Judge Cannon Probes DOJ Supervision of Special Counsel Jack Smith

FORT PIERCE, Florida — The federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s classified documents case, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, intensely questioned special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutors on Friday about the level of supervision Attorney General Merrick Garland has over their work.

This inquiry came during a hearing focused on Trump’s attempt to dismiss the charges against him.

Judge Cannon, a 2020 Trump appointee, grilled Smith’s team for details on Garland’s oversight. Prosecutors, including Smith’s deputy James Pearce, were caught off-guard and declined to provide specifics.

Pearce mentioned he was “not authorized” to discuss the communications between Garland and Smith, stating, “I don’t want to make it seem like I’m hiding something.”

The hearing was part of a broader effort by Trump to argue that Smith’s appointment as special counsel in November 2022 is unconstitutional.

Trump is accused by Smith of hoarding national secrets at his Mar-a-Lago estate and obstructing efforts to retrieve them.

According to the source, Trump’s lawyers claim that Smith lacked the legal authority to bring the case against him, asserting that his appointment violates the Constitution.

Special counsels are typically appointed by the Justice Department to oversee cases with potential conflicts of interest for its leadership. They report to the attorney general but have more independence than other federal prosecutors.

Trump has publicly claimed, without evidence, that Smith is a pawn of President Joe Biden, while his lawyers argue that Smith’s independence allows him to exceed the legal bounds of DOJ employees.

They contend that only an officer appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate can wield Smith’s level of power, a process Smith did not undergo.

Judge Cannon’s questions appeared to aim at understanding Smith’s practical independence.

Trump attorney Emil Bove highlighted that Garland claimed “no coordination” with Smith on other charges against Trump related to the 2020 election.

Pearce defended Smith’s role, arguing that his appointment and actions comply with longstanding DOJ regulations.

This three-day stretch of hearings marks a significant chapter in Trump’s legal battles, with Monday’s session set to address the funding of Smith’s operation through a Justice Department budget item.

Cannon’s decision to scrutinize an issue dismissed by other courts has puzzled legal experts and drawn criticism.

Her allowance of three outside experts to speak, two supporting Trump’s stance and one supporting Smith’s, is highly unusual for criminal cases.

Cannon’s controversial decisions date back to 2022 when she paused the DOJ’s investigation into Trump’s document retention following an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago.

Her decision was overturned by a conservative panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court refused to hear Trump’s appeal.

Assigned to Trump’s case after Smith charged him in June 2023, Cannon has delayed many pretrial matters, some routine, and postponed the trial date indefinitely.

Trump’s attorneys argued that Smith’s operation represents a “shadow government” by allowing an official not confirmed by the Senate to take significant actions. Bove’s remark about the risk of this scenario being ominous prompted Cannon to seek further clarification.

During the hearing, Cannon sought opinions on various DOJ statutes and the history of special prosecutors.

She referenced the Supreme Court ruling that compelled President Richard Nixon to surrender tapes to a special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal, questioning whether it applied to Smith’s appointment.

Smith’s attorneys argued that precedent supported Smith’s legitimacy, while Trump’s team disagreed.

As the hearings continue, the legal community watches closely, noting the broader implications for the Justice Department’s authority and the structure of special counsel appointments.

Cannon’s ruling on the matter remains uncertain, and the outcome could set a significant precedent for future cases involving special counsels.

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