Special Counsel Jack Smith is leading the investigation into classified records held at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, and his team of investigators include seasoned DOJ officials, some of whom were involved in the prosecution of several of the former commander-in-chief’s closest allies.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith as special counsel in November to investigate the entirety of the criminal investigation into the retention of presidential records, including classified records, held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Smith is a former assistant U.S. attorney and chief to the DOJ’s public integrity section. Prior to being appointed special counsel, Smith was a prosecutor since 2018 with the International Criminal Court tasked with investigating and adjudicating war crimes in Kosovo.
Smith has built a team of experienced DOJ prosecutors since being appointed to the position in November.
Fox News has learned the man leading much of the investigation is attorney Jay Bratt, the chief of the Justice Department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division.
Bratt was involved in the decision to require former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). FARA requires anyone who lobbies on behalf of a foreign government or entity to register their work with the U.S. government.
Manafort ultimately pleaded guilty to committing various financial crimes, including tax fraud and failing to register under FARA regarding his foreign lobbying on behalf of Ukraine. Flynn’s FARA violation was related to his dealings with Turkey.
Bratt has also been involved in several cases involving the Espionage Act, which Trump is accused of violating with the retention of certain classified records at Mar-a-Lago.
Fox News has also learned that J.P. Cooney, a career prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has joined the special counsel’s team.
Cooney was involved in the prosecution of GOP operative and Trump ally Roger Stone. Stone, in 2020, was found guilty on obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements to Congress in charges stemming from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Cooney and other federal prosecutors recommended a tough seven- to nine-year sentence for Stone only to have leadership at the Justice Department — specifically then-Attorney General Bill Barr — overrule the prosecutors and call for a lesser sentence.
A federal judge ultimately sided with Barr, saying the original sentence was excessive. It was determined Stone would serve just over three years. But, just days before he was set to report to prison, Trump signed an executive grant of clemency, commuting the sentence.
A presidential pardon completely absolves an individual of the crime he or she is found to have committed. A commutation lessens the punishment or eliminates jail time but leaves the conviction standing.
Cooney was also involved in the prosecution of Steve Bannon, who served as Trump’s White House chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon was charged after he defied a subpoena from the House committee investigation the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
Cooney also was part of the prosecutorial team that determined it would not pursue criminal charges against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe after a nearly two-year investigation into accusations brought by the Justice Department’s inspector general in 2018, who found McCabe lacked "candor" when questioned about making unauthorized disclosures, or leaking, to the media.
Also on Smith’s team is Julie Edelstein, the deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division. Edelstein works under Bratt.
Sophia Brill, a national security appellate lawyer, and Brett Reynolds, a trial attorney for the DOJ national security division who previously served as a trial attorney for the DOJ’s criminal division, are also a part of Smith’s team.
It is unclear who else is serving on the special counsel's team. A spokesperson for the special counsel's office declined to comment.
The special counsel team was built months after an unprecedented FBI raid on the former president’s home. FBI agents seized classified records, including some marked as top secret, according to a warrant and property receipt. The Justice Department argues that Trump unlawfully retained national defense information at his home.
The former president and his team continue to dispute the classification and believe the information and records to have been declassified.
Upon his appointment, Smith said he intends "to conduct the assigned investigations and any prosecutions that may result from them independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice."
Trump, who announced he will run for president in 2024, told Fox News Digital he "won’t partake" in Smith’s "unfair" investigation, calling it "the worst politicization of justice in our country."
Trump’s presidency was clouded by Robert Mueller's two-year special counsel investigation, which concluded that there was no evidence of criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.
Another special counsel, former U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, has been tapped to lead the investigation into President Biden’s improper retention of classified records.
Classified records were found inside the Washington, D.C., offices of the Penn Biden Center think tank and at the president’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.
The White House has vowed to cooperate with the special counsel investigation.
Fox News' Brianna Herlihy contributed to this report.