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AG Barr picks longtime prosecutor for DOJ investigation

Updated May 14, 2019 - 5:55 pm

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr has assigned Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate whether actions taken by federal officials looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign were “lawful and appropriate,” according to a person familiar with the issue.

President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday that he did not ask Barr to launch the new investigation and only learned about it after The New York Times reported the story on Monday night. Trump frequently called special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt.”

Mueller’s report, released in April, found no coordination between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign but did not reach a conclusion about whether the president had obstructed justice.

During testimony before a Senate committee last month, Barr said “I think spying did occur,” during the collusion investigation but added: “But the question is whether it was adequately predicated.” He said he didn’t know the answer but pledged to find out.

Durham has been a go-to guy in the Department of Justice when attorneys general for Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have sought to uncover possible wrongdoing among federal law enforcement or intelligence.

AGs rely on Durham

In 1999, facing one of the FBI’s darkest moments, then-Attorney General Janet Reno tapped Durham to look into ties between the late mob boss Whitey Bulger and FBI officials in Boston. FBI agent John Connolly later went to prison for protecting Bulger from prosecution and tipping him off to cooperating witnesses who were later murdered.

In 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey picked Durham to look into the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes. Mukasey’s successor, Eric Holder, directed Durham to investigate CIA interrogators’ techniques. After three years, Holder announced he would not file criminal charges.

Trump appointed Durham U.S. attorney for Connecticut in November 2017. The Senate unanimously confirmed him in 2018. At the time, Connecticut’s two Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, hailed him as “a fierce, fair prosecutor.”

A Department of Justice lawyer since 1982, Durham, a Republican, also helped prosecute John Rowland, who served as Connecticut’s GOP governor until 2004, when he was faced with tax fraud and corruption charges.

Internal investigations continue

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been examining whether federal investigators abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant process by relying in part on a suspect “dossier” paid for by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at the Democratic National Committee.

The FBI sought and received a warrant to surveil Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The results of Horowitz’s review are expected in May or June, Barr said in congressional testimony.

The New York Times reported last week Horowitz also is looking into a female investigator whom the FBI deployed after intelligence officials began to focus on another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.

According to the Mueller report, Joseph Misfud — a Maltese-national London-based professor with ties to Russia — told Papapdopoulous that the Russians had “dirt” from Clinton’s emails. Papadopoulos passed on the information to an Australian official, who in turn alerted U.S. intelligence.

In November, Papadopoulos served a 12-day sentence for lying to the FBI about Misfud.

‘Rules were broken’

“Regardless of how people view Donald Trump, the (Justice) department has acted abysmally,” noted Mark Corallo, who briefly advised Trump’s legal team and previously worked for the department. “At a minimum, rules were broken as regards the FISA process and conflicts.”

Corallo blamed “political tribalism” for driving people into partisan corners that affect their view of whether federal investigators can “get away with gross violations of our civil liberties.” Americans forget, he added, “the only reason we have FISA is because of FBI abuse.”

Speaking to “Lawfare” last week, former FBI counsel James Baker argued he Papadopoulos probe was based on information from a “trusted reliable foreign partner” about Papadopoulos’ “interactions with a person who claimed to have emailed dirt on (Clinton) and that the Russians wanted to find some way to support the Trump campaign. That was the nut of information that got that whole thing going.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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