Justice Department officials said in November that Smith was assuming his responsibilities from The Hague and that his appointment would not slow down the investigations. But they offered few details about when he would return to America or how he was assembling a special counsel team and reviewing materials while abroad.
The status of key investigations involving Donald Trump
People familiar with Smith’s travels would not say when he arrived from Europe but said on Tuesday that he has been back in the country “for some time.” They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Justice Department had not officially announced Smith’s return.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Officials have not announced who from within the Justice Department has been detailed to Smith’s team or if he has hired any outside prosecutors to work with him. But they have said many of the career agents and prosecutors already working on the Trump-related investigations would continue to do so for Smith’s office.
Attorneys general typically appoint special counsels — which are Justice Department prosecutors with an extra measure of autonomy — in “extraordinary circumstances,” when they believe the department’s direct involvement in the investigation could pose a conflict of interest in a case. Even as a special counsel, Smith still ultimately reports to the attorney general.
Garland said in November that he decided to appoint a special counsel because Trump had declared he would again run for president in 2024, and President Biden had said he was likely to seek reelection.
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“Based on recent developments, including the former president’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the sitting president’s stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Garland said at the time of the appointment.
Smith spent nearly a decade as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn and became a war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in 2008. He later returned to the Justice Department to lead the Public Integrity Section. Four years ago, he returned to The Hague to investigate war crimes in Kosovo.
Since his appointment, Smith has sent grand jury subpoenas to local officials in Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin — three states that were central to Trump’s failed plan to stay in power after the 2020 election — seeking any and all communications with Trump, his campaign, and a long list of aides and allies.