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Investigation into Russia now has ability to look for possible Trump cover-up

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Several congressional committees are also conducting their own Russia probes. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

An investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 campaign and collusion between Trump associates and Russia has the authority to look at whether White House officials have engaged in a cover-up, lawmakers said Friday.

Several members of Congress suggested that the scope of the investigation had widened following a briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday.

"Well, we began this month thinking the issue was whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. We end this month as we always do in these circumstances saying, it's not the possible crime — and we have no idea whether there was collusion or not — it's the cover-up," said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., after the meeting with Rosenstein.

The probe now turns to whether former FBI Director James Comey was "fired in a brilliantly unsuccessful effort to derail an investigation into collusion," he added.

A Justice Department official told the Washington Examiner that Rosenstein, who briefed lawmakers in the House and Senate this week, said that the special counsel leading the investigation "would have the ability to investigate obstruction of justice if he chose to, but did not say that any such investigation existed."

"The deputy attorney general offered no comments on anything that could be within the purview of the special counsel's investigation," the Justice official added.

Comey was fired May 9, alarming Republicans and Democrats alike as the FBI is in the middle of an investigation into Russia. Some feared Trump was trying to hinder that probe, fueling calls for Trump to be impeached. Trump and other Republicans say they were unhappy with Comey's failure to charge Hillary Clinton for her use of private emails and the resulting leak of classified information.

Still, fears were further stoked when report about a memo from Comey said Trump pressured him to drop a probe into ousted national security adviser Mike Flynn.

A report from McClatchy on Friday first indicated a probe with a more-broad-than-previously-thought authority to find a possible cover-up, which would reclassify the case from counterintelligence to criminal. That followed a Washington Post report earlier in the day that said federal investigators looking for possible collusion are now examining a "significant person of interest" in the White House.

The McClatchy report cited several members of Congress on Friday who are now interested in seeing if the investigation pulls up any evidence of a cover-up.

For instance, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said all that's left to be seen in the probe is whether there was "collusion with the Russians, and the possibility of an attempt to cover up."

The investigation is being led by a special prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was appointed Wednesday.

A memo from Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller to lead the probe, was initially credited by the Trump administration as justification for firing Comey. Rosenstein has since revealed that his memo was written after the decision to oust Comey was made.

Trump has since claimed that he was "going to fire" Comey no matter what the memo said.

Several congressional committees are also conducting their own Russia probes.

&bull; Todd Shepherd contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This report has been updated to make clear that the investigation is not currently looking for a cover-up, but rather that the special counsel has the ability to investigate possible obstruction of justice.