A former war crimes prosecutor has been appointed as special counsel to oversee investigations into former US president Donald Trump.
Jack Smith, a career prosecutor, will look into allegations around the mishandling of classified documents at Trump’s Florida home and his role leading up to the January 6th assault on the Capitol.
The appointment was announced by the US attorney-general Merrick Garland, who said it was in the “public interest” following Mr Trump’s announcement that he plans to run again for the presidency.
Mr Garland, whose Justice Department has been conducting investigations for months, was appointed as head of the department by President Joe Biden.
The appointment of a special counsel is designed to address suspicions, articulated out loud and regularly by Mr Trump, of political bias in the investigations.
During a news conference to announce the move, the attorney-general said: “It is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution based on recent developments including the former president’s announcement that he is candidate for president in the next election, and the sitting president’s stated intention to be a candidate as well.”
Mr Smith, who latterly has been a war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, will be engaged in two main areas of investigation.
One is to look into whether any person, including Mr Trump, unlawfully interfered with the transfer of presidential power following the 2020 election, or the certification of the Electoral College vote in President Biden’s favour on 6 January 2021.
The other focuses on Mr Trump’s removal of hundreds of documents from the White House, which were transferred to his home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Mr Smith will examine whether the former president broke the law in his handling of classified documents and whether he obstructed justice in preventing access to them. He will, ultimately, report his findings to Mr Garland.
A veteran prosecutor who led the Justice Department’s public integrity section in Washington and later served as the acting chief federal prosecutor in Nashville, Tennessee, during the Obama administration, Mr Smith is set to begin his work “immediately”, according to Mr Garland.
The Justice Department described Mr Smith as a registered independent, in an effort to blunt any attack of perceived political bias.
Speaking to Fox News Digital about the appointment, Mr Trump said: “It is not even believable that they’re allowed to do this. This is the worst politicisation of justice in our country.
“Hunter Biden is a criminal many times over and nothing happens to him. Joe Biden is a criminal many times over-and nothing happens to them.
“It is unfair to the country, to the Republican Party, and I don’t think people should accept it. I am not going to accept it.”