Jack Smith, appointed in November to investigate former President Donald J. Trump, is a hard-driving, flinty former prosecutor chosen for his experience in bringing high-stakes cases against politicians in the United States and abroad.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland tasked him with overseeing two investigations into Mr. Trump: one into his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, including the lead-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and the other into Mr. Trump’s retention of classified materials at his residence in Florida.
“The right choice to complete these matters in an evenhanded and urgent manner,” Mr. Garland said in announcing the appointment of Mr. Smith, who had been serving as the top prosecutor investigating war crimes in Kosovo at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans have accused the Justice Department of pursuing a politically motivated investigation intended to destroy Mr. Trump’s chances of retaking the White House, including by leaking details of the case. But department officials have said Mr. Smith, 54, is intent on conducting a fair investigation in secrecy — and Mr. Smith has refused to even acknowledge the questions of reporters who have approached him outside his office in northeast Washington.
Here’s what to know about Mr. Smith:
He got his start as a federal prosecutor in New York City.
Mr. Smith was born on June 5, 1969, and grew up in Clay, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse. He graduated from the State University of New York at Oneonta in 1991 before attending Harvard Law School.
In the 1990s, Mr. Smith was a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and soon moved to a similar job at the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Over the next decade, he 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, he 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 assault of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was sexually assaulted by the police with a broomstick inside a Brooklyn precinct in 1997.
Mr. Miller was instrumental in Mr. Smith’s selection as special counsel, telling Ms. Monaco and Mr. Garland that his independence and aggressiveness made him the ideal person for the job, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.
Mr. Smith has competed in 100 triathlons around the world.
Mr. Smith is an avid runner and cyclist who began competing in triathlons in 2002, even though he was initially a weak swimmer who could barely complete a single lap. Since then, he has participated in at least nine full Iron Man triathlons, including in Germany, Brazil, Canada and Denmark.
It has not been without hazards. In the 2000s, he was struck by a truck while biking, badly fracturing his pelvis. “After the crash, I was always dealing with some injury,” he said in an interview in 2018. “I went through several years of seeing many, many, many therapists with no real improvement.”
He ran the Justice Department unit that investigates public corruption.
From 2010 to 2015, Mr. 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 Mr. Smith’s first few months on the job, he closed several prominent investigations into members of Congress without charges.
At the time, Mr. Smith brushed off the suggestion he had lost his nerve.
“If I were the sort of person who could be cowed,” Mr. Smith said, “I would find another line of work.”
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 Mr. Trump pardoned during his final hours as president.
Mr. Smith was about to prosecute the former president of Kosovo when Mr. Garland called.
Mr. Smith moved to The Hague in mid-2017 to oversee the prosecution of defendants accused of war crimes in the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s.
When Mr. Garland’s aides contacted Mr. Smith, he and his team were fresh off the conviction of a high-ranking official in Kosovo and preparing a case against the country’s former president, Hashim Thaci, who has been connected with the killings of 100 Albanians, Roma and Serbs.
Mr. Smith expressed regret at not being able to be in The Hague for the trial, but eagerly accepted Mr. Garland’s offer, according to officials, saying he viewed his long-term obligations to the department as his primary professional responsibility. His arrival was delayed, however, by another biking accident that left his leg badly injured, and he arrived in Washington in late December.
He doesn’t like ‘playing with his food.’
Since then, Mr. Smith has assembled a team that includes career prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and the department’s national security division who were already working on the Trump investigations, along with several trusted aides.
Veteran prosecutors in the department said that the image Mr. Trump and his rivals have projected of Mr. Smith — as a gung-ho prosecutor eager to bring charges — misses the mark. They say he is committed to making decisions, no matter the outcome, without delay and in line with his mandate to act before the 2024 campaign hits full stride.
Former colleagues said Mr. Smith’s most memorable attribute was a stripped-down management style that put a premium on gathering enough information to make a charging decision as swiftly as possible.
“He doesn’t like to sit there, playing with his food,” said one person who worked with him for several years.
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