Trump just succeeded in weaponizing the Justice Department
William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee (C-SPAN/screen grab)

Attorney General Bill Barr directed Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation, the New York Times reported Monday night.

The Times noted that this is the third Justice Department investigation of the investigation. A U.S. Attorney in Utah and Inspector General Michael Horowitz have also examined the probe. And under former Chair Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee extensively pored over the probe for hints of wrongdoing, and while he found evidence that he was able to twist for partisan benefit, there was no sign of actual misconduct by the investigators.

But whatever the new investigation finds, it certainly proves one thing: Trump has succeeded in turning the Justice Department into a political weapon.

Given the other probes, there’s clearly no need for an additional investigation. But Barr has proven that he is a down-the-line Trump partisan, and it’s clear that the president wanted the attorney general to go after the people who began an investigation of his campaign. (He’s never shown any similar sort of animosity to the Russians who actually broke the law and tried to corrupt his team ahead of the election.)

There seem to be two reasonable possibilities that led to the attorney general’s decision: Barr took his orders, either directly from Trump behind the scenes, or indirectly from Trump’s public comments about wanting the “origins” of the investigation examined, and launched the new probe for that reason. Or Trump knew exactly who he was getting when he picked Barr to be attorney general — someone who would see the Russia investigation’s very existence as an affront to a Republican president — and that’s why he chose him.

Either way, Trump has shown he has enough control over the department to go after his perceived enemies. This is even Trump’s explicit aim — he said last week that it would be fine for him to instruct Barr to investigate Joe Biden, a likely 2020 opponent.

“Certainly, it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet,” Trump said. “It could be a very big situation.”

The irony, of course, is that what Barr has been reported to do is exactly what he, Trump, and other Republicans accuse the Justice Department under President Barack Obama of doing: starting an investigation of an enemy for political reasons. But pointing out their hypocrisy will do little good — for the modern conservative movement, all that matters is who holds the levers of power.