One of the great things about being Jack Smith is the sheer number of well-meaning people who want to help you do your job.
As Americans prepare for our annual turkey dinner this week, the media is again filled with breathless speculation about Smith, the man Attorney General Merrick Garland recently appointed as special counsel to review the grounds for a criminal case against former president Donald Trump. Everyone, it seems, want to lend the latest incarnation of Eliot Ness a helping hand.
Take former deputy special counsel Andrew Weissmann, who penned his advice to Smith for all to see in a guest column in today’s New York Times. Haunted that he is by his own failure to nail Trump to the wall when he had his chance, Weissmann bears his soul in his prescriptive piece. What his boss Robert Mueller got wrong, the aggressive prosecutor laments, was his hesitancy to “educate” and “communicate” about the process.
Indeed, Weissmann’s memoir entitled “Where Law Ends,” also chafes at the so-called constraints of the special prosecutor’s office. Mueller was too careful to avoid the press when he didn’t need to be, his former deputy suggests. Then there was the great disappointment that a special counsel himself cannot indict a sitting president – something that you’d think they’d have known at the outset of the process.
So instead of simply doing his actual job in assessing how the facts surrounding January 6th and the materials seized in the August Mar-a-Lago raid do or do not amount to criminality, Smith should also manage our expectations. For a nation in decline, setting the frame of what to hope for and what to expect is, of course, critical. Proper narratives require nothing less.
Too bad John Durham, whom former Attorney General Bill Barr tapped to look into malfeasance in the whipping up of the Russia-gate narrative, didn’t get the same degree of personal coaching. But it stands to reason that he didn’t – after all, his mandate was grubbier much like that of the internal affairs cops who everyone hates, but must nonetheless pick out the bad apples in any department.
Expectations do matter. Just ask poor Chelsea Handler who confessed to Ellen DeGeneres in 2019 that she had sexual feelings for Mueller:
“From what I can tell under his business attire, there is a six- to eight-pack…He was a Marine. If you can keep your act together for that long, I want to talk about penetration,” Handler cooed as Ellen tried to look understanding.
In an effort to explain away those feelings after Mueller failed to perform, the comedian suggested they might be connected to her own “daddy issues.”
Unlike Mueller, former special prosecutor Ken Starr was successful in bringing charges that led to an impeachment of Bill Clinton (neither of the Nancy Pelosi-led House impeachments of Trump derived from Mueller’s probe). But regrettably, Starr’s recent passing denies Jack Smith the benefit of his real-time advice. Ditto Archibald Cox, who was so effective in his probe that then President Richard Nixon sparked the “Saturday Night Massacre” of Justice Department officials who refused his order to the special counsel before he could conclude his work.
All of this projection aside, we don’t know a ton about Jack Smith except that he has several notches in his belt when it comes to prosecuting Republican politicians and Balkan warlords (because what’s the difference, really?) According to the MaineWire, he also cavorted with former IRS chief Lois Lerner, who reportedly misused her authority to harass conservative groups aligned with the Tea Party. But that was then and this is now.
Here are two common-sense recommendations from the peanut gallery. First, Mueller does have a lesson for Smith that Weissmann completely missed: restraint. The special counsel is not Yosemite Sam, no matter how much the Chelsea Handlers of the world wish him to be so. And secondly, the Justice Department – which has yet to indict First Son Hunter Biden and may never do – urgently needs to restore its credibility in the eyes of the American people.
Did Durham take two cases to trial knowing he would lose? It’s tough to say because he doesn’t write NYT op-eds. But the days of shooting at the king (or even ex-king) and missing are over. Perhaps he should avoid advice from prosecutors and consult instead with former CIA director George Tenet on what precisely constitutes a “slam dunk.” He’d better know this at least before he finishes his report.