NYT: DOJ inquiry into origins of Trump-Russia probe is a full-blown criminal investigation

By Chuck Ross

What began as an administrative review of the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation is reportedly now a full-blown criminal probe.

The shift opens up several investigative techniques for John Durham, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut who is leading the investigation, reported The New York Times, citing two sources familiar with the matter.

Durham would be able to subpoena witnesses, present evidence to a grand jury and file criminal charges, if needed.

U.S. Justice Department

[/media-credit] U.S. Attorney General William Barr

Attorney General William Barr tapped Durham earlier in 2019 to lead an inquiry into FBI and CIA intelligence-gathering activities related to the Trump campaign.

Barr said April 10 that he believed “spying” occurred against the Trump campaign. He has also said he does not accept former FBI officials’ explanation about the beginning of the collusion investigation.

Little is known about Durham’s activities so far in the investigation. The Times report said it is unclear when the investigation took on a criminal element, or what specific crime Durham is investigating.

Durham accompanied Barr to Italy late in September as part of an inquiry into U.S. intelligence agents’ activities there during the 2016 campaign. They also inquired about Joseph Mifsud, a mysterious Maltese professor who established contact with Trump aide George Papadopoulos in 2016.

Barr has also reportedly reached out to British and Australian authorities for help in the investigation. An Australian diplomat provided a tip about Papadopoulos that led the FBI to open its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump team and Russia.

NBC News has recently reported that Durham intends to interview former CIA Director John Brennan and former national intelligence director James Clapper as part of the investigation. He also wants to interview CIA analysts who reviewed intelligence related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to the Times.

The Durham probe is similar to a Justice Department inspector general’s investigation into the FBI’s surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, told Congress on Thursday that the report of that investigation is “lengthy” and that he anticipates most of it will be made public.

Horowitz has been investigating whether the FBI misled the foreign surveillance court in spy applications against Page. Investigators relied heavily on the Steele dossier in the applications, though information in that document was largely unverified. Unlike Durham, Horowitz has not had subpoena power, and cannot use a grand jury as part of his investigation.

The Times article noted that the shift in the investigation is likely to generate criticism that Barr is working on behalf of President Donald Trump to undercut the premise of the Russia probe. But the Times added that Durham is a highly respected prosecutors who has led interagency investigations, including into CIA torture of war detainees.

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Image courtesy of U.S. Justice Department