Attorney General William Barr has given the authority of a special counsel to the prosecutor he appointed to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
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 statute that governed special counsel Robert Mueller in the original Russia probe.
He said Durham’s investigation has been narrowing to focus on the conduct of FBI agents who worked on the Russia investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane.
With the 2020 election approaching, Barr told the AP on Tuesday, “I 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.”
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 will 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 AP, Barr says 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 the order 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 the Justice Department inspector general, which identified a series of errors and omissions in surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign associate.
Appointing Durham as a special counsel would mean that he could only be fired for very specific reasons under the law.
Under the regulations, a special counsel can be fired only by the attorney general and for specific reasons, such as misconduct, dereliction of duty, conflict of interest or other violations of Justice Department policies.