US attorney general Merrick Garland has announced the appointment of a special counsel tasked with the job of determining whether Donald Trump will face charges as part of any Department of Justice (DoJ) investigations.

The politically explosive move just comes just days after the former US president announced he was running for the White House yet again, despite a disappointing Republican performance in the midterm elections, especially among candidates backed by Trump.

Garland named Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor, to the post, which will deal with investigations into Trump’s attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election victory for Joe Biden, and also the discovery of confidential documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.

The appointment of a special counsel reflects the sensitivity of the justice department overseeing the two most hazardous criminal investigations into Trump, and an increased possibility of potential charges being brought over either matter.

Special counsels are semi-independent prosecutors who can be installed for high-profile investigations when there are conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflicts, and provide a mechanism for the justice department to insulate itself from political considerations in charging decisions.

“I strongly believe that the normal processes of this department can handle all investigations with integrity. And I also believe that appointing a special counsel at this time is the right thing to do. The extraordinary circumstances presented here demand it,” Garland said.

Smith is a former chief of the Public Integrity Section, the justice department unit that investigates public corruption. He oversaw the prosecution of a CIA agent for disclosing national defense information and obstructing justice – crimes which echo potential charges against Trump.

Since 2018, Smith has been prosecuting war crimes in The Hague from the war in Kosovo. Politico reported that he was registered to vote as a political independent, not a Democrat or a Republican.

“I will ensure that the special counsel receives the resources to conduct this work quickly and completely. Given the work done to date and Mr Smith’s prosecutorial experience, I am confident that this appointment will not slow the completion of these investigations,” Garland said.

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