On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr reportedly appointed a federal prosecutor to investigate one of President Donald Trump’s most baseless claims over the past few years: that the investigation into Russian interference efforts was little more than a political hatchet job. It’s an openly political move: A mountain of publicly available evidence indicates the Russia investigation had completely legitimate origins.
As the New York Times reported, Barr appointed John Durham, currently the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to “examine the origins of the Russia investigation.” Durham’s appointment builds on prior investigations into the origin of the Russia investigation, including from the DOJ’s inspector general, who hasn’t yet revealed his findings.
Barr hasn’t yet commented on the appointment, but it’s clear that his move to tap Durham ties directly into the claim (which Trump has repeatedly made) that American intelligence officials were “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016.
There’s only one problem: There’s no evidence that the origins of the investigation into Russian interference efforts, or the Trump campaign’s unprecedented attempts to collude with Russia, breached any protocols at all. If anything, all evidence suggests that the FBI followed proper procedures with respect to launching the investigation and requesting permission to surveil members of the Trump campaign.
The FBI first touched off an investigation into Trump campaign after an adviser — George Papadopoulos — bragged to a U.S. ally that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and that the campaign expected to benefit from the dirt.
As the redacted Mueller report confirmed, a London-based professor, Joseph Mifsud, told Papadopoulos that Russia had obtained compromising information on Clinton, including thousands of emails. The FBI found the information credible and concerning enough that it begin an investigation into whether the campaign was coordinating with Russia to influence the election.
As FBI general counsel James Baker said last week addressing the topic, “It would have been highly, highly inappropriate for us not to pursue [the inquiry] — and pursue it aggressively.”
Pro-Trump partisans claim that Papadopoulos, who was later convicted of lying to the FBI, never should have been believed, nor should Mifsud’s claims of Russian dirt been given any credence. This despite the fact that Russian government hackers stole internal communications from both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The second claim that the Russia investigation was politically motivated stems from FBI and federal prosecutors’ requests to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court that they be allowed to monitor Carter Page, who also worked as an adviser to the Trump campaign. Trump supporters point to the fact that the Steele Dossier — a largely unconfirmed report on early Russian efforts to influence Trump which had been funded in part by the Clinton campaign — was cited in a footnote in the formal FISA application.
This argument ignores a few key details. The FISA application clearly disclosed that the Steele Dossier had received funding from those “likely looking for information to discredit” the Trump campaign — and the surveillance on Page was renewed multiple times, including by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee.
Moreover, Russian spies had previously attempted to recruit Page outright. As the Mueller report detailed, a Russian intelligence officer met Page in person “on multiple occasions.” Page was even later mentioned in criminal proceedings against the same Russian intelligence officer. (Page wasn’t accused of any crimes, and later transcripts revealed the Russian intelligence officers primarily making fun of him.)
These factors helped convince the FISA court that Page should be surveilled as part of the investigation into Russian interference efforts in 2016. There’s no indication partisan concerns played any role in the surveillance.
Trump and his allies — now including the attorney general — insist otherwise. In addition to claiming that the Obama administration had his “wires tapped” before the election, Trump has pushed the notion that the Obama administration, via intelligence investigators looking into Russian meddling, spied on his campaign.
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
And now, Trump has an attorney general willing to do his bidding. While Trump said he “didn’t ask” Barr to appoint Durham, he repeatedly made public calls for an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, and he was clearly pleased when Barr announced the investigation.
“You know what? I am so proud of our attorney general, that he is looking into it,” Trump said on Tuesday. “I think it’s great.”