A.G William Barr has appointed a U.S. attorney to examine the origins of the Russia investigation and determine if intelligence collection efforts targeting the Trump campaign were “lawful and appropriate,” a person familiar with the situation told Fox News on Monday evening.
Two sources told Fox News earlier today that Barr was “serious” and had assigned DOJ personnel to the probe. Durham is known as a “hard-charging, bulldog” prosecutor, Fox News is told.
Sources familiar with matter say the focus of the probe includes the pre-transition period — prior to Nov. 7, 2016 — including the use and initiation of informants, as well as potential Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuses.
An informant working for U.S. intelligence posed as a Cambridge University research assistant in September 2016 to try extracting any possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia from George Papadopoulos, then a Trump foreign policy adviser, it emerged earlier this month. Papadopoulos told Fox News the informant tried to “seduce” him as part of the “bizarre” episode.
Durham previously has investigated law enforcement corruption, the destruction of CIA videotapes and the Boston FBI office’s relationship with mobsters. He is set to continue to serve as the chief federal prosecutor in Connecticut.
John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, will conduct the inquiry, the source said. The move comes as the Trump administration has pushed for answers on why federal authorities conducted the surveillance — as well as whether Democrats were the ones who improperly colluded with foreign actors.
Durham previously has investigated law enforcement corruption, the destruction of CIA videotapes and the Boston FBI office’s relationship with mobsters. He is to continue to serve as the chief federal prosecutor in Connecticut.
In January, House Republican Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows wrote to Durham seeking a briefing, saying they had “discovered” that Durham’s office was “investigating [former FBI General Counsel James Baker” for unauthorized disclosures to the media.”
Durham’s review would exist alongside the ongoing probe by DOJ Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz, who is continuing to review potential surveillance abuses by the FBI — an investigation that began last March and that Fox News is told is nearing completion.
Republicans also have been looking for answers from U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber, who was appointed a year ago by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to review not only surveillance abuses by the FBI and DOJ, but also authorities’ handling of the probe into the Clinton Foundation.
Huber, Republicans have cautioned, apparently has made little progress and has spoken to few key witnesses and whistleblowers. But, in January, then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker reportedly indicated at a private meeting that Huber’s work was continuing apace.
Durham’s appointment comes about a month after Barr told members of Congress he believed “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016. He later said he didn’t mean anything pejorative and was gathering a team to look into the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.
In obtaining a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page, the FBI copy-pasted directly from a disputed Washington Post opinion article to suggest the Trump campaign may have been compromised. The bureau also repeatedly assured the court that it “did not believe” British ex-spy Christopher Steele was the direct source for a Yahoo News article implicating Page in Russian collusion.
But, London court records showed that contrary to the FBI’s assessments, Steele briefed Yahoo News and other reporters in the fall of 2016 at the direction of Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm behind the dossier. Fusion GPS was retained by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee (DNC), a piece of information not stated in the FISA application.
The FISA application also copied and pasted directly from a Washington Post opinion piece that claimed the Trump campaign had “worked behind the scenes” to “gut” the GOP platform on Russia and Ukraine.
Internal FBI text messages exclusively obtained by Fox News earlier this year showed that a senior DOJ official raised concerns about the bias in a key FISA warrant, but that FBI officials pressed on.
“There’s a document that’s classified that I’m gonna try to get unclassified that takes the dossier — all the pages of it — and it has verification to one side,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Graham Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” this weekend. “There really is no verification, other than media reports that were generated by reporters that received the dossier.”
Graham specifically cited the report from The Hill’s John Solomon that the FBI was expressly told that Steele, the bureau’s confidenial informant, had admitted to a contact at the State Department that he was “keen” to leak his discredited dossier for purposes of influencing the 2016 election.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec’s written account of her Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with Steele was apparently sent to the FBI, according to records unearthed in a transparency lawsuit by Citizens United.
How would this differ from the Mueller inquiry itself?
Mr Durham, who has a background in investigating wrongdoing and corruption among public officials, will not be acting as a special counsel in the same way Mr Mueller did, reports say.
But he will be tasked with exploring whether the government acted lawfully and appropriately when collecting intelligence ahead of the 2016 election. Mr Trump and his supporters have often accused the FBI and the Department of Justice of illegally monitoring his campaign.
This is the third known inquiry into the early days of the Russia investigation. A Department of Justice inspector general is also examining the origins of the investigation, and the US attorney in Utah has also been asked to look into aspects of it.
Further details of the latest review are limited and the Justice Department has yet to comment.
Mr Durham is also exploring whether former FBI general counsel James Baker disclosed confidential information to the media, the New York Times reports. Mr Baker denies wrongdoing, and it is unclear if this line of inquiry relates directly to the Russia investigation.