By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — Former President Donald Trump faces a formidable and experienced adversary and sharp legal foe in special prosecutor Jack Smith, Ex-HCA Attorney and Nashville Federal Prosecutor,   was appointed in November, 2022 by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to oversee two investigations of Trump. Convictions on either could lead to stiff prison sentences, so Smith is being very cautious and careful. He’s in charge of both the investigation into the alleged attempt by Trump to overturn the 2020 election, including the lead-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and into his alleged retention of classified materials at his residence in Florida. In naming the 54-year-old Smith, who thus far has granted no media interviews and kept a very low profile despite Trump’s constant public attacks, Garland said Smith was “the right choice to complete these matters in an evenhanded and urgent matter.”

Smith’s past is also important. He has no direct or indirect ties to President Biden or the Democratic Party, despite lies by  House Republicans that the investigations are politically motivated and being brought solely to keep Trump from regaining control of the White House through winning the 2024 election. Last Friday Smith, whose past prosecutions have included the investigation of international war crimes in Kosovo and  appearances in the Hague, made this statement in regards to Trump and GOP claims about bias. ““Adherence to the rule of law is a bedrock principle of the Department of Justice,” he said. “And our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world. We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.”

Trump has been charged with four counts in connection with his alleged widespread efforts to overturn the 2020 election. That indictment was filed in Federal District Court in Washington. It alleges the former president’s involvement in three conspiracies that culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to obstruct Congress’s role in ratifying the Electoral College outcome. That indictment also cites six co-conspirators

• Rudy Giuliani the former New York mayor and lawyer for Trump and John Eastman, Sidney Powell is a lawyer that embraced the unfounded theory that the election had not been conducted fairly. Sidney Powell, most known for her vow to “release the Kraken” after Mr Trump’s defeat. 

• Jeffrey Clark, Co-Conspirator 4 is described by prosecutors as a Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyer who tried to “use the Justice Department to open sham election crime investigations and influence state legislatures with knowingly false claims of election fraud”.

• Kenneth Chesebro indictment calls Co-Conspirator 5 “an attorney who assisted in devising and attempting to implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding” 

While not identified, their cited descriptions match the profiles of  various Trump lawyers and advisers. These people made legally questionable arguments and voiced dubious theories that they claimed gave Trump legal justification to remain in power. However, it’s unclear whether these co-conspirators will be indicted.

Nothing in Smith’s legal or personal background reflects any specific political or ideological leanings.  He grew up in Clay, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse, and graduated from the State University of New York at Oneonta in 1991 before attending Harvard Law School. His career began as a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office shortly after graduating. He soon moved to a similar job at the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Over the next decade, Smith rose to a series of supervisory positions, including chief of criminal litigation, overseeing dozens of prosecutors pursuing cases involving gangs, violent crime, financial fraud and public corruption. During that time, Smith met Marshall Miller, now the top adviser to Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, and the two men worked closely during an investigation into the brutal attack of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was sexually assaulted by the police with a broomstick inside a Brooklyn precinct in 1997. Miller — along with Leslie Caldwell, a former department official close to both men — was instrumental in Smith’s selection as special counsel, telling Monaco and Garland that his independence and aggressiveness made him the ideal person for the job, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.

Nowhere in Smith’s record is any indicator of him being pro-Democrat nor especially liberal or progressive in his legal approach. From 2010 to 2015, Smith led the Justice Department’s public integrity unit, which investigates politicians and other public figures accused of corruption. When he took over, the unit was reeling from the collapse of a criminal case against former Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska. In Smith’s first few months on the job, he closed several prominent investigations into members of Congress without charges. Among his more notable corruption cases was a conviction of Robert McDonnell, the Republican former governor of Virginia, that was later overturned by the Supreme Court, and a conviction of former Representative Rick Renzi, Republican of Arizona, whom Trump pardoned during his final hours as president.

Despite any absence of malice or judicial reproach for bias, the Trump team last week accused Smith of  trying to “target conservatives during the Obama era” — even though he also investigated Democrats, including Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, during his tenure.

Smith has Nashville connections. He left Washington to accept a post in the federal prosecutor’s office in Nashville during 2015. He became an acting U.S. attorney after Trump fired Obama-appointed attorneys, but left for a job at a private health care company after being passed over for a permanent appointment in the post, according to a law enforcement official who worked with him in Tennessee. He moved to the Hague in 2017,  where his job was to oversee the prosecution of defendants accused of war crimes in the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s. Smith previously served a stint there as a junior investigator earlier in his career.

Smith and his team had just completed the conviction of a high-ranking official in Kosovo and was preparing a case against the country’s former president Hashim Thaci, accused of being connected to the killings of 100 Albanians, Roma and Serbs, when contacted by Garland and asked to head the Trump investigations. Smith accepted, but was delayed returning to Washington by a biking accident. He’s been there since late December of 2022.

At press time, Smith and his team were awaiting a ruling from the trial judge regarding Trump’s constant use of social media to make threats and more importantly discuss aspects of the case. Smith has shown no fear nor hesitation in pursuing the cases, and has continued to frame them as a legal issue of whether anyone is above the law. He continually refutes the contention from Trump’s attorneys that his repeated false claims about election fraud were “free speech and constitutionally protected.”

Trump still faces additional proceedings regarding the documents controversy and state charges of various business misdeeds in New York. But it seems clear from the manner in which his attorneys have gone after the Smith team on the conspiracy charges, as well as their attempt to get the case moved to West Virginia and the current judge to recuse herself, that the Jan. 6 indictment and case is the one that concerns them and their client the most, at least for now.