WASHINGTON — On Friday, a new judge assumed leadership of the U.S. Trial Court in Washington. He will oversee secret proceedings involving special counsel criminal investigations regarding former President Donald Trump’s retention of classified documents as well as efforts by him and his associates to undo his 2020 electoral loss.
James “Jeb” Boasberg is appointed chief judge of U.S. District Court, District of Columbia. He replaces Judge Beryl Howell, whose seven-year term ends.
The federal grand jury proceedings are sealed under the sole authority of the chief judge. Boasberg will assume responsibility immediately for certain issues related to the special counsel investigations into Trump. Trump announced in November that he would be seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nominee.
Boasberg would also assume these responsibilities if a grand jury is formed to investigate the handling of classified documents by President Joe Biden after he left the vice presidency. Biden, a Democrat is expected to run for re-election.
Boasberg, as chief judge, is poised for ruling on legal arguments in grand jury probes. This includes attempts to limit witnesses’ testifying. Grand jury proceedings are not visible to the public.
Boasberg declined comment to Boasberg’s impending grand jury oversight duties in an interview. Boasberg praised his predecessor and said that the court was lucky to have Howell as its leader in “this very difficult period.”
Boasberg stated that she has led the court through dislocations and COVID in a remarkable way. She also maintained a court that was not driven by partisan divisions.
Boasberg is a Democratic President Barack Obama appointee and has been on the court since 2011. Boasberg was previously appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama to the D.C. Superior Court in 2002. He was confirmed both times by the U.S. Senate.
Special Counsel Jack Smith was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Galrland in November to investigate the Trump cases. He is now presenting evidence to grand juries. The issue is Trump’s retention at Mar-a-Lago in Florida of classified documents after he left office in January 2021, and attempts to interfere in the peaceful transfer power following Trump’s loss of Biden.
Garland appointed Robert Hur as a special counsel in January to investigate classified records that were found at Biden’s Delaware home and Washington’s former office.
There have never been any indictments of sitting presidents or ex-presidents.
According to his former law clerks and fellow judges, Boasberg is a tall, deep-voiced ex-member of Yale’s basketball team and is well-prepared for the case and will lead the court through any scrutiny that an indictment might bring.
Washington U.S. District Judge Casey Cooper, who has known Boasberg ever since they were both at Yale, called Boasberg “exactly what you would want as an independent thinker in that position” and described him as “incredibly balanced, thoughtful, and fair.”
Howell was kind enough to praise Boasberg for his willingness to tackle high-profile, novel issues, regardless of whether they were arising from the grand jury.
Howell was a chief judge and heard legal arguments during special counsel investigations.
These included a challenge from an unidentified foreign-owned company to a grand jur subpoena issued in 2016 by Robert Mueller. Mueller was looking into the 2016 Trump campaign’s contacts and more recently Scott Perry’s attempt to stop investigators accessing his phone and messages related to 2020 election results.
Boasberg has had to face difficult assignments before. He presided over U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2020 and 2021. This court hears government requests to obtain secret surveillance warrants. After the Justice Department’s internal watchdog highlighted problems in the department’s procedure for seeking secret warrants, he was appointed to his position.
Boasberg was responsible for the criminal case against John Durham, former FBI lawyer. Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email that justified a government wiretap on Carter Page in 2020. Boasberg sentenced Clinesmith in a year of probation, and 400 hours community service.
After Trump’s defeat, Boasberg refused to be challenged by Republican state legislators and other contestants. He had asked him for congressional approval of Biden’s win.
Boasberg wrote that courts are not tools through which parties engages in such gamesmanship and symbolic political gestures. He referred Erick Kaardal to the grievance committee of the court for acting with “potentially bad faith.”