The Justice Department has elevated the status of an administrative probe into the origins of the Russia investigation to a criminal inquiry.
It is unclear when the initial inquiry turned into a criminal investigation. When attorney general William P. Barr first appointed John Durham in May to lead the review, the only actions in scope for the Connecticut U.S. attorney were to voluntarily question people and to peruse government files. Durham now has the power to subpoena witness testimonies and documents, to convene a grand jury, and to file criminal charges.
Democratic House chairmen Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff said the probe could cause “new and irreparable damage” in response to the news, which was first reported by the New York Times and later confirmed by the Associated Press.
“These reports, if true, raise profound new concerns that the Department of Justice under Attorney General William Barr has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump’s political revenge,” the two said in a joint statement. “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.”
The investigation was launched by Barr over concerns that the FBI’s surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign was politically motivated and relied on dubious opposition research, including the FISA warrant obtained to monitor Trump campaign national-security adviser Carter Page, which was based in part on information provided in the unsubstantiated Steele dossier.
During a Senate hearing in April over the Mueller investigation, which did not find evidence to charge President Trump with collusion with Russia, Barr stated that he believed “spying did occur” during the original FBI probe, and that he would investigate whether those FBI and Department of Justice officials misled the FISA court to surveil Trump’s campaign.
In recent weeks, it was revealed that Barr has reached out to foreign governments to help in the investigation. In May, Australia offered to help the attorney general look into actions by Australian intelligence, while also contacting officials in Italy and Britain.