New Trump special counsel launches investigation in Mueller’s shadow

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New Trump special counsel launches investigation in Mueller’s shadow

The Justice Department hopes to avoid pitfalls of the last special counsel investigation targeting Trump.

 Jack Smith listens.

Jack Smith has almost three decades of prosecutorial experience, as a lawyer for state and federal governments as well as two tours as an international war crimes prosecutor at the Hague. | Pool photo by Jerry Lampen

By JOSH GERSTEIN and KYLE CHENEY

11/18/2022 08:20 PM EST

As new Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith takes over a series of criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump, he has one clear advantage: recent history.

In many ways, Smith is stepping into the shoes filled by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, named in May 2017 to examine allegations of ties between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

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Smith lacks the public profile of Mueller, who before taking the special counsel post had served as FBI director, U.S. attorney in San Francisco and the head of Justice’s criminal division.

But Smith has almost three decades of prosecutorial experience, as a lawyer for state and federal governments as well as two tours as an international war crimes prosecutor at the Hague.

Mueller’s lengthier record of government service proved to be a double-edged sword. He was 73 at the time of his special counsel appointment and 75 when his report was delivered.

Smith, 53, seems unlikely to face the kinds of criticism Mueller did about his best years being behind him and allegedly allowing his deputies to play outsized roles in decision-making. And his low profile may make him a harder target for Trump’s allies to undermine. He also has a long history of bringing corruption cases to trial and conviction, a credential that may have made him an attractive choice for Garland — and an ominous one for Trump.

Here’s POLITICO’s look at the obstacles and opportunities Smith faces as he dives into the volatile world of Trump investigations:

Mueller memory

Smith’s greatest asset may be the one Mueller never had: a recent special counsel probe of Trump himself.

Mueller probed a newly inaugurated Trump who had the power of the presidency and Justice Department at his disposal, something Trump won’t have as a former president. In addition, Smith can learn from the obstacles Mueller faced, and the resistance Mueller encountered from a Republican-led Congress rallying around Trump to inform his tactics.

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