Reporting by Paula Reid
The Department of Justice has upgraded its probe into the origins of the Russia investigation from an administrative review to a criminal investigation, a person familiar with the information confirmed to CBS News on Thursday. The investigation is being overseen by Attorney General William Barr and being run by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham.
The move gives Durham the power to subpoena witnesses and documents and to impanel a grand jury that could bring criminal charges. Durham has been examining whether the government's intelligence collection efforts related to Trump associates were lawful and appropriate, both during the 2016 presidential campaign and after President Trump was inaugurated.
Sources said criminal charges are still not expected at this point, but this news suggests that the investigation is ramping up.
The vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, took umbrage at the move, tweeting that his committee "is wrapping up a three-year bipartisan investigation" of the same matter, "and we've found nothing remotely justifying this."
He went on to say that Barr's "'investigation' has already jeopardized key international intelligence partnerships" and added that Barr "needs to come before Congress and explain himself."
The news of the criminal investigation was first reported by The New York Times.
Some of the president's political opponents are likely to see this as retaliatory. It would not be the first time Mr. Trump would face accusations that he is targeting people involved in the Russia investigation whom he claims are his political enemies. In 2017,, later telling "NBC Nightly News" it was because of the Russia investigation. Comey's firing led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mr. Trump also fired former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who took over for Comey, claiming he inappropriately released information to the Wall Street Journal about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation and then mislead FBI agents who asked him about it afterward.earlier this year that he believes he "was fired because I opened a case against the president of the United States."
In a joint statement posted to Twitter, top Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler decried the move as political.
"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 said.