After the White House released a partial transcript of Donald Trump's call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on September 25, Attorney General William Barr immediately cleared Trump of wrongdoing stemming from the call. At the time, the Justice Department declared the Ukraine matter "concluded." But now it appears that conclusion may not have been final.
The September 25 clearance of Trump pertained only to a possible campaign finance violation, a Justice Department official told the site Politico, in a report published on Sunday. The official said that the Justice Department may still open a criminal investigation into other possible offenses arising from Trump's effort to force Ukraine to open an investigation into Democratic 2020 presidential frontrunner Joe Biden.
Some Trump supporters are comparing the possible DOJ investigation to the FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton.
In the 2016 campaign, Democrat Hillary Clinton was dogged by an FBI investigation into her email use as secretary of state, as The Guardian recounted. The investigation cleared Clinton in July, 2016. But just 11 days before the election, FBI Director James Comey announced that the FBI would reopen the Clinton probe.
The Comey announcement delivered a blow to the Clinton campaign that, according to some experts, may have proven decisive in the election. But even the reopened investigation turned up nothing criminal, according to the Guardian report.
The Justice Department and Barr now face a "conundrum," according to the Politico report — whether to open a criminal investigation of Trump even as he runs for a second term in the 2020 presidential election.
One leading Democrat told the site that the decision should not be Barr's to make.
"This is a dereliction of duty by Bill Barr to not treat this as a criminal matter," said Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro, who as a member of the House Intelligence Committee has questioned witnesses in the current impeachment inquiry against Trump.
Castro called on Barr to "appoint a special counsel to investigate all these matters."
The FBI has already contacted an attorney for the still-anonymous whistleblower whose initial report on the Trump-Zelensky call sparked what quickly exploded into impeachment proceedings against Trump. The contact Politico noted, indicates that the DOJ may be "laying the groundwork" for a criminal investigation of Trump.
In October, federal prosecutors indicted two close associates of Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have reportedly acted as Giuliani's agents in carrying out the effort to extract a Biden investigation from the Ukraine government. According to one report, Parnas met at the White House in December with Trump himself. At that meeting, Trump is said to have tasked Parnas with the "mission," of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden.
According to allegations by witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, Trump withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, as well as the promise of a crucial White House visit for the newly-elected Zelensky, as leverage to extract the Biden investigation.
Making the investigation a condition to receive the aid or visit opens Trump to charges of bribery and extortion, legal experts told Politico.