U.S. attorney general William Barr implied in an interview Thursday that U.S. Attorney John Durham is prepared to prosecute former intelligence community officials if evidence shows they illegally surveilled the 2016 Trump campaign over allegations of collusion with Russia.
Barr, who tasked Durham last May to review the origins of the Russia investigation, told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham that the Connecticut U.S. attorney is “looking to bring to justice people who were engaged in abuses if he can show that there were criminal violations.”
“My own view is that the evidence shows that we’re not dealing with just mistakes or sloppiness, there was something far more troubling here; and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Barr stated. “And if people broke the law, and we can establish that with the evidence, they will be prosecuted.”
Very little is publicly known of Durham’s work, which has since been upgraded to a criminal investigation, with House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) saying last month that Durham’s investigation “is due to be completed sometime this summer.” But the probe’s scope goes beyond that of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who in recent months has detailed how the FBI abused the FISA process in its Crossfire Hurricane investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. “[Durham]’s not just looking at the FBI, he’s looking at other agencies, and departments, and also private actors, so it’s a much broader investigation,” Barr explained in December.
Durham made headlines for issuing a rare statement saying that he did “not agree” with Horowitz’s assertion that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” for opening Crossfire Hurricane. While former FBI officials were quick to claim that the IG report had exonerated them of wrongdoing — James Comey attributed the FISA abuses to “sloppiness” — Horowitz later clarified that his office “did not” conclude the FBI was unaffected by political bias, because of a lack of evidence to the contrary. Last week, Horowitz released an update of his ongoing audit into the FBI’s transparency protocols which showed that 29 FISA applications reviewed from 2014 to 2019 all included “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts.”
Durham has spoken to Italian and Australian officials over contacts between former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos and Maltese academic and alleged Russian asset Joseph Mifsud, who offered to connect Papadopoulos to Russians in possession of “thousands of emails” containing damaging information about then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
While Horowitz found that the FBI’s investigation was sufficiently predicated based on a May 2016 memo from former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, which relayed Papadopoulos’s claim that Russian intelligence had damaging information about Clinton ahead of the election, Downer has said publicly that Papadopoulos made “no suggestion” that “there was collusion between Donald Trump or Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians.”
A transcript released this week shows Papadopoulos, in an October 2016 conversation with a confidential FBI source, calling it “bulls***” that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee to assist the Trump campaign.
Durham is also reportedly scrutinizing a 2017 intelligence community assessment that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 election, and stated that Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign” that “aspired to help” Trump and discredit Clinton. Durham has met multiple times with former National Security Agency director Admiral Michael Rogers, whose agency broke from the FBI and the CIA’s high confidence in the assessment to report moderate confidence and was the “lone exception,” as former CIA Director John Brennan testified in May 2017.
A source told Fox News in February that Durham has yet to interview Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — who recommended to former president Obama in 2016 that Rogers be removed. The New York Times reported in December that Durham is investigating what Brennan knew of the infamous Steele dossier, and whether Brennan conferred with Comey regarding it. Horowitz’s December report said that the CIA considered the dossier to be nothing more than an “internet rumor.”
Democrats have labeled Durham’s inquiry “a vehicle for President Trump’s political revenge,” as the president has long clamored that he was the subject of a “witch hunt” by Obama-era officials, but Barr has defended Durham as “a by-the-book kind of guy” who is “thorough and fair.”
“He’s a 35-year veteran of the department, great reputation for non-partisanship. He was selected by two Democratic attorney generals to do sensitive investigations for them,” Barr said in October.