GOP questions impartiality of new Trump special counsel

Republicans are raising questions about the impartiality of Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents and refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election.

GOP lawmakers note that Smith played a role in aligning the IRS with conservative nonprofits during the Obama era, citing his spouse’s work and political contributions.

“Joe Biden’s DOJ special counsel Jack Smith is compromised,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, RN.Y. “The corrupt arming and politicization of Biden’s DOJ must stop.”

Smith began his prosecuting career in 1994 as an assistant district attorney in New York. In 1999, he joined the Justice Department as Assistant US Attorney, where he prosecuted police and political corruption.

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GOP lawmakers say Jack Smith played a role in aligning the IRS with conservative nonprofits during the Obama era, citing his spouse's work and political contributions.

GOP lawmakers say Jack Smith played a role in aligning the IRS with conservative nonprofits during the Obama era, citing his spouse’s work and political contributions.
(Justice Department)

Smith left the DOJ in 2008 to work for the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, but returned in 2010 as head of the department’s public integrity unit. In this role, Smith was tasked with overseeing the federal government’s anti-corruption efforts.

Republicans say Smith was implicated in the IRS’s attacks on conservative groups while in that position. At the time, the Supreme Court had just lifted federal bans on political spending by corporations, unions, and nonprofits.

Democrats and progressives feared the decision would legalize influence peddling and nudge the Obama administration into action. According to a 2013 report by the US Treasury Department’s Inspector General, the IRS unfairly reviewed and delayed tax exemption requests from hundreds of conservative nonprofits.

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A 2014 House Judiciary Committee investigation into the scandal is expected to uncover Smith’s involvement. A witness serving at the DOJ at the time told the Judiciary Committee that Smith met with then-IRS Chief Lois Lerner in 2010.

The witness said the conversation detailed “how the IRS could assist in the criminal enforcement of campaign finance laws against politically active nonprofits.”

“Jack Smith was looking for ways to prosecute the innocent American woman who targeted Lois Lerner during the IRS scandal,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is scheduled to chair the next session of the House Judiciary Committee. “And people think that as Special Counsel he’s not going to be political?”

Jack Smith will oversee the investigation into former President Donald Trump's handling of classified documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Jack Smith will oversee the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, file)

Smith has denied that meeting Lerner was nefarious. He told the House Judiciary Committee during its inquiry that the meeting was part of an effort to learn more about the role nonprofits play in the political system.

“I can tell you that we [the DOJ’s public integrity section] did not initiate an investigation as a result of those discussions and that, as you know, we certainly have not brought any cases as a result,” Smith told the Judiciary Committee in 2014.

However, Republicans are not buying the argument. IRS scandal aside, GOP lawmakers are questioning Smith’s impartiality over his wife Katy Chevigny’s work.

Chevigny, a documentary filmmaker, has donated money to Democrats in recent years. In September 2020, she donated $1,000 each to Biden’s presidential campaign and a Super PAC working on his behalf. She also donated $150 to Democrat Rashida Tlaib’s 2008 campaign for the Michigan House of Representatives.

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Garland said he chose Smith for the role in part because of his unimpeachable integrity.

Garland said he chose Smith for the role in part because of his unimpeachable integrity.
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Tlaib won that race and was elected to Congress in 2018, where she became a vocal supporter of impeachment for former President Donald Trump.

Chevigny also co-produced a documentary about Michelle Obama in 2020. The film, titled “Becoming,” was billed as a behind-the-scenes look at the former first lady as she embarked on a nationwide book tour for her memoir.

A New York Times review of the documentary called it “theatrical” and “written with “select biographical moments” that portray Obama positively.

“You just can’t make something like this up,” said Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., noting possible conflicts of interest.

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Smith was appointed by Garland last week to oversee the probe into Trump’s keeping of classified documents after he left the White House and whether the former president attempted to obstruct the probe. He is also responsible for investigating whether Trump or other organizations attempted to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election.

Garland said he chose Smith for the role in part because of his unimpeachable integrity.

“Throughout his career, Jack Smith has built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor who leads teams with the energy and focus to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Garland said.

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