Barr appoints special counsel in Russia probe investigation

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FILE - This 2018 portrait released by the U.S. Department of Justice shows Connecticut's U.S. Attorney John Durham. Attorney General William Barr has given extra protection to the prosecutor he appointed to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation, giving him the authority of a special counsel to allow him to complete his work without being easily fired. Barr told The Associated Press on Dec. 1, 2020, that he appointed Durham as a special counsel in October under the same federal statute that governed special counsel Robert Muellers in the Russia probe. (U.S. Department of Justice via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr has given extra protection to the prosecutor he appointed to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, granting him authority to complete the work without being easily fired.

Barr told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a special counsel in October under the same federal regulations that governed special counsel Robert Mueller in the original Russia probe. He said Durham’s investigation has been narrowing to focus more on the conduct of FBI agents who worked on the Russia investigation, known by the code name of Crossfire Hurricane.

Under the 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 FBI in July 2016 began investigating whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia to sway the outcome of the presidential election. That probe was inherited nearly a year later by special counsel Mueller, who ultimately did not find enough evidence to charge Trump or any of his associates with conspiring with Russia.

The early months of the investigation, when agents obtained secret surveillance warrants targeting a former Trump campaign aide, have long been scrutinized by the president and other critics of the probe who say the FBI made significant errors. An inspector general report last year backed up that criticism but did not find evidence that mistakes in the surveillance applications and other problems with the probe were driven by partisan bias.

Barr decided "the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Mueller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election," he said Tuesday.

President-elect Joe 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,” Barr said. He said he expects Durham would detail whether any additional prosecutions will be brought and make public a report of the investigation’s findings.