WASHINGTON — President Trump’s calls to “investigate the investigators” are becoming reality.
Attorney General William Barr assigned Connecticut’s top federal prosecutor, John Durham, to probe the origins of the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, The New York Times and other outlets reported Monday night, citing unidentified sources.
The assignment comes a month after Barr said he believes U.S. officials engaged in “spying” on the Trump campaign, and announced plans to review whether such conduct might have been an abuse of power. Barr has cast a suspicious eye on top former officials at the FBI, without naming names or making specific allegations.
Pressing forward with an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation will likely incense Democrats and plenty of former prosecutors, who have maintained there is little reason in the public record to believe that the probe began without a sufficient basis.
Jim Baker, the top lawyer for the FBI when the investigation began, has come forward in recent days to defend the way the probe was launched and run, saying, “I want to talk about the origin of the investigation to reassure the American people that it was done for lawful, legitimate reasons and was apolitical throughout, in my experience.”
Republicans have long maintained that the Russia investigation was launched with the secret purpose of derailing the Trump campaign.
In Durham, Barr reportedly picked a career prosecutor with a history of investigating government officials and going after organized crime. He’s looked into the CIA for its treatment of detainees and the destruction of sensitive videotapes, and probed the FBI for alleged criminal conduct in Boston.
Durham has also won praise from Democrats for being a straight-shooter. When Trump appointed him U.S. Attorney for Connecticut in 2017, he had the support of the state’s two Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
“I know John Durham well, having known and worked with him over many years,” Blumenthal said in a statement in early 2018 applauding Trump’s decision to nominate Durham. “He is a no-nonsense, fierce, fair career prosecutor.”
A spokesperson for Durham’s office in Connecticut declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice didn’t return a request for comment.
Republicans have long maintained that the Russia investigation was launched with the secret purpose of derailing the Trump campaign, citing private text messages sent among FBI investigators who expressed disdain for Trump. Trump himself has called for an investigation of how the probe, which was eventually taken up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017, got underway.
In April, Barr said he was going to get to the bottom of things, in line with Trump’s public admonitions.
“I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016,” Barr told senators on April 10. “I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”
The Mueller report confirmed widespread reports that Trump campaign aide George Papadapolous triggered the probe into Russian election meddling in May 2016 after he told an Australian diplomat that the campaign had "received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to candidate [Hillary] Clinton."
Cover: Attorney General William Barr speaks at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Annual Candlelight Vigil to commemorate new names added to the monument, during a ceremony at the National Mall in Washington, Monday, May 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)