WASHINGTON — A new judge assumes leadership of the US trial court in Washington on Friday, inheriting oversight of secret proceedings involving special counsel’s criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump’s withholding of classified documents and the efforts of him and his allies to undo his 2020 election defeat.
James “Jeb” Boasberg becomes Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Beryl Howell as her seven-year term comes to an end.
The chief judge has sole discretion over sealed federal grand jury proceedings. That means Boasberg will immediately assume responsibility for handling certain issues that may arise in special counsel investigations involving Trump, who in November announced he was seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Boasberg would also assume the same responsibilities if a grand jury is formed in a separate special counsel investigation into President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents after he left the vice presidency. Biden, a Democrat, is expected to seek re-election in 2024.
As chief judge, Boasberg is set to rule on certain legal arguments raised in grand jury investigations, including efforts to restrict witnesses from testifying. Grand jury proceedings are kept out of public view.
In an interview, Boasberg declined to comment on his impending grand jury oversight duties. He praised his predecessor and said the court was fortunate to have had Howell as its leader «during this very tense period.»
“He has led the court in an excellent way through COVID and dislocations, and has also maintained a very cohesive court that is not driven by partisan divisions,” Boasberg said.
Boasberg, a Democratic President Barack Obama appointee, has served on the court since 2011. He was previously selected by Republican President George W. Bush in 2002 to the local DC Superior Court. Both times he was easily confirmed by the United States Senate.
Special counsel Jack Smith, appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November to handle the two Trump investigations, is presenting evidence to multiple grand juries. At issue are Trump’s withholding of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida after leaving office in January 2021 and attempts to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power following Trump’s loss to Biden.
Another special counsel, Robert Hur, was appointed by Garland in January to investigate classified records found at Biden’s Delaware home and his former Washington office.
No sitting or former president has been charged.
Boasberg, a tall and deep-voiced former member of the Yale basketball team, is well-prepared to handle the cases and guide the court through the intense scrutiny any prosecution would bring, according to his fellow judges and former legal assistants.
US District Judge Casey Cooper in Washington, who has known Boasberg since they attended Yale together, said Boasberg is «exactly the kind of independent thinker you would want in that position,» calling him «incredibly balanced, thoughtful and fair.»
Howell praised Boasberg’s willingness to tackle high-profile and novel issues, «whether they come out of the grand jury or not, that attract national attention.»
During his tenure as chief judge, Howell regularly heard legal arguments in special counsel investigations.
These included a challenge by an unnamed foreign company to a grand jury subpoena issued by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller while examining the 2016 Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russians and, most recently, the Republican congressman’s attempt to Scott Perry to block the access of the researchers. his cell phone and messages related to actions related to the 2020 election results.
Boasberg has faced difficult tasks before. In 2020 and 2021, she chaired the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which hears government requests for secret surveillance warrants. His injunction came after the Justice Department’s internal watchdog highlighted flaws in the department’s process for seeking secret warrants.
Boasberg oversaw special counsel John Durham’s criminal case against former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty in 2020 to tampering with an email used to justify a government wiretap by former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Boasberg sentenced Clinesmith to one year probation and 400 hours of community service.
After the 2020 election, Boasberg rejected a challenge from Republican state lawmakers and others who were contesting Trump’s defeat and had asked him to block congressional certification of Biden’s election victory.
“Courts are not instruments through which parties engage in token political games or gestures,” wrote Boasberg, who referred the lawyer behind the case, Erick Kaardal, to the court’s complaints committee for acting in “potential bad faith.” ”.