A U.S. Justice Department review into the origins of the probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is now a criminal investigation, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
The person, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, declined to say whether a grand jury has been convened in the investigation.
The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, The New York Times, which first broke the story, reported. He can also impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges.
It is not clear what potential crime Durham is investigating, nor when the criminal investigation was triggered. Or put another way: It was not immediately clear what evidence of a crime Durham may have uncovered.
The opening of a criminal investigation is likely to raise alarms that President Donald Trump "is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies. Mr. Trump fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director under whose watch agents opened the Russia inquiry, and has long assailed other top former law enforcement and intelligence officials as partisans who sought to block his election," the Times wrote.
Ultimately, the Justice Department is now conducting a criminal investigation into itself, the Times pointed out.
The Justice Department's internal watchdog said Thursday a much-anticipated report on the department's use of secret surveillance warrants during the Russia investigation is "nearing completion" and will likely be released publicly.
In a letter to congressional leaders first reported by Fox News, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the "lengthy" draft report "concerns sensitive national security and law enforcement matters."
"I can report to you that the process is ongoing and nearing completion, and we are working through these issues constructively with both the Department and the FBI," Horowitz wrote. "The goal from my standpoint is to make as much of our report public as possible."
In March 2018, the inspector general's office opened a review into the origins of the counterintelligence investigation that eventually led to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
Specifically, Horowitz said his investigators would look into how the Justice Department and FBI obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to surveil a "certain U.S. Person," reportedly referring to former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, CBS News noted.
Horowitz faulted the FBI last year for repeated violations of its media communications policy, noting agents had received gifts from reporters and leaked regularly – apparently even from phones at FBI headquarters, Fox News reported.
Last month, Horowitz submitted a draft of his report to Attorney General Bill Barr, who was reviewing the document, Fox News noted.
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