THE US Justice Department has begun an investigation into the origins of the Mueller inquiry, it has been reported.
Robert Mueller’s inquiry looked at possible collusion between Donald Trump and his presidential campaign and the Russians but has been branded a “witch hunt” by the president.
In the wake of Mueller's report, the department began a review led by John Durham, the chief prosecutor of Connecticut, into the special counsel's two year inquiry.
It has been looking into whether the collection of intelligence on the Trump campaign, including by the FBI, that led to Mueller's inquiry was lawful.
That has now reportedly become a criminal inquiry which means Durham can subpoena witnesses, file charges, and use fact-finding grand juries as part of his probe.
The news comes as Trump is facing a Congressional impeachment investigation and fears have been raised he is using a the new probe to gain revenge on his political opponents.
Sources told Fox News that Durham was "very interested" to question former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan, an anti-Trump critic who recently dismissed the idea.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Durham's criminal review has prompted some CIA officials to obtain criminal legal counsel in anticipation of being interviewed.
SPIES IN SPOTLIGHT
Mueller’s two year investigation determined that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election.
But the 448 page report didn't find sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia.
Mueller also examined 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice but pointedly said he could not exonerate the president.
Breaking his silence he said: “If we had confidence the president DIDN'T commit a crime, we'd have said so.”
Earlier this week, top US diplomat Bill Taylor has told the impeachment inquiry Donald Trump threatened to withdraw aid for Ukraine unless the authorities promised to probe Joe Biden’s son.
The latest claims come a month into an inquiry launched by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, after a whistleblower alleged Trump asked the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in a bid to smear the ex-Vice President.
What is impeachment and how does it work?
IMPEACHMENT is a formal charge of serious wrongdoing against a holder of public office in the United States.
It is one of the few ways a sitting president can be kicked out of the White House before an election.
The US Constitution states a president "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours".
The "sole power of impeachment" is held by the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress.
A simple majority is required – i.e. more than half of Representatives must vote to impeach the president.
Then the case would be tried by the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, where a two-thirds majority is needed.
While the Senate is still controlled by the Republicans, with 53 of the 100 seats, the Democrats have control of the House of Representatives, with 235 of the 435 seats.
This means that it's possible for the House of Representatives to pass a vote to impeach the president.
However, a two-thirds majority of 67 Senators voting to impeach Trump would still be needed in the Senate when it is tried.
Concerns about the new probe were raised by chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which are leading the impeachment inquiry.
Democrats Jerrold Nadler and Adam Schiff said in a statement that the reports "raise profound new concerns" the justice department "has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump's political revenge.
"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.
What the Mueller report revealed
The report was the result of a 22-month investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller
Sarah Sanders fake news
White House press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had no basis for suggesting FBI officials had lost faith in then-director James Comey at the time of his firing, as she’d claimed.
After Donald Trump fired Comey in May 2017, Sanders told reporters that she had personally heard from “countless members” within the agency who were happy with the president’s decision.
Hope Hicks hung up on Putin
Campaign press secretary Hope Hicks received a call from an unknown Russian man shortly after Trump’s victory on election night.
She had difficulty understanding the foreign accent, but made out the words “Putin call”.
Hicks told the caller to send her an email and the following morning she received a message with the subject line “Message from Putin”.
Trump says ‘I’m F***ed’
Trump feared the Russia probe would end his presidency and declared “I'm f***ed" when he was first told about Robert Mueller's investigation, the report says.
President tried to get Mueller fire – twice
The report says Trump instructed White House lawyer Don McGahn to remove Muller from the probe.
According to the report, Trump twice asked McGhan to fire the investigator telling him “Mueller has to go” adding “call me back when you do it.”
Aides ignore Trump’s orders to interfere
Trump made several attempts to get the people around him to curtail the probe into his campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Mueller report found that Trump’s inner circle saved him from himself as they refused to carry out orders that could have crossed the line into obstructing justice
Sessions carried a resignation letter
Sessions, fearful of his tense relationship with Trump, carried a resignation letter with him every time he visited the White House for months.
Why Mueller didn’t interview Trump
The Mueller report lays out why the special counsel’s office did not interview Trump as part of the investigation.
The two sides spent “more than a year” negotiating the conditions under which the president could answer questions, but in the end only submitted answers to written inquiries.
In the end, Mr Mueller decided not to subpoena Mr Trump because it would take too long — not because there was any legal impediment.
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