Justice Dept. to launch criminal investigation into its own Russia probe: report

The Justice Department has reportedly opened a criminal investigation into its own Russia probe The New York Times reports

The newspaper reports that after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE closed the official investigation months ago, a new criminal inquiry will proceed to find out how the investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election and Trump's alleged collusion with Russia "all began."  

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrActing attorney general condemns Capitol riots, warns 'no tolerance' for violence at Biden inauguration Barr, White House counsel told Trump not to self-pardon: report Trump condemns riots, says he will focus on transition in taped remarks MORE has closely reviewed how the department handled the Russia investigation. But shifting the administrative review to a criminal inquiry would allow the prosecutor presiding over the inquiry, John H. Durham, to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, people familiar with the matter told the Times.


It would also enable Durham, a U.S. attorney appointed by Barr to lead the inquiry, to put together a grand jury and to file charges.

When defined as an administrative review, Durham could only voluntarily interview witnesses and investigate government documents, according to the Times.

The Times reported it was unclear what specific crime Durham would look into or when the investigation changed from an administrative review. 

Opponents to President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-Trump lawyer Cohen to pen forward for impeachment book Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again Man known as 'QAnon Shaman' asks Trump for pardon after storming Capitol MORE may perceive the beginning of a criminal inquiry as a method for the president to go after his rivals. The president has indicated he believes the department should take steps against his political opponents, and has supported the department looking into the origins of the Russia investigation.
The threshold needed by the federal government to open a criminal inquiry is "reasonable indication" that a crime has taken place but with "objective, factual basis for initiating the investigation," according to department rules.
Durham and his team have talked to more than 24 former and current FBI and intelligence officials to determine if bias against the now-president drove the intelligence community's investigations into the campaign's potential ties to Russia, the Times reported.
Some CIA officials have reportedly hired criminal lawyers in preparation for their questioning, according to the Times.
With Durham, a veteran prosecutor, investigating the case, Barr may have an easier time avoiding allegations that he is promoting the president instead of being impartial as attorney general, the Times noted. Barr has been intimately involved in the inquiry since its inception in May, meeting with officials in Italy to investigate a conspiracy about the Russia investigation that the Italian government set up a Trump campaign adviser. 
Reports have also indicated that the attorney general asked the president to talk to foreign leaders about getting their cooperation in the Justice Department's inquiry, including the prime minister of Australia, where the tip that started the investigation originated. 
Democrats have accused Barr and Trump of utilizing the investigation for political purposes. 
The president has said the intelligence officials who launched the investigation into his campaign's potential ties to Russia's interference efforts committed treason. 
The results of Mueller's Russia investigation released in April revealed that the special prosecutor had "insufficient evidence" to conclude Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. 
The Justice Department declined to comment to the Times. The Hill also reached out to the department for comment.

Updated 9:45 p.m.