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Special Counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media about an indictment of former President Donald Trump on Aug. 1, 2023, at an office of the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP) Special Counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media about an indictment of former President Donald Trump on Aug. 1, 2023, at an office of the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP)

Special Counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media about an indictment of former President Donald Trump on Aug. 1, 2023, at an office of the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 1, 2023

Jack Smith, the special counsel overseeing classified documents and 2020 election cases against former President Donald Trump, has a decadeslong prosecution record, including high profile public corruption cases.

On Aug. 1, a grand jury in Washington, D.C., returned a four-count indictment charging Trump with attempting to subvert the 2020 presidential election. His first court appearance is set for Aug. 3. 

The indictment says Trump conspired to defraud the U.S.; to corruptly obstruct and impede the Jan. 6 congressional proceeding; and against the right to vote and have one’s vote counted.

"The attack on our nation's Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy," Smith said Aug. 1 in brief comments to the media. "It was fueled by lies, lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government: the nation's process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election."

In June, Trump also was indicted on more than three dozen counts related to classified documents, including charges of willful retention of national defense information, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements. 

Trump pleaded not guilty in the documents case and denied wrongdoing in the elections case.

Here's how Smith got involved:

U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland on Nov. 18 named Smith special counsel to lead two investigations: the handling of classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida; and interference with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election. 

Garland at the time said he was appointing a special prosecutor because of Trump’s announcement that month he was running for president and Joe Biden’s expected re-election campaign. 

Trump’s campaign has tried to discredit Smith, tweeting after the first indictment that Smith "has a history of failed prosecutions & seriously flawed cases." Trump’s allies have falsely portrayed Smith as targeting only Republicans.

Here’s background about Smith’s work history, including high-profile cases.

Smith’s background

Smith began his career in the 1990s as a prosecutor in the New York County district attorney's office. He later served as chief of criminal litigation and in other roles at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York. His experience also includes:

  • 2008 to 2010, investigation coordinator in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Smith supervised investigations of foreign government officials and militia for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. 

  • 2010 to 2015, supervised the litigation of public corruption cases nationwide for the Justice Department.

  • 2015, named first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. 

He later worked at Hospital Corporation of America, a health care company, and also was a specialist prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which have a seat in The Hague. 

Smith graduated from Harvard Law School and the State University of New York at Oneonta. He has received numerous awards from the Justice Department and bar associations.

Reuters reported that Smith is not registered with any political party.

During his Justice Department tenure, Smith would have been closely involved in charging decisions, said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida. Prosecutors must assess their odds of getting a conviction.

Smith’s record "shows an aggressive approach, although one clearly devoid of any partisanship," Coffey said.

Prosecutors should not be judged by a singular "wins and losses" standard, said Steve Friedland, a former federal prosecutor who is now an Elon University law professor. 

"Given the high burden of proof — beyond a reasonable doubt — prosecutors should not obtain convictions all of the time," Friedland said. "Nor should they even prosecute the same way, if at all, every time they can; that is why prosecutorial discretion is so important." 

Smith’s high-profile cases involving Democratic and Republican lawmakers

Conviction of former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell: In 2014, a federal jury convicted McDonnell of 11 counts, including "honest services" fraud, extortion and conspiracy. McDonnell and his wife participated in a scheme to solicit and obtain loans and gifts exceeding $170,000 in value from a Virginia corporation. 

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction in 2016. Chief Justice John Roberts said the government used a "boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute."

Indictment of former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.: In 2011, a federal grand jury indicted Edwards in a scheme to violate federal campaign finance laws.

Prosecutors said that Edwards, during his 2008 presidential campaign, conspired with other people to receive campaign contributions that exceeded federal limits to avoid disclosing an extramarital affair and a resulting pregnancy. 

In 2012, a jury found him not guilty on one count related to accepting illegal contributions and deadlocked on the other five charges, resulting in a mistrial. The Justice Department declined to retry the case.

Indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.: In 2015, Menendez was indicted for allegedly accepting gifts from Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, in exchange for using his Senate office’s power to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests. Melgen also was indicted. An 11-week trial in 2017 ended in a hung jury, and the Justice Department declined to retry the case

Conviction of former Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz.: Renzi, an Arizona congressman from 2003 to 2009, was convicted in 2013 by a federal jury of 17 felony offenses related to conspiring to extort and bribe people seeking a federal land exchange. Renzi was sentenced to three years in prison. Trump pardoned Renzi. The pardon doesn’t mean the prosecution was flawed.

Editor’s note: This story updates our earlier story about Jack Smith.

PolitiFact Staff Writer Sevana Wenn and Copy Chief Matthew Crowley contributed research.

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Our Sources

United States v Trump and Waltine Nauta, Indictment, June 8, 2023

U.S. Department of Justice, Former Virginia Governor and Former First Lady Convicted on Public Corruption Charges, Sept. 4, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court, United States v. McDonnell, June 27, 2016

Politico, Supreme Court overturns Bob McDonnell’s corruption convictions, 2018

New York Times, At Justice Department, a Watchdog on Graft Finds Its Teeth Again, April 1, 2014

New York Times, Who Is Jack Smith, the Special Counsel Who Indicted Trump? June 8, 2023

CNN, Who is Jack Smith, the special counsel behind the Trump classified documents indictment? June 9, 2023

U.S. Department of Justice, Appointment of a Special Counsel and statement by Jack Smith, Nov. 18, 2022


U.S. Department of Justice, Former Senator and Presidential Candidate John Edwards Charged for Alleged Role in Scheme to Violate Federal Campaign Finance Laws, June 3, 2011

U.S. Attorneys Office Middle District of Tennessee, Jack Smith, April 14, 2015

Kosovo Special Chambers, Press release about Jack Smith, May 7, 2018

Reuters, Who is Special Counsel Jack Smith in the Trump documents case? June 9, 2023

CNN, Justice Dept. won’t retry Sen. Bob Menendez, Jan. 31, 2018

U.S. Department of Justice, Former Congressman Richard G. Renzi Convicted of Extortion and Bribery in Illegal Federal Land Swap, June 11, 2013

U.S. Department of Justice, Former Congressman Richard G. Renzi Sentenced for Extortion and Bribery in Illegal Federal Land Swap, Oct. 18, 2013

PolitiFact, Maddow claims Palin got zero support for her idea, only it wasn't hers, and others supported it, April 10, 2009

Telephone interview, Kendall Coffey, former U.S. Attorney in Miami and lawyer at Coffey Burlington, June 9, 2023

Email interview, Steve Friedland, senior scholar and Director of the Center for Engaged Learning in Law at Elon University School of Law, June 9, 2023

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