Donald Trump has long derided as some “hoax” the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election that put Trump into the Oval Office. But, now, the Justice Department that has informally reviewing the origins of the special prosecutor’s probe has turned it into an official criminal investigation.
That’s according to sources to the New York Times; and it’s news that’s sure to conjure up concerns that such an investigation will allow Trump to go after those he deems his political adversaries.
As a criminal investigation, rather than an “administrative review,” the Justice Department will be able to subpoena witnesses, put together a grand jury and could ultimately bring federal criminal charges.
The revelation comes as Trump is already facing scrutiny about a potential abuse of power, including a House impeachment inquiry examining whether he withheld military aid in order to pressure the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
And this latest turn of events regarding the Justice Department, headed by Trump fave, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, may further fuel Trump critics concerned that Trump has being abusing the power of his office.
As the Times points out:
Mr. Trump has made clear that he sees the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies. That view factors into the impeachment investigation against him, as does his long obsession with the origins of the Russia inquiry.
According to the Times, the Justice Department criminal probe will be headed by John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut.
It’s not clear what exactly Durham is to be looking into, but as the Times points out, his boss, Barr:
expressed skepticism of the Russia investigation even before joining the Trump administration. Weeks after being sworn in this year, he said he intended to scrutinize how it started and used the term “spying” to describe investigators’ surveillance of Trump campaign advisers.