It looks like Attorney General William Barr is giving Donald Trump exactly what he wants: a sham inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation.
On Thursday, the New York Times reported the Department of Justice has converted what was an “administrative review” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election to a “criminal inquiry.” That shift dramatically increases the power of the prosecutor running the investigation, John Durham. Durham will now be able to issue subpoenas, impanel a grand jury, and file criminal charges.
This is an absolutely chilling development. It means that Barr has completely signed on to the theory, being pushed by the likes of Sean Hannity, that the FBI was out to get Trump and spied on him during the 2016 campaign. That theory has long been debunked — even by the DOJ itself. It’s also particularly absurd in light of the fact there’s a credible argument to be made that then-head of the FBI James Comey helped tip the 2016 election to Trump by re-opening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“It’s unusual to the point that it looks to be political and it’s a bad thing for DOJ to appear to be doing something for political reasons. … For political purposes, the White House wants to be able to say through the election cycle that all of this is being investigated,” Greg Brower, a former assistant FBI director for congressional affairs, told NBC News.
It’s also unusual in that it requires the DOJ to conduct a criminal inquiry into its own special counsel investigation.
Durham has indicated he wants to interview a number of intelligence officials, and the list reads like a who’s who of people Trump hates. Durham is planning on talking to John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence.
Durham is also exploring the ludicrous idea that the CIA “somehow tricked” the FBI into opening the Russia investigation. That’s pure “deep state” conspiracy thinking, and it panders to Trump’s worst and most fanciful impulses. Indeed, Trump’s own secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, debunked the theory that the CIA engaged in anything nefarious over two years ago.
The investigation is also unnecessary, as one currently exists. The DOJ’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is already investigating the FBI and the Russia probe. However, Barr doesn’t think that’s enough and needs a criminal investigation to compel testimony.
If there was any doubt Barr was thoroughly beholden to Trump’s conspiracy-minded thinking, this latest move should put it to rest.