Special Counsel Jack Smith Taught DOJ How to Alphabetize by Last Name! A Tale of Two Subpoenas, and Other Self-Mockery

In the wake of the appointment of Jack Smith, journalists (including yours truly) and TV lawyers everywhere are overreading everything that happens in Prettyman Courthouse, when the reality is that the visible signs of investigation into Donald Trump are largely logical next steps from prior known steps before Smith was appointed. What we’re seeing, thus far, is almost certainly in reality the expected flurry of activity after the election pause ended.

So to make fun of myself and others, let me overread.

BREAKING: Jack Smith has taught DOJ how to alphabetize by last name!

I base that claim on two subpoenas from the same investigation: This subpoena, to some Arizona Republicans, first reported by WaPo in July. And this subpoena, to Milwaukee County Clerk, also reported by the WaPo, today.

Both are from grand jury 22-5, which earlier this year was focusing on the fake elector plot. Both include the same FBI agent, Daniel Mehochko, as the recipient.

But the first subpoena was sent in June, under Matthew Graves (it was signed by AUSA Thomas Windom). The second subpoena was sent on stationary naming Jack Smith (it was signed by AUSA Matthew Burke).

So, in my self-mocking overreading, the difference between the two closely related subpoenas must reflect the passage in time and new rules we’ll ascribe, with no basis, to Jack Smith (but which are almost certainly due to some other thing).

On that logic, one key difference is that in the new subpoena — the one sent under stationary with Smith’s name on it — is that a fairly standard list of names of top Trump associates is alphabetized by last name, whereas the same list in June was alphabetized by first name. (The number after the names in the left column reflect where they showed up in that earlier list.)

There are other differences, too. The newer subpoena covers an earlier but shorter timeframe, from June 1, 2020 to January 20, 2021 than the older one, which covers October 1, 2020 to then present, June 2022. The older subpoena asks for communications with “any member, employee, or agent” of the Executive or Legislative branches, but only asks for comms with agents of Donald J. Trump. The newer one doesn’t ask for comms with Congress (though that may be because members of Congress weren’t involved as they were with the fake electors). But it does ask for comms involving Donald J. Trump, the man, not just the campaign.

Perhaps the most interesting difference — one that may reflect a change of real rather than self-mocking import — is that Joshua Findlay (background here) and Mike Roman (background here) are not on the newer list. Roman had his phone seized in September.

Here are some other events that have happened since Jack Smith was appointed that are probably just the steps that prosecutors already had planned, including some who are probably not on Smith’s team:

  • November 18: A DC prosecutor who has focused on important assault cases, Robert Juman, issued a subpoena to Alex Holder, the documentary film maker who tracked Trump and his family. That was first reported by Politico.
  • November 29 and December 6: Stephen Miller makes two appearances before the grand jury.
  • December 1: Dan Scavino, William Russell, and William Harrison testify before the grand jury.
  • December 2: The two Pats — Cipollone and Philbin — testify for a combined ten hours to the grand jury.

Update: As noted in the comments, the earlier list was also alpha order, just by first name. I’ve attempted to mock myself some more above accordingly.

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26 replies
  1. Thorvold says:

    EmptyWheel,
    The June list was alphabetized also. It was just alphabetized by First name rather than Last name based on your numbers

  2. Tech Support says:

    If they are going to alphabetize by last name, shouldn’t they also list the names as Lastname, Firstname?

    This is causing me to have input validation/translation flashbacks.

    • Larry Clark says:

      That would be my preference…

      Eye, Raven
      Support, Tech

      But I wouldn’t be surprised if the some of the practice goes back to quill pens and such.

    • Raven Eye says:

      That would be my preference…

      Eye, Raven
      Support, Tech

      But I wouldn’t be surprised if the some of the practice goes back to quill pens and such.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Trump Pac reportedly paid legal bills of Mar-a-Lago witnesses.” One is Kash Patel. The Guardian headline riffs off a WaPo story from a day before. Trump has used the tactic for decades, in part, because it gives him influence over witnesses to his conduct, and because the threat of withdrawing his support could corruptly influence a witness’s testimony. Trump supported Michael Cohen, for example, until he concluded Cohen had insufficient evidence to expose Trump to criminal liability. He supported Cassidy Hutchinson, who later rejected his aid after apparently concluding that Trump’s help came with too many strings.

    In general, as the article notes, a lawyer may accept payment for services from someone other than the client, so long as the lawyer, the client, and the patron are all aware of it, and the lawyer makes clear in writing to the patron that her duty of loyalty runs solely to the client. Among other things, the patron is not entitled to information about the representation – which would vitiate A-C privilege.

    The article under-emphasizes that that general rule only deals with the lawyer’s conflict of interest. It doesn’t adequately deal with the potential conflicts between the patron and client regarding the reasons why the patron would pay – or stop paying – those legal bills and whether they are or might be corrupt.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/dec/06/trump-pac-reportedly-paid-legal-bills-mar-a-lago-witnesses
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/12/05/trump-witnesses-legal-bills-pac/

      • punaise says:

        “something… something… GA …(Eat a Peach?) … woot!”

        I mean, Walker was just a horrible candidate, unfit for any elected office: Black commentators on CNN were saying he was an absolute insult to Black folks. That it was this close is a sign of the sorry state of the electorate.

  4. GWPDA says:

    I would suggest that Mr. Smith has insisted that all documents be processed using WordPerfect, rather than Word. WordPerfect, the longtime legal standard for government word processing has the (relatively) easy capability to alphabetise lists using the second item’s spelling – in this case by surname, along with the built-in capability to generate EDGAR documents, legal filings and the like. Word does not. The latter programme has been the source of ‘first name alphabetising’ throughout much of the civilian US government. If DOJ has made a shift to Word, then Mr. Smith – having been out of the country for some time – would find it unfamiliar and likely unwanted and insist on returning to the programme he knows. (From too much time spent word processing for a living.)

    • Matt___B says:

      Word Perfect still exists ??!!

      My trajectory in word processing history: Wordstar (CPM and DOS) -> Word Perfect (DOS) -> Word (Windows and Mac).

      I remember there being a Windows version of Word Perfect when Word started to become the de facto choice for just about everybody but I figured it must have died a quiet death some time ago – guess I was wrong? It lives on in Europe?

      (As someone who spent 7+ long years making a living in word processing from 1980-7, I still haven’t figured out how to disable automatic capitalization of words when a hard carriage return is hit instead of allowing word-wrapping in Word, despite 2 decades of Word usage…)

      • Susan D. Einbinder says:

        I remember doing word processing on WANG in the 1980s and eventually Word Perfect and Word … but seriously, is Word Perfect still in use? SPSS and SAS are still around (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences and Statistical Analysis System, respectively – for data analysis), though, even though they are interchangeable. Or once were.

          • Matt___B says:

            Interesting that Word Perfect’s decline was caused by Microsoft refusing to share the Windows API with the Word Perfect folks in 1992, causing Word to gain a significant advantage in the marketplace.

            Microsoft did a similar thing with database products. They acquired Foxbase and improved it (and renamed it to Foxpro-until 2008), distributed and supported it (until 2015), but at the same time they introduced their own database product – Microsoft Access – during the same time period. Then they let Foxpro die from attrition.

            I still have 2 clients I’m supporting with Visual Foxpro projects, which is an attestation to the robustness of that platform in legacy (like Word Perfect I guess) but it lives in a digital cul-de-sac nowadays…

            • Rayne says:

              There was the matter of a non-voting investment by MSFT at one point, too, which throttled WordPerfect along the way.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Democracy Docket covered oral arguments in the Moore v. Harper case today at the S.Ct. In summation, the Moore lawyer – arguing for the so-called independent state legislature theory – came up with this incredible expansion of partisan legislative power:

    [S]tate constitutions should be given less deference by a federal court than state statutes when state constitutions and statutes restrict a state legislature because state legislatures can more easily change statutes.

    The argument is word salad. The power of a state legislature to enact and modify its own statutes isn’t relevant here, except as framing for Moore’s revolutionary argument. That is, that the US Supreme Court – at least in the context of states managing federal elections – can and should free the state legislature from restrictions imposed on it by the state constitution, notwithstanding that it is a state’s constitution that creates and defines a legislature’s existence and powers.

    It would be hard to describe a more naked, partisan political power grab. But four S.Ct. justices – Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas – seem to favor it.

    https://www.democracydocket.com/news-alerts/live-updates-u-s-supreme-court-hears-moore-v-harper/

  6. James Wimberley says:

    If your surname is a very common one like Smith, you grow up with greater sensitivity to the details needed to prevent confusion with other people. With an unusual one like mine, letters will still reach me addressed to Wimberly, Kimberley, etc.
    Wikipedia says Mr. Smith is “John L. Smith, known professionally as Jack Smith”. This is odd. You would have thought he would insist on the L, whatever it stands for.

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