WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has opened a criminal inquiry into the investigation into whether President Donald Trump colluded with Moscow during the 2016 presidential election, US media reported on Thursday (Oct 24).
The multiple reports citing several sources, remained unconfirmed.
If true, this could represent a counter attack by the Trump administration as the President feels growing heat from the impeachment inquiry being conducted by the Democratic Party-controlled House.
House Democrats have reportedly subpoenas for two White House and one State Department official.
One of the White House officials, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mr Russell Vought, on Oct 21 tweeted with the hashtag #shamprocess that he and a colleague “will not be complying with deposition requests this week.”
According to the statistical website Five Thirty Eight's public opinion poll tracker, as of Friday, 49.1 per cent of Americans support impeachment and 43.5 per cent oppose it - though more support the impeachment inquiry as opposed to actual impeachment.
The most recent Quinnipiac University poll found the country evenly divided: 48 per cent said the President should be "impeached and removed from office", while 46 per cent said he should not be.
Attorney-General William Barr earlier this year launched an administrative probe to review Mr Trump's complaints that his 2016 campaign was improperly targeted by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies - part of what he has called a "witch hunt" by the "deep state" bureaucratic-security establishment.
Converting the administrative probe into a criminal investigation would give the investigator, US federal prosecutor John Durham, wider power to subpoena witnesses and documents.
"It is difficult not to conclude that this DOJ under Attorney-General Barr, is perhaps more than previous DOJs, is doing the bidding of the President of the United States," Dr Glenn Altschuler, Professor of American Studies at Cornell University, told The Straits Times.
"This is part of the 'whataboutism' that has become a hallmark of the Trump administration," he said.
“Whataboutism” refers to the practice of a person accused of something, responding with a counter-accusation often not relevant to the original accusation.
The threat of impeachment grew this week following testimony on Tuesday from Mr William Taylor, US acting ambassador to Ukraine, that Mr Trump apparently sometime in August wanted Ukraine's President to publicly announce inquiries into corruption and the gas company Burisma, before getting a White House meeting and security assistance from the US.
Mr Hunter Biden, son of former Vice-President Joe Biden, who is leading the pack of Democratic Party contenders for the 2020 nomination, was on the board of Burisma from 2014 to 2019.
This has become the focus of Mr Trump's counter attack on the older Biden.
Meanwhile the President has called the impeachment inquiry a "lynching" and an attempted "coup" - drawing immediate backlash for his loaded choice of words.
"It’s an investigation in search of a crime," he told an audience in Columbia, South Carolina on Friday afternoon. "In America you are innocent until proven guilty. We don't have investigations in search of a crime," he said, adding "We are being destroyed and humiliated."
Republicans have also been complaining of a lack of transparency. In a moment of political theatrics, as the President demanded more Republicans fight for him, a group of them created a scene by barging into a closed door hearing on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a Senate resolution calling on the House to hold a formal vote to start the impeachment inquiry, and to give Mr Trump "due process" including "the ability to confront his accusers".
But legal experts say holding a formal vote on opening an inquiry is not required under the Constitution, and the House committees holding hearings are entitled to do so behind closed doors.
"This is already having a dramatic impact on the Trump presidency," former White House strategic adviser Steve Bannon, who has started a new podcast to counter what he claims is disinformation from the Democrats, told The Hill.
"There is not a single trend cutting toward the White House. I'm a math guy. I see the polls. This is not working… in less than four weeks they're voting to impeach."
But while the probability of the President's impeachment in the House has grown, his conviction and removal from office by the Senate remains a remote prospect.
A conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds majority, which means several Republicans would have to desert the President.
But there is little tolerance of dissent from Republicans, especially those who face re-election campaigns in 2020, political pundit Charlie Cook wrote on Thursday in the Cook Political Report.
There is "little reason to think Republicans will abandon Trump now", he concluded.