Former chief prosecutor in the Hague to spearhead Trump investigation

© Luis Villegas, AP

The US Justice Department on Friday named an independent prosecutor to oversee criminal investigations into Donald Trump, three days after the former president announced a new White House run in 2024. Trump called the appointment “political” and “unfair”.

The move sets up the prospect of a drawn-out legal battle, with Trump likely to claim he is being targeted by the administration of Joe Biden to prevent him winning back the presidency.

At a press conference in Washington, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of Jack Smith, until recently a chief prosecutor in The Hague charged with investigating Kosovo war crimes.

Biden was not given advance notice of Smith's appointment, the White House said on Friday.

Garland said naming a special counsel was in the public interest, because both the Republican Trump and his Democratic successor Biden have stated their intention to run in 2024 – although only Trump has officially declared at this point.

"Based on recent developments, including the former president's announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election and the sitting president's stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel," Garland said.

Trump is being investigated over a cache of government documents uncovered in an FBI raid on his south Florida home and his involvement in the 2021 assault on the US Capitol by a mob seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

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