Justice Department names Jack Smith, currently tasked with prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo, to oversee criminal investigations into ex-president Donald Trump — a decision Trump slams as "unfair."

Smith vows probes of Donald Trump would be swift and independent.
Smith vows probes of Donald Trump would be swift and independent. (AP Archive)

US Attorney General Merrick Garland has named Jack Smith, a war crimes prosecutor, to serve as special counsel to oversee Justice Department investigations into Donald Trump involving the former president's handling of sensitive documents and the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Garland's announcement on Friday came three days after Trump, a Republican, announced he would run for president again in 2024.

Garland said Trump's candidacy, as well as Democratic President Biden's stated intention to run for re-election, made the appointment of a special counsel necessary.

"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.

Smith will oversee the investigation into Trump's handling of government documents after leaving the White House last year and the probe into attempts to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power following the 2020 election, Garland said.

Smith, a political independent, is currently chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, tasked with prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo.

He previously oversaw the Justice Department's public integrity section and worked as a federal and state prosecutor in New York.

Smith vowed the probes of the former president would be swift and independent.

"I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate," Smith said in a statement.

Garland said he would begin his work as special counsel "immediately."

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Trump slams 'witch hunt'

Trump slammed the "political" and "unfair" appointment of Smith. "I have been going through this for six years," Trump told Fox News Digital. "It is not acceptable. It is so unfair. It is so political."

Later, Trump told a crowd of supporters at a black-tie event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida that this was a ''horrendous abuse of power''.

"I thought the investigation with the document hoax was dying or dead or over. And the investigation into January six and my very peaceful and patriotic speech, remember, peaceful and patriotic - was dead, especially after the record-setting 40-point loss of Liz Cheney in the great state of Wyoming," Trump told supporters.

"I thought it was dead. I thought that put the final nail in the coffin, only to find out that the corrupt and highly political Justice Department just appointed a super radical left special counsel, better referred to as a special prosecutor, to start the process all over again."

Total independence 

The appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation could serve to help insulate Garland, a Biden appointee, from charges that the probe is politically motivated.

The special counsel would still report to the attorney general, who would have the ultimate say on whether charges should be brought. 

This would be the Justice Department's third special counsel to be appointed since 2017 to handle a politically sensitive case.

Such prosecutors typically have a high degree of independence to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

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 White House was not involved in the decision, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies