House Democrats say the Justice Department is orchestrating ‘political revenge’ for Trump amid reports it is opening a criminal investigation into the Mueller probe

Rep. Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a joint statement Thursday condemning the Department of Justice for reportedly opening up a criminal investigation into the Trump-Russia probe.

The New York Times, citing two sources, reported Thursday that the Justice Department is shifting its review of the Russia investigation into a criminal inquiry. The review is being closely monitored by Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, and looking at whether the FBI's probe into Trump's ties to Russia was influenced by anti-Trump sentiments.

According to The Times, the move gives John Durham, the prosecutor leading the administrative review, the power to subpoena documents and witness testimony. It also creates a bizarre scenario where the Justice Department is essentially criminally investigating itself.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the review was being changed into a criminal investigation, citing a person familiar with the matter. It was unclear what prompted the change, or if any evidence of criminal conduct was found by Durham.

Rep. Adam Schiff

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

In their joint statement Thursday, Nadler and Schiff said that if The Times' report is true, the Justice Department is operating as a "vehicle for President Trump's political revenge."

"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," the statement, which was posted on Twitter.

"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."

Trump has repeatedly attacked the Russia investigation and has referred to it as a "witch hunt."

Robert Mueller's 448-page report into Trump's activities during the 2016 election did not identify any evidence of criminal conduct, but also did not exonerate the president from wrongdoing.

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