The NY Times has a pretty big scoop this afternoon. The Justice Department is now opening a criminal investigation into the Russia investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane. The change in status could lead to subpoenas for witnesses and potentially criminal charges:
Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges…
Mr. Barr’s reliance on Mr. Durham, a widely respected and veteran prosecutor who has investigated C.I.A. torture and broken up Mafia rings, could help insulate the attorney general from accusations that he is doing the president’s bidding and putting politics above justice.
It was not clear what potential crime Mr. Durham is investigating, nor when the criminal investigation was prompted. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
The Times story opens by noting that this development plays into President Trump’s hands by raising doubts about an investigation Trump has called a hoax. That’s true but it seems less important than what prompted Durham and Barr to make this move. The authors don’t claim to know the answer to that but they speculate that it might have something to do with the nearly completed Inspector General’s report:
As Mr. Durham’s investigation moves forward, the Justice Department inspector general is wrapping up his own inquiry into aspects of the F.B.I.’s conduct in the early days of the Russia investigation. Among other things, the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is scrutinizing the application for a warrant to wiretap Mr. Page.
Mr. Barr has not said whether Mr. Durham’s investigation grew out of the inspector general’s findings or something that prosecutors unearthed while doing interviews or reviewing documents. But the inspector general’s findings, which are expected to be made public in coming weeks, could contribute to the public’s understanding of why Mr. Durham might want to investigate national security officials’ activities in 2016.
The story also rehashes some previous reporting that Durham is expected to interview various people at the CIA about their role in kickstarting Crossfire Hurricane. Earlier this week, Ed wrote about an NBC story which specifically said Durham’s investigation had expanded to look at James Clapper and John Brennan.
The prosecutor conducting the review, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, has expressed his intent to interview a number of current and former intelligence officials involved in examining Russia’s effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including former CIA Director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, Brennan told NBC News…
The prosecutor conducting the review, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, has expressed his intent to interview a number of current and former intelligence officials involved in examining Russia’s effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including former CIA Director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, Brennan told NBC News.
Durham’s interest apparently goes beyond the launch of Crossfire Hurricane to events that happened in early 2017. It’s not clear yet what that means but I wonder if he wants to ask Clapper and Brennan about the decision to brief Trump about the Steele dossier. The stated reason for the briefing was that the intel community knew the news media was on the verge of publishing some of the claims in the dossier. And yet, within days of the briefing, CNN had learned of it and made the briefing the news hook to publish a story about the dossier’s contents. As Mollie Hemingway asked two years ago “was the entire purpose of the meeting to produce the leak that the meeting happened?”
That seems far-fetched to a lot of people but I’m not sure why. Given John Brennan’s over-the-top hostility toward Trump, nothing would surprise me. Remember this is the guy who predicted all sorts of final indictments were coming that never came. He later apologized for that but there’s no doubt he’s very partisan and, I think it’s fair to conclude, always has been.