On Friday, a new judge takes over the U.S. trial court in Washington, overseeing secret special counsel criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump’s retention of confidential materials and his allies’ attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
After Judge Beryl Howell’s seven-year term, James “Jeb” Boasberg becomes the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Only the chief judge can seal federal grand jury sessions. It means Boasberg will immediately handle any special counsel concerns involving Trump, who stated in November he would run for the 2024 GOP presidential nominee.
If a grand jury is convened in a second special counsel inquiry investigating former Vice President Joe Biden’s handling of secret materials, Boasberg would have the same duties. In 2024, Biden, a Democrat, will run again.
Boasberg will rule on grand jury legal issues as chief judge, including attempts to exclude witnesses from testifying. Grand juries are private.
Boasberg declined to discuss his grand jury supervision powers in an interview. “In this highly tense moment,” he lauded his predecessor, Howell.
“She’s guided the court in a remarkable way through COVID and dislocations,” Boasberg remarked.
Obama appointed Boasberg to the court in 2011. Bush appointed him to the D.C. Superior Court in 2002. The Senate confirmed him both times.
Attorney General Merrick Garland designated Special Counsel Jack Smith to handle the two Trump investigations in November. After losing to Biden, Trump kept confidential information at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
In January, Garland appointed Robert Hur as a special counsel to investigate sensitive papers uncovered in Biden’s Delaware home and Washington office.
Presidents have never been indicted.
According to colleagues, judges, and former law clerks, Boasberg, a towering, deep-voiced former Yale basketball player, is well-prepared to handle the cases and guide the court through the harsh scrutiny any indictment would entail.
U.S. District Judge Casey Cooper in Washington, who has known Boasberg since Yale, called him “very balanced and analytical and fair.”
Howell complimented Boasberg’s willingness to tackle “high-profile and new matters, whether emerging out of the grand jury or not, that capture the focus of national attention.”
Howell routinely heard special counsel legal arguments as chief judge.
An unidentified, foreign-owned company challenged a grand jury subpoena issued by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he investigated the 2016 Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians, and Republican congressman Scott Perry attempted to block investigators from accessing his cellphone and messages related to the 2020 election results.
Boasberg has worked hard previously. He oversaw the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2020 and 2021. His appointment followed the Justice Department’s internal watchdog’s criticism of the secret warrant procedure.
Boasberg directed Special Counsel John Durham’s criminal prosecution against former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who pled guilty in 2020 to falsifying an email to justify a federal wiretap of Carter Page. Clinesmith received a year of probation and 400 community service from Boasberg.
After the 2020 election, Boasberg denied Republican state leaders’ request to withhold congressional certification of Biden’s victory.
“Courts are not tools through which parties engage in such gamesmanship or symbolic political gestures,” said Boasberg, who referred the case’s lawyer, Erick Kaardal, to the grievance committee for “possible bad faith.”