New Trump probe overseer is veteran war crimes prosecutor

Jack Smith, tapped Friday to lead highly sensitive investigations of Donald Trump, is a seasoned US prosecutor who has led Kosovo war crimes probes in The Hague.

In naming Smith to lead the two ongoing criminal investigations -- which have drawn scorn from the former president and fury from his supporters -- US Attorney General Merrick Garland stressed that Smith "has built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor."

The veteran justice figure has broad experience investigating complex cases of war crimes and prosecuting the defendants.

From 2008 to 2010 he served as an investigator for the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, where he was charged with supervising sensitive probes of foreign government officials over war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

As a Harvard Law School graduate, Smith began his prosecutorial career in the 1990s.

He boasts a resume that includes several years at the Justice Department in multiple positions including chief of the agency's Public Integrity Section, where he led a team handling corruption and election crimes cases, and later acting United States attorney for the middle district of Tennessee.

But his most high-profile work has occurred at the special court on Kosovo in The Hague, where he led investigations and adjudications of war crimes committed in the Balkan republic during the 1990s wars that ripped apart Yugoslavia.

In 2018 Smith was named chief prosecutor of the court, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. It opened its first trial last year against former rebel commander Salih Mustafa, who faces charges of murder and torture related to his time at a makeshift jail operated by the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Smith described the case as a "milestone" for the court, whose activities remain highly sensitive given that former rebel commanders still dominate political life in Kosovo.

The court, which operates under Kosovo law but is based in Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation, has issued war crimes charges against several senior members of the KLA including Kosovar former president Hashim Thaci, who resigned after being indicted.

Smith presided during Thaci's first pre-trial appearance before the special court, in 2020, to face charges.

In a statement released minutes after Garland's announcement, Smith pledged to "independently" conduct the probes of the Trump cases and any potential resulting prosecutions.

"The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch," he said.

"I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate."