OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
Four House Republicans sent a letter to Special Counsel Jack Smith, contesting his authority to bring charges against former President Donald Trump.
Reps. Eric Burlison (R-MO), Michael Cloud (R-TX), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) co-signed the letter, which claims that Smith’s office and his investigation into Trump have not received the proper congressional oversight.
Signatories to the letter request that Smith furnish them with “all documents and communications concerning your authority” to impanel grand juries in the two federal court districts in which he is prosecuting the former president, along with Smith’s authority to have those grand juries return indictments, his authority to grant immunity in exchange for testimony, and documents about DOJ oversight.
“We respectfully request a response from you on or before 1 p.m. [on] February 9, 2024,” Burlison, Cloud, Greene, and Luna wrote.
Conservatives contend that Smith is a private citizen and lacks the constitutional authority to prosecute Trump because he was not formally appointed by the U.S. president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Former Reagan administration attorney general Ed Meese argued last month in an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief submitted to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that Smith’s appointment was improper and that, as a result, his prosecution of Trump is void.
“Not properly clothed in the authority of the federal government, Smith is a modern example of the naked emperor,” Meese’s brief read. “Illegally appointed, he has no more authority to represent the United States in this Court, or in the underlying prosecution, than Tom Brady, Warren Buffett, or Beyoncé.”
Meese argued that the statutory authority that Attorney General Merrick Garland claimed did not permit him to appoint Smith as special counsel.
“The appointment by the Attorney General of a private citizen to receive extraordinary criminal law enforcement power under the title of Special Counsel,” Meese argued, adding that “there is no statute specifically authorizing the Attorney General, rather than the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint such a Special Counsel.”
Since the U.S. Senate has not confirmed three special counsel appointments, some have argued that the D.C. Circuit is unlikely to consider that argument seriously.
Attorney General Janet Reno, who held the position in 1999, designated John Danforth as special counsel to look into the siege of cult leader David Koresh’s Waco, Texas, compound. When Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself in 2003, then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey named Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel to handle the Valerie Plame case.
And in 2017, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal, Robert Mueller was named special counsel by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate claims of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Smith’s case has taken many turns this week.
Trump’s scheduled start date for his federal 2020 election obstruction trial has been removed from the public calendar.
Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the case, initially scheduled the trial for March 4. Trump has entered a not-guilty plea to four charges stemming from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the circumstances leading up to the attack on January 6.
Most expected that the proceedings would start later than expected, though, because the case is now on hold while the D.C. Circuit decides whether Trump should be immune from prosecution because the charges against him pertain to his time in office.
It is uncertain when the three-judge panel at the appeals court will render a decision, despite hearing arguments on January 9, regarding whether the former president can invoke absolute immunity to dismiss Smith’s case.
As initially reported by The Washington Post, it has now been disclosed that the federal court in Washington, D.C., has removed the March 4 trial date from its public calendar. This administrative action suggests that the trial will be postponed while the immunity appeal process is underway.
“Donald Trump’s March 4 trial on election fraud charges has been dropped from the court calendar. In December, Judge Tanya Chutkan agreed to freeze the case while Trump appealed the indictment on presidential immunity grounds. Its removal from the court calendar signals that the case will likely not begin for several more months, pushing it closer to the presidential election in November. The Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals is now considering the case, and it will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court after that,” Newsweek reported.
Soon after the update was reported on social media, several political figures speculated that the removal of the March 4 trial date from the public calendar meant that the case would be dropped entirely.
Bill Shipley, a lawyer for defendants accused of involvement in the Capitol riot, responded by calling it “idiotic” to believe that Smith’s case would be dropped.
“Tomorrow was the day the Juror questionnaires were supposed to be returned to the Court by prospective jurors and given to the parties. Was a questionnaire ever prepared? No—the case has been stayed. So no questionnaires will be received,” Shipley posted on X.
“One of the first questions is ‘Do you have any plans that would make it impossible for you to be a juror from March 3 to May 3?’ Well, you can’t send that out until you know what the start date will be,” he added. “So all you supposedly ‘in the know’ X-sters, just stop posting nonsensical conspiracy theories about why the Court—NOT JACK SMITH—removed the trial from the March 4 calendar.”
Jack Smith’s Trump case removed from court docket raises eyebrowshttps://t.co/knmMW1WLmv
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) February 2, 2024
The Post reported that Chutkan recently scheduled a hearing for a defendant in a different case for March 18, stating, “I suspect in March I will not be in trial.”
She filed court papers on January 18, preventing Smith’s team from submitting any motions during the case’s suspension while the immunity appeal is being considered.
Chutkan offered the former president’s legal team seven months between the indictment and trial to prepare for the case, but she clarified in the filings that this time would not apply to the stay of the case.
“Contrary to the defendant’s assertion, the court has not and will not set deadlines in this case based on the assumption that he has undertaken preparations when not required to do so,” Chutkan wrote.