Trump Derides ‘Deranged’ Jack Smith, Says He’ll ‘Never Be Coach Bobby Knight,’ as Prosecutor Contends With Uncooperative Judge

The 45th president likens the special prosecutor to one of college basketball’s most brilliant — and reviled — head coaches.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Special Counsel Jack Smith delivers remarks at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2023, at Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump’s comparison of Special Counsel Jack Smith to a basketball coach who, in nearly equal measure, was revered and reviled, Bobby Knight, could offer a clue as to the 45th president’s defensive strategy in the face of two federal and two state prosecutions.

Mr. Trump took to Truth Social on Thursday to vent that “no matter how hard he tries, Deranged Jack Smith will never be Coach Bobby Knight, a Basketball Legend for all time, who led the last undefeated team in College Basketball. Coach Knight would always ‘play the refs,’ but not to change the last call, to change the next one.”

The reference is to a legend of the hardwood. Knight, who died in November, coached college basketball at Army, Texas Tech, and, for three decades, Indiana. A Hall of Famer, he led Indiana to three championships and won an Olympic gold medal in 1984. His 1975-76 team won 32 games without a loss, the last undefeated men’s champion. 

The coach was an offensive maestro who dreamt up hitherto unknown methods of putting the ball in the basket. He was known for volatility, though, and was eventually fired from Indiana after he was accused of choking a player, an incident caught on camera. He also threw a chair across the court during a game and was arrested after a physical confrontation with a police officer.

As Mr. Trump suggests, Knight was a thorn in the side of referees for decades. One, Ted Valentine, gave him three technical fouls in a game, an occurrence as rare as acquitting a Republican in New York. In 1987, Knight was ejected from an exhibition game against the Soviet Union for berating the referees. The coach, though, was a supporter of Mr. Trump, campaigning for him in 2016 and calling him “a great defender of the United States of America.”

The invocation of Knight comes as the special counsel appears to be running out of rope with a judge with whom his relations have turned just shy of combative — Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. By accusing Mr. Smith of endeavoring to “play the refs,” Mr. Trump is likely alluding to the prosecutor’s increasingly frequent and somewhat menacing suggestions that he might appeal Judge Cannon’s rulings to the riders of the 11th Appeals Circuit.

Judge Cannon has in turn characterized Mr. Smith’s requests as “unprecedented and unjust,” the rough equivalent of granting a warning before issuing a technical foul. She has, though, sided with the special counsel — after a motion for reconsideration, something like, say, a request for video review — on redacting the names of certain witnesses in the case. The prosecutor had called her initial decision a “clear error” and an enabler of “manifest injustice.” 

The judge has her own referees to worry about — the riders of the 11th Circuit, who have overruled her before, in respect of her appointment of a special master to oversee the government’s collection of evidence. What Mr. Trump refers to as the “next call” — likely a ruling on jury instructions or a trial date — is one that Judge Cannon appears to be in no rush to make. A final decision would trigger Mr. Smith’s right of appeal. 

On both issues — jury instructions and a trial date — Judge Cannon appears to be hanging back. She referred to her request for  draft jury instructions as a  “genuine attempt, in the context of the upcoming trial, to better understand the parties’ competing positions.” That sounds more like a call for papers at an academic conference than an imperative from the bench. She has still not, in respect of a trial date, signaled her preference for either Mr. Smith’s suggestion of July or Mr. Trump’s push for an indefinite delay.

Mr. Trump, hardly adverse to playing the refs himself, noted in the same statement in which he invoked Knight that Mr. Smith is working to “intimidate and harass respected Federal Judge Aileen Cannon.” The 45th president, though, is hardly a stranger to venting his displeasure toward the bench.

The New York Sun

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