Attorney General Opens Another Investigation Into Origins Of Russia Probe
Attorney General William Barr has opened a new investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, a move that seems suspiciously political.
In what would be the third Justice Department investigation of the topic, Attorney General William Barr has directed the United States Attorney for Connecticut to investigate the origins of what eventually became the Russia investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, an apparent concession to President Trump as well as pundits on the far-right who keep insisting on the existence of a conspiracy of some kind that led to the start of the investigation itself:
WASHINGTON — Attorney General William P. Barr has assigned the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut to examine the origins of the Russia investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter, a move that President Trump has long called for but that could anger law enforcement officials who insist that scrutiny of the Trump campaign was lawful.
John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, has a history of serving as a special prosecutor investigating potential wrongdoing among national security officials, including the F.B.I.’s ties to a crime boss in Boston and accusations of C.I.A. abuses of detainees.
His inquiry is the third known investigation focused on the opening of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign into possible ties between Russia’s election interference and Trump associates.
The department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is separately examining investigators’ use of wiretap applications and informants and whether any political bias against Mr. Trump influenced investigative decisions. And John W. Huber, the United States attorney in Utah, has been reviewing aspects of the Russia investigation. His findings have not been announced.
Additionally on Capitol Hill, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he, too, intends to review aspects of law enforcement’s work in the coming months. And Republicans conducted their own inquiries when they controlled the House, including publicizing details of the F.B.I.’s wiretap use.
Thomas Carson, a spokesman for Mr. Durham’s office, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. “I do have people in the department helping me review the activities over the summer of 2016,” Mr. Barr said in congressional testimony on May 1, without elaborating.
Mr. Durham, who was nominated by Mr. Trump in 2017 and has been a Justice Department lawyer since 1982, has conducted special investigations under administrations of both parties. Attorney General Janet Reno asked Mr. Durham in 1999 to investigate the F.B.I.’s handling of a notorious informant: the organized crime leader James (Whitey) Bulger.
In 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey assigned Mr. Durham to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes in 2005 showing the torture of terrorism suspects. A year later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to also examine whether the agency broke any laws in its abuses of detainees in its custody.
Mr. Barr has signaled his concerns about the Russia investigation during congressional testimony, particularly the surveillance of Trump associates. “I think spying did occur,” he said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I need to explore that.”
His use of the term “spying” to describe court-authorized surveillance aimed at understanding a foreign government’s interference in the election touched off criticism that he was echoing politically charged accusations by Mr. Trump and his Republican allies that the F.B.I. unfairly targeted the Trump campaign.
Last week, the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, defended the bureau, saying he was unaware of any illegal surveillance and refused to call agents’ work “spying.” Former F.B.I. and Justice Department officials have defended the genesis of the investigation, saying it was properly predicated.
Yet Mr. Durham’s role — essentially giving him a special assignment but no special powers — also appeared aimed at sidestepping the rare appointment of another special counsel like Robert S. Mueller III, a role that allows greater day-to-day independence.
Mr. Trump and House Republicans have long pushed senior Justice Department officials to appoint one to investigate the president’s perceived political enemies and why Mr. Trump’s associates were under surveillance.
As noted, this investigation is the third investigation that has been opened in connection with the underlying facts behind the Russia investigation and largely appears to be in response to pressures from President Trump, Republicans on Capitol Hill, and conservative pundits on Fox News Channel and elsewhere. It is rooted in the claims made while the Mueller investigation was going on that there was something illegitimate about the entire investigation, that it was rooted in an effort by the Obama Administration, the Democratic National Committee, and the Hillary Clinton campaign to undermine the Trump campaign and the idea that Democrats inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation improperly obtained FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign.
Previous investigations have revealed this conspiracy theory to be without merit. In reality, the Russia investigation that was eventually handed off to Special Counsel Mueller was rooted in a tip that the Bureau received from an Australian diplomat regarding his conversations in the early summer of 2016 with George Papadopoulos in which Papadopoulos told the diplomat that he had been told by agents of the Russian government that they had “dirt” that would be useful in the campaign against Hillary Clinton. This conversation took place shortly before the meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a lawyer with ties to the Russian government that was originally intended to be about compromising information about Clinton. This Australian diplomat reported this conversation to their superiors, who passed the information along to the Bureau. It was at this point that the Bureau opened its investigation of Russian interference in the election and potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Several months later, the investigation had branched out to include other people involved in the Trump campaign and their contacts with Russia. Chief among these was Carter Page, who became the subject of a warrant issued by a Judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Republicans asserted that this warrant had been improperly obtained, but it later became clear that this was not the case, that the warrant against Page was completely supported by the available evidence, and even President Trump’s own lawyer admitted that the so-called “Spygate” allegations were nonsense. At this point, it appeared that the so-called conspiracy theory had been completely rebutted, but now Barr is directing another investigation be opened notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence to support the conspiracy theory behind it.
Given the results of previous investigations and the lack of any credible evidence to support the allegation that there was anything improper about the opening of the Russia investigation, it seems clear that Barr’s motives here are purely political. In addition to the fact that he himself has been critical in the past about the investigation, this move is obviously meant to placate the President who continues to rant and rave about the Mueller investigation on Twitter in what seems like a conscious effort to undermine the report and any Congressional investigation. Additionally, the President is being egged on in this effort by right-wing talk show hosts on Fox News who continue to insist that there is a conspiracy out there that would not only clear Trump when it is revealed but also bring down the Democrats, the F.B.I. and the Clinton political machine. It’s possible, of course, that Barr recognizes the absurdity of all of this, and the fact that he assigned this matter to a U.S. Attorney rather than appointing a Special Counsel is a sign that this is little more than an effort to placate a paranoid President. Even if that’s the case, though, the fact that this is even being investigated after three successive investigations that have found no wrongdoing certainly doesn’t indicate good faith on the Attorney General’s part.