Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The Department of Justice has turned its investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe into a fully fledged criminal inquiry, according to multiple media outlets. The move, once again, raises concerns that President Donald Trump is leveraging the powers of government to go after his political enemies.
Back in May, Attorney General William Barr tapped Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to begin an investigation to uncover the origins of the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Durham was tasked with assessing whether or not surveillance and intelligence-gathering methods used were legal and appropriate.
By designating the investigation as a formal criminal one, Durham and his team can now issue subpoenas, convene a grand jury, compel witnesses to give testimony, and file criminal charges.
The pivot toward a criminal investigation was expected, but sources speaking to the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post and AP confirmed the move Thursday night. But none could say what potential crimes are being investigated.
Durham has already conducted some interviews, but CNN reported last week that he had run into some issues in getting people to talk voluntarily to the investigators.
Barr launched the investigation in May because he believed that some officials overseeing the Mueller investigation had acted inappropriately when gathering information on the Trump campaign — a view shared by his boss, who has repeatedly labeled the special counsel’s probe “a witch hunt.”
Mueller’s report, which was published in April, did not establish any criminal conspiracy between Moscow and Trump's campaign. But it also did not clear the president of obstructing justice, even though Trump has repeatedly claimed that it exonerated him completely.
Changing the investigation into a criminal probe will once again raise the prospect that Trump is using the DOJ as a weapon to attack his political enemies.
Trump is already facing an impeachment inquiry in the House that’s investigating whether or not he used his position to try and force the Ukranian president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, in return for hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid.
Democrats are also investigating claims Trump urged Ukraine and other governments to try and provide evidence of misconduct by the Mueller investigation.
Trump has in the past made no secret for his desire to have his perceived enemies investigated for their part in the Mueller probe, including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“We can never allow these treasonous acts to happen to another president,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity back in March.
Cover image: President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr announce the Trump administration's effort to gain citizenship data during the 2020 census at an event in the Rose Garden of the White House on July 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)(Sipa via AP Images)