According to NBC News, a review ordered by Attorney General William Barr and conducted by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham has been expanded “significantly” and now includes two high-profile, vocal critics of President Trump that held key positions in the Obama administration: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan. The review, new developments suggest, could also be morphing into an official criminal investigation.
Citing multiple current and former federal officials, including Brennan himself, NBC reported Saturday that 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.” Among the former officials are Clapper, who now works as a national security analyst for CNN, and Brennan, whose security clearance Trump famously revoked in 2018.
Reports that Barr greenlighted the expansion of Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation began to circulate a few weeks ago, but the specific claim that Clapper and Brennan were of interest appears to be a new detail from NBC’s sources. Also new is NBC’s description of the response of CIA analysts reportedly targeted in the review.
“Durham has also requested to talk to CIA analysts involved in the intelligence assessment of Russia’s activities, prompting some of them to hire lawyers, according to three former CIA officials familiar with the matter,” NBC reports, noting that sources say there is “tension between the CIA and the Justice Department over what classified documents Durham can examine.”
The New York Times also revealed some new details about the ongoing review Saturday. Citing unnamed former officials and others familiar with the matter, the Times reports that the federal prosecutors “have asked witnesses pointed questions about any anti-Trump bias among former F.B.I. officials who are frequent targets of President Trump and about the earliest steps they took in the Russia inquiry.”
Thus far, according to the Times’ sources, Durham’s team has interviewed about two dozen current and former FBI officials, while two senior FBI officials are assisting in the process. “The number of interviews shows that Mr. Durham’s review is further along than previously known,” the Times notes.
As for the expansion of the probe, NBC reports that Barr has given Durham the go-ahead to expand both his staff and the timeframe he can examine, which now includes “conduct past Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.” NBC also notes suggestively that DOJ officials would offer no comment when asked if the review has “morphed” into a criminal investigation.
The initial investigation into Russian interference, headed up by then-FBI Director James Comey, eventually led to the special investigation into collusion and obstruction headed up by Robert Mueller. But after two years and over $30 million spent on the effort, Mueller’s exhaustive report concluded that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
As for alleged obstruction of justice by Trump, the special counsel came to no conclusion at all, stating “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” — a non-conclusion met with much criticism from both sides.
The DOJ’s review of the roles of various FBI and CIA officials in the origins of the Russia probe in a sense flips the focus of the initial investigation, looking not at Trump and his associates but at those who allegedly helped promote what Mueller determined to be the evidence-less “collusion” narrative.