The US Department of Justice has named a special counsel to manage investigations involving Donald Trump, a move that comes three days after the former president launched his 2024 presidential bid.
Attorney-general Merrick Garland on Friday said the counsel, Jack Smith, would oversee an investigation into Trump’s handling of government documents and parts of a probe into potential interference in the 2020 presidential elections, including certification of the electoral college votes on January 6 2021, when a crowd of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol.
The announcement by Garland, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, could help the DoJ reaffirm the impartiality of its Trump investigations.
“I strongly believe that the normal processes of this department can handle all investigations with integrity,” Garland said. “And I also believe that appointing a special counsel at this time is the right thing to do.”
“The extraordinary circumstances presented here demand it,” he added, referring to “recent developments” including Trump’s 2024 presidential bid and indications that Biden intends to run again in two years. “Mr Smith is the right choice to complete these matters in an even-handed and urgent manner.”
Smith is a former DoJ prosecutor who is giving up his role as chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague probing war crimes in Kosovo.
In a statement Smith said he would “exercise independent judgment and . . . move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”
The attorney-general added he was “confident” that installing Smith would not delay the probes.
Trump criticised the move on Friday, telling Fox News Digital that it was “the worst politicisation of justice in our country” and a “disgrace”.
“I am not going to accept it,” the former president said. “The Republican party has to stand up and fight.”
The appointment adds yet another battle in a number of legal challenges faced by Trump, including a grand jury in Georgia that is investigating potential wrongdoing following the 2020 elections and a lawsuit filed by the New York attorney-general against him and three of his adult children over alleged fraud in their family business.
Trump on Tuesday announced he would make a third run for the White House, even as he faces a criminal investigation connected to his handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort, as well as questions about the poor showing of Republicans associated with him in the November 8 midterm elections.
Federal agents searched Trump’s Florida estate in early August, triggering ire within his conservative base while reviving fears about his chaotic presidency among moderate and independent voters.
In 2017, the DoJ appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead an inquiry into ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. Trump was never charged in connection with that investigation.