In New Special Counsel, a Prosecutor Schooled in Corruption Cases

At the time, Melanie Sloan, then the director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that the Justice Department deserved “to get slammed” for undertaking a risky prosecution against Mr. Edwards that relied upon a novel interpretation of campaign finance laws, even as it shied away from more traditional corruption cases.

“The cases that they are deciding to prosecute, and not prosecute, reflect an incoherent strategy,” she said. “At some points, they are willing to be incredibly aggressive, like with John Edwards, and on the other hand they are overly cautious in refusing to prosecute people like John Ensign and Don Young.”

But in an interview with The New York Times in 2012, Mr. Smith noted that only a few of the unit’s recent cases had attracted national attention. He said those did not fully reflect how the unit was faring under what he portrayed as a renewed emphasis on litigating cases under his direction.

“We’re trying more cases than ever before in the section, and winning more than ever,” Mr. Smith said. “Overall, we are effectively litigating cases and going to court more, which is what people expect our section to do. We are doing cases all around the country.”

The public integrity section prevailed in other high-profile investigations. In 2013, it won a conviction of former Representative Rick Renzi, Republican of Arizona, who spent about two years in prison. The case, whose origins predated Mr. Smith’s arrival, centered on extortion, bribery and an illegal federal land swap. (Mr. Trump would later pardon Mr. Renzi among a flurry of clemency actions in January 2021, in his last hours as president.)

Mr. Smith also helped oversee the prosecution of Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer who was convicted of mishandling national security secrets and obstruction of justice. He was accused of leaking information about a purportedly botched secret operation to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program to a Times reporter.

Mr. Sterling was convicted in 2015 under the Espionage Act and an obstruction statute. Notably, both of those are potential charges at the center of the investigation of Mr. Trump’s handling of government documents.

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