Attorney General William Barr with Donald Trump (Tia Dufour/White House)

Trying to protect Donald Trump amid the Trump-Ukraine affair and an impeachment process, Attorney General William Barr declares a criminal investigation of the inquiry into Trump-Russia links.

“Two people familiar with the matter” told US media, including The New York Times and Washington Post, that the Justice Department has reclassified an administrative review. The step empowers prosecutor John Durham to subpoena for testimony and doucments, to convene a grand jury, and to file criminal charges.

Barr, appointed in January 2019, quickly tried to bury the Mueller Report into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russian officials and Trump’s possible obstructions of justice. He misrepresented the report as showing “no conclusion”, supporting Trump’s lies about the inquiry and declarations of a “witch hunt” and “hoax”, and he described court-authorized surveillance of Russian officials and Trump advisor Carter Page as “spying”.

Throughout the Trump-Russia inquiry, the Trump camp attacked the FBI and other US agencies for pursuing the investigation and also tried to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team as politically biased.

The effort continued with Barr’s appointment of Durham, the US Attorney for Connecticut, in May. Trump said at the time, “We can never allow these treasonous acts to happen to another President.”

The Justice Department has presented no details of any possible crimes, or any evidence pointing to criminal activity, since Durham began his investigation.

Under Department guidelines, investigations need a “reasonable indication” that a crime has been committed for an inquiry: “There must be an objective, factual basis for initiating the investigation; a mere hunch is insufficient.”

The FBI opened its Trump-Russia investigation in late July 2016, after information that Trump advisor George Papadopoulos had been offered stolen e-mails to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The FBI decision was buttressed in August by CIA intelligence of Russian activity.

The Russian link with the e-mails, and the offer to the Trump campaign, was confirmed in the Mueller Report. The report also described the Russian provision of the e-mails to WikiLeaks, which published them with the knowledge — and possible encouragement — of the Trump campaign.

See also TrumpWatch, Day 832: To Protect Trump, Barr Lies and Throws Mueller Under Bus — But Still Doesn’t Succeed
Mueller Report Video: Collusion, Obstruction, and Accountability
Mueller Report Analysis: Yes, There Was Collusion and Obstruction of Justice

Several Trump campaign advisors have been convicted in connection with the affair, and more than two dozen Russian officials have been indicted.

Trying to discredit the investigation, Barr has traveled to Italy to pursue a conspiracy theory that Trump advisor Papadopoulos was set up, and has ia investigation, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy said in a news conference on Wednesday. Mr. Barr has also contacted officials in the UK and Australia.