DOJ review of Russia probe turns into a criminal investigation, California wildfires, and Astros exec fired: The Morning Rundown

As many as 40,000 people have been ordered to evacuate as wildfire spreads north of Los Angeles.
Image: Donald Trump
Attorney General William Barr's administrative review of what would become the Mueller investigation is now a criminal probe. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

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By Petra Cahill

Good morning, NBC News readers.

The Justice Department's review of the Russia probe turns into a criminal investigation, thousands flee California wildfires and a joyful flip in the week in pictures.

Here's what we're watching today.

Justice Department escalates review of its own Trump-Russia inquiry to a criminal investigation

A probe by Attorney General William Barr into the origins of the Russia investigation has changed from an administrative review into a criminal investigation, a person familiar with the review confirmed to NBC News.

The review is being conducted by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham. The change in status gives Durham the power to subpoena witness testimony and documents, to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges, according to the New York Times, which first reported the shift.

President Donald Trump has long called the Russia investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller a "witch hunt."

The evolution of the probe is sure to raise calls that Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies.

Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Jerrold Nadler, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, called the reports of a criminal investigation troubling.

"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," the lawmakers said in a statement.

Thousands flee as California wildfire spreads north of Los Angeles

Strong winds and low humidity fanned the flames of a wildfire north of Los Angeles Thursday, threatening thousands of homes and forcing the evacuation of around 40,000 people.

A man in the Santa Clarita area north of L.A. was stunned by the proximity of the flames on a ridge during a television interview with NBC Los Angeles.

"Woah, Lord. What are we going to do?" the man identifying himself as James said as the sky filled with a smoky haze. "This is unbelievable. I’m about to leave — I can't stay," he added.

Parts of Northern California were also engulfed in flames.

The threat of wildfires prompted California's largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Corp., to pre-emptively shut off electricity to hundreds of thousands of people in Northern California on Wednesday.

PG&E said that by Thursday night, it had restored power to about 84 percent of the 179,000 customers who had been plunged into darkness, but it warned that another even larger, blackout is likely over the weekend.

It's another sign that massive power blackouts may become a way of life for Californians.

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Some U.S. forces to stay in Syria to protect oil fields

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U.S. forces have been ordered to prepare to provide security for oil fields in eastern Syria to prevent them from falling into the hands of ISIS, a defense official told NBC News on Thursday.

The possible number of personnel that could be involved in security reinforcement at oil fields in the Deir ez-Zor region hadn't been determined, but "we're not talking thousands," the official said.

The operation, if approved, would be conducted alongside the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, the official said.

The United States announced earlier this month that it would withdraw its forces from northern Syria. The move was seen as a major blow to the Kurds who have been crucial U.S. allies in the war against ISIS.

'Nobody believed me': She went to prison after her little girl was burned in the bathtub

Four years ago, Jessica Byas-Lurgio called 911 and said her half-sister Nicole, 3, had accidentally been burned by hot bath water.

At the hospital, based on the pattern of Nicole’s burns — and nothing else — a doctor said Byas-Lurgio’s story couldn’t be true.

The state took custody of Nicole and sent Byas-Lurgio, who had been caring for her, to prison.

But an investigation by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle found that there was reason to doubt the doctor’s conclusions.

Byas-Lurgio believes her race and economic status factored in the way her case was handled.

"It was like, because I was black, nobody believed me," she said.

Jessica Byas-Lurgio holds a stuffed animal that belonged to her half-sister, Nicole.Elizabeth Conley / Houston Chronicle

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One fun thing: The Week in Pictures

Tim Warner / Getty Images

That's some somersault!

Gymnast Simone Biles did a flip before throwing the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Two of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals in Houston on Wednesday.

See more of the most compelling photos from the past week here.

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Thanks and have a great weekend, Petra