Newly appointed special counsel Jack Smith is getting to work with no signs yet that the two investigations he now oversees around Donald Trump will slow down – despite being stuck in the Netherlands due to a cycling injury.
The Justice Department notified a federal appeals court that Smith is now involved in the Mar-a-Lago case, and shared documents showing he’s received Attorney General Merrick Garland’s direction and taken his oath of office.
At the same time, prosecutors who will work under Smith haven’t made widespread changes to their schedule in the next few weeks of taking witness testimony and collecting documents under subpoena, according to people familiar with the investigation.
“The grand jury doesn’t seem to have skipped a beat,” one person said on Monday.
The special counsel remains in the Netherlands, but over the weekend he began taking the reins of the two Trump-related investigations.
His message to the investigative teams is that his arrival shouldn’t delay work already under way, ensuring that Tuesday’s court hearing for the Mar-a-Lago documents and upcoming deadlines for witnesses to provide materials are unaffected, according to people briefed on the matter.
Smith is stepping in to lead investigations that already have taken several aggressive steps toward gathering information around Trump himself – related to both the then-president’s actions after the 2020 election and the handling of documents in Florida after the presidency – signaling Smith may be poised to make policy decisions rather than starting evidence-gathering from scratch.
Appeals court hearing
The formal notice of Smith’s appointment comes in advance of oral arguments Tuesday at the 11th Circuit over the legality of a court-appointed, third-party special master, who is reviewing records seized from Trump’s Florida home that may be used in the criminal probe.
The hearing will mark a major moment in Trump’s court approach, where he has sought to slow down the investigation into the handling of federal records after the presidency. The Justice Department has challenged the need for the special master that Trump sought.
A court decision isn’t expected on Tuesday, but could come shortly after.
“Special Counsel Smith has reviewed the filings in this litigation and approves all of the arguments that have been presented in the briefs and will be discussed at the oral argument in this case. Special Counsel Smith’s name will be affixed to future pleadings filed in all matters falling within his appointment,” the Justice Department said in Monday’s notice to the appellate court.
The Justice Department argues a third party was improperly installed by a judge to screen the Mar-a-Lago records. Trump, however, has been arguing records the FBI seized are his own, and should not be accessed by investigators.
Support inside DOJ for Smith
Garland announced Smith’s appointment on Friday as special counsel overseeing the Mar-a-Lago probe as well as aspects of the criminal investigation into the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
Both Garland and Smith emphasized the special counsel’s appointment would not slow down the ongoing criminal investigations.
Smith’s name as a potential choice for special counsel emerged in recent weeks after Justice Department officials began weighing the move, people briefed on the matter said. Some officials in Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s office were viewed as influential proponents of Smith, believing he had the best potential to survive political scrutiny from partisans on both sides.