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US review of Russia probe turned criminal investigation

October 25, 2019

A probe to discredit the origins of the Mueller inquiry has reportedly turned into a criminal investigation, giving prosecutors more powers. The move comes as Trump faces increased scrutiny for potential abuse of power.

US President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr
Image: picture-alliance/MediaPunch/K. Dietsch

A Department of Justice review of the origins of the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election is now a criminal probe, US media reported late on Thursday.

The move, which was first reported by the New York Times, is likely to raise concerns that US President Donald Trump is using the powers of the usually independent Justice Department to go after his political opponents.

Earlier this year, US Attorney General William Barr launched an administrative review into Trump's claims that his 2016 campaign was improperly targeted by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Sources familiar with the matter also confirmed to Reuters news agency and the Associated Press that the review is now a criminal investigation.

It was not immediately clear what potential crimes were being investigated.

What does this mean?

Turning the review into a criminal investigation expands the powers available to the prosecutor appointed to head the probe, US attorney John Durham.

Under a criminal probe, he can issue subpoenas and potentially convene a grand jury that will compel witnesses to testify as well as bring federal criminal charges.

Democrats and former law enforcement officials warn that Trump's attorney general is using the Justice Department to investigate unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

The probe could also seek to undermine the results of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, which dogged the first two years of Trump's presidency and which he has frequently dismissed as a "witch hunt."

Barr gathering information abroad

Trump recently called British and Australian leaders to ask them to help Barr with the investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe.

He's also raised eyebrows for visiting Italy twice to meet with intelligence agents to gather more information about some of the people mentioned in the Mueller report.

The Mueller investigation found that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Trump, but concluded that he did not have enough evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

The US president is already facing a Democrat-led impeachment inquiry that is examining whether he withheld military aid in order to pressure the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Biden is a leading Democrat contender in the race to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

rs/rc (AP, Reuters)

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