(NBC News) The Justice Department’s inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation is now a criminal investigation.
It’s unclear what potential crimes are being investigated or what prompted the change, which gives prosecutors much broader powers in the case.
Under the direction of Attorney General William Barr, U.S. Attorney John Durham has been looking into the origins of the Mueller investigation into 2016 election interference.
President Trump has long tried to discredit the process, dismissing his own intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered to try to help him get elected.
“This was the worst hoax in the history of our country,” Mr. Trump said Friday.
The president and his supporters claim, without evidence, that the Russia probe stemmed from a “deep state” plot by members of the Obama administration and career intelligence officials.
The U.S. intelligence community, and a bipartisan Senate investigation, have found nothing to support that.
“It feels more to me like Bill Barr trying to smear the president’s political opponents than it does getting to the truth,” says former Department of Justice spokesman Matt Miller.
Durham now has the power to subpoena witnesses, impanel a grand jury and file charges, potentially against Justice Department and intelligence officials.
Democrats question the timing, believing the Trump administration is trying to take attention off of the growing impeachment inquiry by elevating its own probe.
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