The fact that she and other top Trump administration political appointees saw potential misconduct in the whistleblower’s early account of alleged presidential abuses puts a new spotlight on the Justice Department’s later decision to decline to open a criminal investigation — a decision that the Justice Department said publicly was based purely on an analysis of whether the president committed a campaign finance law violation.

“They didn’t do any of the sort of bread-and-butter type investigatory steps that would flush out what potential crimes may have been committed,” said Berit Berger, a former federal prosecutor who heads the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School. “I don’t understand the rationale for that and it’s just so contrary to how normal prosecutors work. We have started investigations on far less.”…

Justice Department officials now say they didn’t consider the phone conversation a formal criminal referral because it was not in written form. A separate criminal referral came later from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was based solely on the whistleblower’s official written complaint.