Attorney General William Barr’s look into why the FBI undertook its probe began as an administrative review.
An inquiry that Attorney General William Barr ordered into the origins of the probe into possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia has now become a criminal investigation, a source familiar with the matter told POLITICO on Thursday.
The investigation, being conducted by the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, John Durham, was launched as an effort by Barr to answer unspecified questions he had about why the FBI began the counterintelligence investigation that eventually led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
However, escalating Barr’s inquiry from a management review to a criminal matter means current and former FBI and Justice Department officials face the possibility of criminal charges arising from some aspect of their work on the Russia investigation.
The designation of Durham’s inquiry as a criminal investigation also vastly increases his power to gather information, opening up the possibility of grand jury subpoenas for records and testimony.
The move is sure to please President Donald Trump, who has long complained that he was spied on during the 2016 campaign, despite a lack of evidence to back up that claim. Trump has also accused the Obama administration and FBI officials of treason for their actions in the Russia investigation.
Former officials had expressed repeated concern about Durham’s inquiry in recent weeks, saying there were indications that it was expanding beyond a typical look-back at how high-profile matters were handled. The conversion of the probe to a criminal investigation was first reported on Thursday by the New York Times.
Management reviews are typically conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which has spent more than a year investigating the contents of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications that the FBI and Justice Department submitted for Carter Page, an energy industry specialist who had served as a Trump campaign adviser.
Durham’s investigation appears to be broader than the OIG inquiry, although the full scope of his probe remains unclear.
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