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Sen. Lindsey Graham: Russia probe looks like it's a 'criminal investigation'

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham says the Russia probe "appears" to be considered criminal.
  • Ex-FBI Director James Comey initially called it a counterintelligence investigation.
  • It does not necessarily mean President Donald Trump is personally under investigation.

The investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election appears to be considered criminal, an important Republican senator said Thursday after he received a briefing from the deputy U.S. attorney general.

"It was a counterintelligence investigation before now. It appears to me now to be considered a criminal investigation," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed all 100 senators.

Graham's comments came after the Justice Department on Wednesday appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel on the investigation.

When ex-FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the investigation in March, he referred to it as a counterintelligence investigation. The probe includes looking into any possible links between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

President not necessarily under investigation

Though several people could potentially be implicated in the probe, it does not necessarily mean Trump himself is under investigation. He has claimed emphatically that Comey told him on three separate occasions that he is not under investigation.

Graham said a criminal investigation could have implications for ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn, who is reportedly under investigation for not disclosing payments from foreign governments.

"I find it hard to subpoena records from somebody like Mr. Flynn who may be subject to a criminal investigation, because he has a right not to incriminate himself," Graham said.

Separately, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said after the briefing that Rosenstein already knew Comey would be fired before he wrote a memo that the Trump administration initially used as justification for ousting the FBI chief.

Trump later contradicted his spokespeople and said that he would have fired Comey "regardless" of Rosenstein's recommendation.