Trump Plans Revenge on Jack Smith — and Massive Changes at DOJ – Rolling Stone

trump unraveling jack smith

Donald Trump is a long, long way from winning the GOP primary, let alone retaking the White House. But he always has revenge on his mind, and his allies are preparing to use a future administration to not only undo all of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s work — but to take vengeance on Smith, and on virtually everyone else, who dared investigate Trump during his time out of power.

Rosters full of MAGAfied lawyers are being assembled. Plans are being laid for an entire new office of the Justice Department dedicated to “election integrity.” An assembly line is being prepared of revenge-focused “special counsels” and “special prosecutors.” Gameplans for making Smith’s life hell, starting in Jan. 2025, have already been discussed with Trump himself. And a fresh wave of pardons is under consideration for Trump associates, election deniers, and — the former president boasts — for Jan. 6 rioters.

The preparations have been underway since at least last year, with Trump being briefed on the designs by an array of attorneys, political and policy advisers, former administration officials, and other allies. The aim is to build a government-in-waiting with the hard-right infrastructure needed to turn the Justice Department into an instrument of Trump’s agenda, according to five sources familiar with these matters and another two people briefed on them.

Trump’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

One idea that has caught thrice-indicted former president’s attention in recent months is the creation of the so-called “Office of Election Integrity,” which would be a new unit inside the Justice Department. It would be tasked not only with relitigating Trump’s lies about his 2020 election loss, but also with aggressively pursuing baseless allegations of election “fraud” (including in Democratic strongholds) in ways that Trumpist partisans believe the department has only flirted with in the past. 

This idea was recently pitched to Trump by a longtime Republican activist and an attorney who’s known the ex-president for years, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. (Republican officials have also begun voicing their own support for state-level offices of election integrity. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made the proposal a reality in his state. Officials in Tennessee, Missouri, and Wisconsin have proposed the offices, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, proposed a similarly named office.)

And when it comes to Special Counsel Smith’s office — which just handed Trump his third indictment, this one related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election — the former president and his fellow travelers already know what they want: They want the FBI and DOJ to name names.

This year, close advisers to Trump have begun the process of assembling lists of the names of federal personnel who have investigated the former president and his circle for years, and are attempting to unmask the identities of all the DOJ attorneys and others connected to Smith’s office. The obvious purpose of this, according to one source close to Trump, is to “show them the door on Day 1 [if Trump’s reelected]” — and so “we know who should receive a subpoena” in the future.

Such subpoenas would of course be instrumental in Trumpland’s vows to its voters that, should he return to power, Trump and his new attorney general will launch a raft of their own retaliatory “special counsel” and “special prosecutor” probes to investigate-the-investigator, and to go after their key enemies. As it were, Jeffrey Clark, a former DOJ official and a central figure in Trump’s efforts to subvert the legitimate 2020 presidential election results, has been on Trump’s informal shortlist for plum assignments, including even attorney general, in a potential second administration.

Sources familiar with the situation tell Rolling Stone that Trump and his close ideological allies — working at an assortment of MAGA-prone think tanks, advocacy organizations, and legal groups — are formulating plans for a wide slate of “special prosecutors.” In this vision, such prosecutors would go after the usual targets: Smith, Smith’s team, President Joe Biden, Biden’s family, Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI director Christopher Wray. But they’d also go after smaller targets, from members of the Biden 2020 campaign to more obscure government offices.

“There are almost too many targets to keep track of,” says one Trump adviser familiar with the discussions. Trump and members of his inner orbit have already outlined possible legal strategies, examining specific federal statutes they could wield in a Republican-controlled Justice Department to go after Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who delivered Trump’s first indictment of this year.

The FBI’s investigation of over a thousand rioters who breached and trashed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — officially the largest criminal investigation in Justice Department history —  is another area where Trump has stated he would like to reverse course. “I am inclined to pardon many of them. I can’t say for every single one because a couple of them, probably, they got out of control,” Trump told host Kaitlan Collins during a CNN town hall in May.

When the broader topic of possible second-term pardons has come up behind closed doors, Trump has at times said that such pardons should be signed at the start of the term, not saved for the later on, according to those who’ve heard him discuss it since last year. Aside from the rioters themselves, Trump has also privately floated issuing a wave of pardons to higher-ranking figures who were scrutinized in Special Counsel Smith’s two main investigations. 

“This would be like hitting the delete-key on all of DOJ’s work on these investigations,” a person intimately familiar with the conversations told Rolling Stone in March. In the past several months, when confidants have quipped to Trump that he may have to “pardon yourself,” should he return to the Oval Office, the ex-president has sometimes simply smirked and replied that they’ll have to wait and see.

Another major focus of some of these counter-probes would be “grand jury violations,” says one person familiar with the matter. The counter-probe of those alleged “violations” is the surest sign yet that in a second Trump administration, the Justice Department would seek to investigate the special counsel’s use of grand juries in the Mar-a-Lago and January 6 cases. (Indeed, Trump has already vowed to sic a special counsel on President Biden if he beats him in 2024.)

Some of these “special prosecutors” wouldn’t even be based out of the Justice Department, as special counsels typically are. In some of these private Trumpworld legal plans, some of the “special counsels” would be based out of places like the White House. This idea is nearly identical to the controversial position that Trumpist lawyer and conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell tried to convince then-President Trump to give her in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Some lawyers and operatives close to Trump have pitched themselves for these kinds of roles, telling either Trump or some of his closest advisers that they’d be more than happy to take the gig in Trump’s possible return to power in 2025.

And along with having dreams of sweeping retribution and purges, the upper ranks of Trumpworld have spent years putting together projects to vet and prepare a new generation of appointments — for “special prosecutor” posts, as well as much else — and administrative talent.

In this informal vetting for Justice Department candidates, former senior Trump aides and well-connected activists have sought lawyers with a track record of loathing DOJ, particularly what they deem its supposedly “liberal,” “left-wing,” or “Marxist” elements. Between these different Trump allies, different private spreadsheets have been created in recent years, some laying out dozens of possible contenders, while some include upwards of a hundred names, sources with direct knowledge of the situation say. Former top Trump White House policy adviser Stephen Miller and other key Trump diehards have contributed names to several of these lists. 

Rolling Stone has reviewed one of these internal spreadsheets that has circulated among Trump lieutenants, and the roster is heavy on individuals connected to America First Legal, the Center for Renewing America, and other Trump-backing entities.

Prominent allies of the former president are open about plans to tie the Justice Department more tightly to the White House.

“I recall talking to a senior official in the Trump administration, who said after all of [these investigations] are over, we’ve got to think of a way to bring the Justice Department back into the government,” says Tom Fitton, president of the conservative nonprofit Judicial Watch and a close ally of the former president.

The Justice Department has typically enjoyed a degree of insulation from White House control, a norm aimed at avoiding the politicization of prosecution. But Fitton argues that the department should be more “responsive” to a president’s priorities, a belief that Trump and various influential conservatives embrace enthusiastically. “Is the Justice Department going to operate as an entity outside the White House as opposed to an entity that’s controlled by the president, as the Constitution requires?” he says.

Putting it another way: “What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” Russ Vought, a former top Trump official who heads the Center for Renewing America, told The New York Times in a story published last month.

“I think there’s an argument that what the Justice Department’s doing to Trump now is criminal,” Fitton tells Rolling Stone, suggesting — of course — that a future administration should launch an investigation into Special Counsel Smith’s work.

Fitton also says the department should revisit Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into the FBI probe of the Trump campaign in 2016. Durham, he argues, was a “failure” and acted only as “a glorified inspector general.”


Once, Special Counsel Durham was supposed to be Trumpworld’s savior, someone who Trump, his allies on Capitol Hill, and large swaths of conservative media were counting on to expose and imprison “Deep State” foes. But when the Durham probe ended earlier this year with lackluster results for a vengeance-hungry GOP, he became much less a hero and more a cautionary tale to the right.

As one conservative lawyer who has discussed “special prosecutor” ideas with Trump in recent months tells Rolling Stone, the guiding principle of this project is simple: “No more John Durham’s — never again.”

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