Jack Smith: the special prosecutor taking on Donald Trump

The Department of Justice has now brought two indictments against Trump following Smith’s investigations

Jack Smith
Jack Smith left a job in The Hague to join the Trump investigations
(Image credit: Al Drago/Getty Images)

Donald Trump came face to face with the man who could put him behind bars as the former president pleaded “not guilty” in a Washington D.C. court to conspiring to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

For a “fleeting moment” during Thursday’s hearing, said Politico’s Congress reporter Kyle Cheney, Trump and special counsel Jack Smith “appeared to make eye contact” as the former president “prepared to fend off charges that he sought to subvert American democracy itself”. Smith announced the four felony charges on Tuesday, just weeks after securing another indictment against Trump related to the mishandling of classified documents.

Smith was assigned to the cases having garnered a “reputation for winning tough cases against war criminals, mobsters and crooked cops”, said Reuters’s US Justice Department reporter Sarah N. Lynch. Appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland last November to take over the DoJ’s two investigations into Trump, Smith is known as a “dogged investigator” who is “unafraid to pursue the truth”.

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Who is Jack Smith?

Born on 5 June 1969 and raised in the New York suburb of Syracuse, Smith attended Harvard Law School after graduating from the State University of New York in 1991.

He began his career as a prosecutor at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, before moving to the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, where he “climbed up the ranks”, wrote BBC reporter Sam Cabral. Smith led investigations into “violent gangs, white-collar fraudsters and public corruption cases”, and reportedly “once spent a weekend sleeping in the hallway of an apartment building so he could convince a woman to take the witness stand in a domestic violence case”.

Former colleagues said he “stood out from the start”, according to The New York Times (NYT), and appeared “more intense and more focused” than his peers. And his drive and “competitiveness is not limited to the law”, the paper continued.

Smith is “an avid runner and cyclist” and has participated in “at least nine full Iron Man triathlons”.

His equally impressive performance on the career treadmill continued with a two-year stint as a director of investigations for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. After returning from the Netherlands to the US in 2010, Smith led the Public Integrity Unit at the DoJ, investigating “politicians and other public figures accused of corruption”.

However, the NYT added, he experienced a “spotty record of success in high-stakes cases”, something that Trump’s legal team has now “seized on”.

In 2015, Smith took up a post with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee, “so he could be closer to family”, according to the BBC’s Cabral. He left in 2017 to work for a private health care company, after “being passed over for a permanent appointment under the Trump administration”.

The following year, Smith returned to The Hague, to serve as a chief prosecutor investigating allegations of war crimes in Kosovo in the 1990s.

He left this role to join the Trump investigations, “saying he viewed his long-term obligations to the department as his primary professional responsibility”, the NYT reported.

‘Obvious choice’

Trump has described Smith as “deranged” and accused the prosecutor of a “witch hunt”.

Yet Smith has “expressed few political beliefs that might indicate any bias” over the course of his career, said The Telegraph’s Washington editor Rozina Sabur. A “registered independent”, he has a reputation for being “just as determined in seeking to have criminal charges dropped for the innocent as he is in pursuing convictions against the guilty”.

Smith’s appointment has added an “extra layer of independence” to the investigations into Trump, Sabur wrote, and he was an “obvious choice” for the role.

The charges brought against Trump by Smith and his team “do not have the air of a prosecutorial stretch”, said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. But this second indictment risks “inflaming even more distrust” of what Trump’s supporters “will claim is a partisan ‘weaponised’ Justice Department”, and potentially “unleashing a punitive cycle of prosecuting political opponents”.

Yet while Smith’s indictment of Trump is “grave, even perilous, step”, Marcus concluded, “condoning his behaviour by ignoring it would be far worse”.

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Richard Windsor is a freelance writer for The Week Digital. He began his journalism career writing about politics and sport while studying at the University of Southampton. He then worked across various football publications before specialising in cycling for almost nine years, covering major races including the Tour de France and interviewing some of the sport’s top riders. He led Cycling Weekly’s digital platforms as editor for seven of those years, helping to transform the publication into the UK’s largest cycling website. He now works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant.