Report: AG Barr Opens Criminal Investigation Into Russia Probe Investigators
President Donald Trump has long decried that the Russia investigation, probing potential connections between his 2016 campaign and Russian operatives, was a “witch hunt” conducted by the so-called deep state in an effort to overturn his electoral victory.
Now, The New York Times reports that the Justice Department has shifted its review of the Russia probe to a criminal investigation. The prosecutor tasked with running the investigation, John Durham, will now enjoy “the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.”
In effect, Attorney General William Barr is using the vast powers of the state to investigate the investigators behind the Russia probe — a move that will see the Justice Department conducting a criminal investigation of itself.
The move will also likely lead to accusations that Trump is using the Justice Department as a weapon against his political enemies, as targets of the investigation will no doubt include former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired early in his tenure; former CIA Director John Brennan, whose security clearance Trump tried to revoke after Brennan became one of his loudest critics; and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has also criticized the president.
Trump has repeatedly claimed there was a conspiracy involving Democrats and the intelligence community to undermine his election victory in 2016, what he often refers to as an “insurance policy” in case he won the presidency.
Barr indicated early on that he has bought into the conspiracy theory at least to some degree, telling lawmakers earlier this year he believed the Trump campaign was a victim of “spying.”
The attorney general made clear he would investigate the origins of the Russia investigation, which Trump and his allies contend has a dubious beginning involving foreign intelligence agencies assisting their U.S. counterparts in framing Russia for the 2016 election interference — as well as implicating members of Trump’s campaign.
Durham, the prosecutor heading up the investigation, has been traveling the globe with Barr, meeting with foreign officials to flesh out exactly how the events of 2016 transpired.
Barr is closely managing Durham’s work, according to The Times. He went with the prosecutor to Italy “to run down an unfounded conspiracy that is at the heart of conservatives’ attacks on the Russia investigation — that the Italian government helped set up the Trump campaign adviser who was told in 2016 that the Russians had damaging information that could hurt Clinton’s campaign.”
The Times noted that Italy’s intelligence services told the attorney general they had no role in events leading up to the Russia probe.
Durham reportedly has also interviewed more than two dozen former and current FBI and intelligence officials, asking about anti-Trump bias within the agencies and whether the CIA might have tricked the FBI into starting the Russia investigation.
Barr’s choice of Durham to lead the inquiry was viewed as wise, given that he is “a widely respected and veteran prosecutor who has investigated C.I.A. torture and broken up Mafia rings, could help insulate the attorney general from accusations that he is doing the president’s bidding and putting politics above justice.”