The head of the Justice Department’s public corruption unit, which in recent years prosecuted former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and former Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi, is transferring out of Washington.
Jack Smith, who became chief of the Public Integrity Section in 2010, is leaving the post for the U.S. attorney’s office in Nashville, where he will be second-in-command, according to lawyers familiar with the move. His last day in the Justice Department’s headquarters is Jan. 29, an agency spokesman said. A permanent successor hasn’t been named. Mr. Smith wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Mr. Smith, a former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn and war crimes prosecutor at The Hague, took over a unit reeling from the implosion of its case against former Sen. Ted Stevens and the death of a well-regarded young prosecutor who worked on the case.
“Jack came in at a troubling time,” said Lanny Breuer, the former head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division who hired Mr. Smith. “I was looking for a real leader, someone who could both inspire the folks at Public Integrity and build up morale.”
“On every front, in my view, Jack knocked it out of the park,” said Mr. Breuer, who is now a partner at Covington & Burling LLP.
Mr. Smith focused on building the unit’s trial skills. The Stevens case revealed inexperience. Evidence the prosecution team failed to turn over to Mr. Stevens’s defense team surfaced after he was found guilty of failing to disclose gifts, leading Attorney General Eric Holder to dismiss the charges.
After handling a few trials a year in the early years of the Obama administration, the Public Integrity Section’s court work began to pick up soon after Mr. Smith’s arrival. The section tried 17 cases in 2011, and 12 the next year.
There were setbacks, including a mistrial in the campaign-finance prosecution of John Edwards. But in 2013, Mr. Renzi was sentenced to three years in prison, after he was found guilty of misusing his office in a fraudulent land deal.
Last year, Public Integrity prosecutors were in the courtroom again for the prosecution of Mr. McDonnell, who was found guilty in September of 11 counts — including conspiracy and fraud from 2011 to 2013 — and sentenced this month to two years in prison.
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