The US Department of Justice is hiring an independent attorney general for the Trump investigation

On Friday, the US Department of Justice appointed a former war crimes investigator as a special counsel to oversee criminal investigations into Donald Trump, three days after the former president announced new elections for the White House in 2024.

Trump – who claims to be the target of a “witch hunt” – has blasted the dramatic move as “unfair” and “the worst politicization of justice in our country”.

The White House has adamantly denied any political involvement, but the special counsel’s unprecedented investigation of a former president – and current presidential candidate – is setting the stage for a drawn-out legal battle.

At a news conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of Jack Smith, who until recently was the chief prosecutor in The Hague charged with investigating Kosovo war crimes, to lead the two ongoing federal investigations into Trump.

One focuses on the former president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.

The other is an investigation into a cache of classified government documents seized in an FBI raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Florida residence in August.

Garland said naming a special counsel was in the public interest because both Republican Trump and his Democratic successor, Joe Biden, have announced their intention to run in 2024, though only Trump has officially announced at the moment.

“Hiring a special counsel at this time is the right thing to do,” Garland said. “The exceptional circumstances presented here require it.”

At the White House, press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said Biden had no advance notice of Garland’s plans to name a special counsel.

“Not fair”

Trump claimed in an interview with Fox News Digital that he was being targeted by the Biden administration to prevent him from regaining the presidency.

“This is a disgrace and it only happens because I lead in every poll in both parties,” he said. “This is unacceptable. It is unfair. It is very political.”

“This will not be a fair investigation,” Trump told guests later at his home in Mar-a-Lago.

“This appalling abuse of power is the latest in a long line of witch-hunts,” he said to applause.

In a statement, Smith, who previously headed the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Division, said that “the pace of investigations will not be paused or flagged under my supervision.”

“I will exercise independent judgment and move investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate,” he said.

Trump’s entry into the White House race on Tuesday makes his impeachment even more sensitive.

Appointing an independent attorney general to oversee the dual investigations could help insulate Garland, a Biden appointee, from accusations that the investigation is politically motivated.

The special counsel will determine if the former president should face any charges, but the attorney general will have the final say on whether charges should be pressed.

Even if indicted, the 76-year-old Trump could still run for president — there is nothing in US law that would prevent a person charged or convicted of a crime from doing so.

While in office, Trump was investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for obstruction of justice and possible collusion in the 2016 election with Russia, but no charges were filed against him.

In addition to federal investigations, Trump faces other legal problems.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has filed a civil lawsuit against Trump and three of his children, accusing them of business fraud.

And Trump is being investigated for pressuring officials in the southern swing state of Georgia to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory — including an infamous taped phone call in which he told the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to reverse the outcome.

Trump’s unusually early announcement that he would run for president in 2024 was viewed by some analysts in Washington as an attempt to fend off possible criminal charges.

The Democratic-majority House of Representatives impeached Trump in 2019 for seeking a Ukrainian slingshot against Biden, and again after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but the Senate acquitted him both times.

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