Trump's Justice Department has now launched a criminal investigation into the Russia probe: report
Under Attorney General Bill Barr, the U.S. Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation of the origins of the Russia probe, which examined the voluminous ties between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow, according to a report published Thursday night by the New York Times.
It had previously been revealed that U.S. Attorney John Durham had been scrutinizing the matter, in addition to a review of the same topic by the DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which should be forthcoming shortly. But the nature of Durham's inquiry has been unclear; the Times confirmed Thursday that it has become a criminal investigation.
However, the report did not reveal the predicate justifying such an investigation. It noted:
Federal investigators need only a “reasonable indication” that a crime has been committed to open an investigation, a much lower standard than the probable cause required to obtain search warrants. However, “there must be an objective, factual basis for initiating the investigation; a mere hunch is insufficient,” according to Justice Department guidelines.
Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey tweeted:
Barr takes DOJ even deeper down a very ugly path. The Department must know every move here will be scrutinized for… https://t.co/cFcw7ATjgt— Susan Hennessey (@Susan Hennessey)1571962445.0
It is, of course, possible that such a review will wrap up without ever uncovering any chargeable criminal activity. But as the Times story observed, given Trump's own public anger about the Russia investigation and the people who launched it, as well as Barr's own demonstrated partisan bias in the matter, the investigation will inevitably appear to be an effort to punish and target the president's enemies. And an unfounded investigation can be punishment all on its own, even without criminal charges.
Durham, unlike Trump and Barr, is respected as an independent and careful prosecutor. But it's hard to know how credible the investigation can be given that Barr has reportedly been deeply involved in the matter. He's been in contact with multiple foreign countries about the probe in an effort many commentators argued is bizarre behavior for an attorney general. And his apparent lines of inquiry, as well as some of the questions the Times reported that Durham has pursued, align with right-wing conspiracy theories and wild accusations.
On Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte publicly disavowed one such conspiracy theory.