Attorney General William P. Barr on Tuesday announced that he had given special counsel status to the prosecutor investigating the origins of the Russia collusion probe, assuring the investigation can’t be squashed by presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden.
The move gave U.S. Attorney John Durham, who has been conducting his investigation for more than a year, the same powers that special counsel Robert Mueller enjoyed in pursuing the allegations of Trump-Russia collusion that have since been debunked.
In a letter to Capitol Hill leaders, Mr. Barr said that he had designated Mr. Durham as a special counsel in October and was now making his status public.
The attorney general stressed that the appointment of a special counsel pre-dated, and was not tied to, the election outcome.
“Although I had expected Mr. Durham to complete his work by the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as additional information he uncovered, prevented him from doing so,” wrote Mr. Barr. “In advance of the presidential election, I decided to appoint Mr. Durham as a Special Counsel to provide him and his team with the assurance that they could complete their work, without regard to the outcome of the election.”
The letter was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate judiciary committees.
Under federal regulations, a special counsel can be fired only by the attorney general and for specific reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest. An attorney general must document such reasons in writing.
The investigations grew out of allegations of cooperation between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russians to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Biden’s transition team didn’t immediately comment on the appointment.
The current investigation, a criminal probe, had begun very broadly but has since “narrowed considerably” and now “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI,” Mr. Barr told The Associated Press.
He said he expects Mr. Durham would detail whether any additional prosecutions will be brought and make public a report of the investigation’s findings.
In an Oct. 19 order, obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Barr said Mr. Durham is authorized “to investigate whether any federal official, employee or any person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence or law enforcement activities” directed at the 2016 presidential campaigns, anyone associated with the campaigns or the Trump administration.
A senior Justice Department official told the AP that although the order details that it is “including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” the Durham probe has not expanded. The official said that line specifically relates to FBI personnel who worked on the Russia investigation before the May 2017 appointment of Mueller, a critical area of scrutiny for both Durham and for the Justice Department inspector general, which identified a series of errors and omissions in surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign associate.
The focus on the FBI, rather than the CIA and the intelligence community, suggests that Durham may have moved past some of the more incendiary claims that Trump supporters had hoped would yield allegations of misconduct, or even crimes — namely, the question of how intelligence agencies reached their conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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