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 Mueller 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 Barr 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 Trump 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.
The prosecutor has indicated he is interested in speaking to former CIA officials but has not spoken to former CIA Director John Brennan or former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Trump has repeatedly blasted both men for allegedly attempting to keep him from becoming president.
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.