Trump calls the latest special counsel a ‘monster.’ His lawyer used to call him a friend
(Tribune News Service) – Former President Donald Trump went on the offensive when Jack Smith was appointed as the latest special counsel to investigate the former president, calling him a “fully armed monster” whose Obama-era connections made him turned into a “political killer”. “
Yet one of Trump’s own lawyers shares the same connections.
For five years, James Trusty and Smith served together as senior officers at the Justice Department. Smith took action against public corruption. Trusty pursued gangs and organized crime.
Now they are potential adversaries in what may be the nation’s most politically inflammatory federal case. Smith is poised to recommend Attorney General Merrick Garland indict the former president for misappropriating classified documents or in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trusty is part of Trump’s Legal Brain Trust.
However, during their time at Justice, the two department heads were close and supportive. They were known to goof around at meetings, former colleagues say. They won important cases and also weathered setbacks and controversies.
Smith and Trusty bring to their current roles first-hand insight into how the other navigates complex investigations and high-pressure situations. Former colleagues would likely use some of the same words to describe them, said Jason Weinstein, a former senior CID officer — “moderate, responsible, ethical, good lawyers.”
“I could tell there was a lot of respect going both ways,” said Weinstein, who remained friends with them.
That kind of shared history can be meaningful — to a degree — when Smith, 53, and Trusty, 58, are at the negotiating table, said Lanny Breuer, who ran the crime division during her time as department head.
“There’s a level of trust,” Breuer said. “It won’t change things significantly, but if you know and respect each other, it makes even the most stressful of situations a little bit more navigable.”
Lawyers in such a situation are not expected to do them any favours, but if asked to meet, they may be received in a friendlier and more open manner, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who requested anonymity to discuss it .
Smith and Trusty declined interview requests.
Their evolution from peers to combatants is notable given the publicity of the Trump investigation, but not entirely surprising. Former justice insiders are often wanted for politically sensitive cases. Trusty is also friends with Robert Hur, the special counsel investigating classified materials found in President Joe Biden’s home and office; They were federal prosecutors in Maryland together.
Trusty is a registered Republican, but his friend and former Maryland colleague Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s former assistant attorney general, said he didn’t think Trusty agreed to represent Trump for “ideological reasons.”
“I think he views President Trump as another client who deserves the best legal defense,” Rosenstein said.
Lawyers who know Smith — a political independent, according to a senior Justice Department official — say Trump’s bias is unfounded. Weinstein called it “ridiculous,” adding that while he hadn’t discussed it with Trusty, he suspected “nobody would find it more ridiculous than Jim.”
Their connection goes back more than a dozen years. Smith and Trusty were each tapped to help the Justice Department recover from the botched indictment against the late US Senator Ted Stevens.
Trusty had just been hired as a deputy for a gang unit when the Stevens case fell apart in early 2009. However, because of his trial experience, he was sent to Alaska to work on other cases in the broader corruption investigation. By late 2010, Trusty was the right person to lead the merged gang and organized crime division, Breuer said.
Smith was hired that year to take over the public integrity department in a post-Stevens reboot. After a successful career as a federal prosecutor in New York, he had worked abroad for the International Criminal Court. Breuer said he was looking for someone “brave and bold” but not “cowboy”.
“Jack is just right,” he said.
Smith and Trusty’s cases rarely overlapped, but they met regularly, along with other senior officials in the department. Breuer recalls that they “taunted each other” at meetings and “were two of the more affable, slightly larger personalities.”
Smith’s tenure saw sentencing from lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and government contractors. He ran “a really strict ship,” said Brian Kidd, a former public integrity advocate. “He was good at moving forward with cases worth pursuing.”
Trusty’s unit’s work included a series of cases against the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prisons and the MS-13 gang.
“I put a lot of stock in someone like Jim,” said Cody Skipper, a former department attorney. “He has a better gauge than most people because he’s seen a lot more.”
There have also been challenges. Smith was criticized for dropping older investigations. A campaign finance trial against former US Senator and Democratic presidential nominee John Edwards ended in a jury verdict and a partial acquittal.
Trusty’s name came up in the so-called “Fast and Furious” scandal. Emails between Weinstein and Trusty were part of an effort by congressional Republicans to blame then-Attorney General Eric Holder for a poorly run gun tracking operation, though officials said the messages were misinterpreted.
Weinstein declined to speak about those events, but said Smith and Trusty “supported each other personally through good times and bad.”
They had followed similar paths to the Department of Justice, prosecuting violent crimes at the state level before joining US law firms in 1999 — Smith in Brooklyn and Trusty in southern Maryland — and eventually holding senior positions. Trusty’s court successes included a murder conviction in the high-profile case of a missing 6-year-old. He was involved in early efforts to apply the Federal Extortion Act against MS-13. Rosenstein described him as an “experienced litigator”.
Smith has been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including the brutal police sexual assault of Abner Louima and the murder of two undercover officers. He’s “appropriately aggressive” and “creative,” said Todd Harrison, a friend and former colleague.
Now back in the limelight, they knowingly took jobs that involved occupational risks. Some of Trump’s past relationships with his attorneys have been strained. The first Trump-focused special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, has faced intense scrutiny and personal attacks.
After leaving the department in 2015, Smith retired from the US political arena. For four years he has been leading investigations into war crimes in connection with Kosovo in The Hague. He has not appeared in public since his appointment as Special Counsel in November.
Trusty went public after entering private practice in 2017, including providing legal commentary to Fox News about the Russia probe. Jeff Ifrah, the founder of Trusty’s law firm, said Trump saw that Trusty’s TV hits were true, but not the full story — several people close to Trump recommended hiring Trusty because of his background.
Ifrah said he is not concerned that the company has Trump as a customer. “You either commit to representing individuals and try to keep the government honest, or you don’t,” he said.
Trump’s fellow attorney Evan Corcoran, himself a former federal prosecutor, praised his colleague: “If I had to describe Jim Trusty in just three words, it would be integrity, integrity and integrity.”
Trump has named Obama officials who have served Smith — but also Trusty — as evidence that Smith is an “accuser of the radical left.”
Former colleagues say Smith is apolitical and has years of experience repelling Trump’s type of attacks.
“What drives Jack,” said Kidd, Smith’s former colleague. “is public service.”
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