US attorney general appoints war crimes expert as special counsel for Donald Trump investigation

Ex-US president Donald Trump is under investigation (PA Archive)
Ex-US president Donald Trump is under investigation (PA Archive)

US attorney general Merrick Garland has named a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department's investigation into former President Donald Trump.

The department is investigating the presence of classified documents at Mr Trump’s Florida estate and aspects of a separate probe involving the January 6 insurrection and efforts to undo the 2020 election.

Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor who led the Justice Department's public integrity section in Washington and who has worked on war crimes prosecutions, will oversee the role. The Department describes Mr Smith as a registered independent.

"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,” Mr Garland told a news briefing.

Mr Smith is currently chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague and has been tasked with prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo.

He said on Friday: “I will exercise independent judgement and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”

It marks the third time since 2017 that the Department has appointed a special counsel to handle a politically sensitive case.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed in 2017 to oversee the federal investigation into Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and its contacts with Russia. In 2019, John Durham was appointed to investigate the origins of the FBI's probe into Trump's 2016 campaign.

The special counsel's probe will combine the investigation into "whether any person or entity unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election" and the investigation into the classified documents at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

It comes just three days after Mr Trump formally launched his 2024 Republican presidential campaign at his Mar-A-Lago estate.

“Two years ago we were a great nation. And soon we will be a great nation again. The decline of America is being forced upon us by Biden and the radical left... this is not a decline we must accept,” he said.

Last week, the former President faced criticism following a disappointing string of results for Republican candidates in the midterm elections. Several candidates backed by Mr Trump lost unexpectedly to their Democrat rivals, despite the party wrestling back control of the House of Representatives.