Merrick Garland appoints special counsel to decide whether Trump will face criminal charges
Judge Merrick Garland testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be US Attorney General(AFP)

Attorney general Merrick Garland on Friday appointed a special counsel to decide whether Donald Trump should face criminal charges from the Department of Justice.

A formal announcement of the move, which has been widely anticipated by legal experts, was expected Friday, three days after Trump announced he would seek the 2024 Republican nomination, and would be intended to insulate the Biden administration from criticism about possibly prosecuting the former president, reported the Wall Street Journal.

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Government regulations allow the attorney general to name a special counsel if he determines an investigation or prosecution presents a possibly conflict of interest or if recusals would not be enough to allay concerns, but some former Justice Department officials have said the move wouldn't satisfy Trump or his supporters.

Those former officials say there probably aren't many people with the experience or reputation he would be willing to take take the job.

Trump is the target of multiple Justice Department probes.

He is being investigated for his role in last year's US Capitol attack, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and the stashing of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.

In addition, New York state's attorney general Letitia James has filed a civil suit against Trump and three of his children, accusing them of business fraud.

Trump, who says he is a victim of political persecution, has not been charged with any crimes.

But his entry into the White House race on Tuesday makes indicting him a much more delicate matter.

The appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation would serve to help insulate Garland, an appointee of the Democrat Biden, 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.

Even if charged, Trump can still run for president -- nothing in US law bars a person charged with or convicted of a crime from doing so.

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

Trump's unusually early announcement that he was running for president again in 2024 was seen by some analysts in Washington as an attempt to stave off potential criminal charges.

The 76-year-old Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in 2019 for seeking political dirt on Biden from Ukraine and again after the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by his supporters but acquitted by the Senate.

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With additional reporting by AFP