Raising fresh concerns that President Donald Trump is weaponizing the Justice Department for his own political and personal gain, Attorney General William Barr's "administrative review" of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe—which resulted in the conviction of a number of Trump associates—has reportedly become a criminal investigation.
The New York Times, citing two anonymous individuals familar with the matter, reported late Thursday that the shift from an administrative review to a criminal probe "gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges."
"Mr. Barr, recall that Attorney General John Mitchell spent 19 months in prison for his role in the Watergate conspiracy. Be prepared to meet the same or worse fate."
"It was not clear what potential crime Mr. Durham is investigating, nor when the criminal investigation was prompted," according to the Times. Barr appointed Durham in May to investigate the "origins" of the Russia probe.
Lawmakers and legal experts reacted with alarm to the Times report, which was confirmed by other outlets and comes amid an intensifying impeachment inquiry into Trump over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
"These reports, if true, raise profound new concerns that the Department of Justice under AG Barr has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump's political revenge," tweeted Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "If the Department of Justice may be used as a tool of political retribution, or to help the president with a political narrative for the next election, the rule of law will suffer new and irreparable damage."
CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said "it was bad enough Trump and Barr were wasting resources on this."
"But now they are fully weaponizing DOJ for political purposes," Honig added. "Attorneys general can be impeached."
In an interview on CNN Thursday night, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said Barr is "absolutely" acting as Trump's personal lawyer rather than attorney general of the United States in his investigation of the Mueller inquiry.
"It is deeply troubling what Bill Barr is doing," Lieu said.
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Barr has held talks with foreign intelligence officials in Italy and the United Kingdom to request assistance in his probe of the Mueller investigation—news that prompted calls for House Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings against the attorney general.
In response to Thursday's reports, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted, "Mr. Barr, recall that Attorney General John Mitchell spent 19 months in prison for his role in the Watergate conspiracy."
"Be prepared to meet the same or worse fate," Reich wrote.