Special counsel named to lead Trump probes

US Attorney-General Merrick Garland has named Jack Smith, a war crimes prosecutor, to serve as special counsel to oversee Justice Department investigations related to Donald Trump including the former president's handling of sensitive documents and efforts to overturn 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 an independent special counsel necessary.

Special counsels are sometimes appointed to investigate politically sensitive cases and they do their jobs with a degree of independence from the Justice Department leadership.

"The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch," Smith said in a statement.

"I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate."

Garland said Smith would 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.

"Appointing a special counsel at this time is the right thing to do," Garland, who was appointed by Biden, told a news conference.

Trump called the special counsel appointment a "rigged deal".

"This horrendous abuse of power is the latest in a long series of witch hunts that started a long time ago," he told a crowd of supporters at a black tie event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Biden did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about the special counsel during his only public appearance of the day.

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

Smith, a political independent, until recently served as the 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.

This marks the second time in five years that the Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to probe Trump's conduct.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller, named as a special counsel in 2017, documented contacts between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, but found insufficient evidence to bring a charge of criminal conspiracy.

FBI agents seized thousands of government records, some marked as highly classified, from Trump's Mar-a-Lago home during an August 8 search.

Investigators also are examining Trump for possible obstruction of the probe. Trump filed a civil lawsuit in an effort to delay the documents investigation and keep some records away from investigators.

The other investigation is a sprawling probe into a failed plot by Trump's allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting batches of phony slates of electors to the US National Archives and trying to stop Congress certifying Biden's election victory.

The raft of criminal and civil state and federal investigations against Trump also includes a civil lawsuit by New York state's attorney-general accusing him and three of his adult children of fraud involving the family real estate business.