up in the next presidential race between Biden — who, of course, is responsible for political appointees at the department — and Trump, although the steady rise of Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis, whose recent record (while destructive policy-wise) shows strategic wins for the GOP in contrast with Trump’s losses, means it’s not a sure thing Donald will actually nab the nomination from the GOP.