For months, President Trump said his administration would be “investigating the investors”—those who initiated and perpetuated the Russian probe into him and members of his 2016 presidential campaign.
Now they are.
The Justice Department announced on Friday morning they are officially launching a criminal review of those who were at the forefront of peddling the investigation. The investigation will be looking into any abuses of the investigative process or surveillance collection tactics that preceded it.
The Associated Press reports:
It is unclear what potential crimes are being investigated or what prompted the change. But the designation as a formal criminal investigation gives prosecutors the ability to issue subpoenas, impanel a grand jury, compel witnesses to give testimony and bring federal criminal charges.
The Justice Department had previously considered it to be an administrative review, and Attorney General William Barr appointed John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to lead the inquiry into the origins of Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. It’s unclear when Durham’s inquiry shifted to a criminal investigation.
Durham is examining what led the U.S. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and the roles that various countries played in the U.S. probe. He is also investigating whether the surveillance and intelligence gathering methods used during the investigation were legal and appropriate.
Mueller’s investigation shadowed Trump’s presidency for nearly two years.
The special counsel, appointed by Trump’s Justice Department but repeatedly criticized and undercut by the president, determined that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election, but his investigation didn’t find sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Mueller also examined 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice and has pointedly said he could not exonerate the president.
Fox News host Sean Hannity said the new criminal probe may bring the Russian investigation full circle as conservatives “might get to the truth as we have been demanding for quite a while,” BizPac Review reports.
Conversely, the Associated Press reports Democratic chairmen of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees criticized the new probe, saying it raises “profound new concerns” that the Trump administration was weaponizing the Justice Department to investigate political rivals.
Chairmen Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler said the Justice Department “has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump’s political revenge.”
“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,” they added per the Associated Press.
BizPac Review adds:
Reports that Durham’s probe was expanding indicated that he was “very interested” in interviewing former Obama administration intelligence officials, notably former CIA Director John Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper.
Durham was initially appointed to investigate the intelligence and law enforcement communities and their handling of events related to the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, as well as into his inauguration in January 2017. But the investigation has reportedly been expanding and now will extend into the spring of 2017 which includes the time period that Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel, according to Fox News.