This week, Attorney General Bill Barr sparked rounds of headlines for deriding President Donald Trump’s consistent, belligerent tweets about Justice Department operations, but the reality of what the department is actually currently doing shows that Barr and Trump are apparently quite aligned — although few seem likely to have thought otherwise just because of one comment from Barr. The New York Times is now reporting that Connecticut-area U.S. Attorney John Durham, who Barr appointed to look into the origins of the Russia investigation with what has turned into an apparent criminal investigation, is — at least to some — pursuing an apparent conspiracy theory about the CIA agents behind widely circulated conclusions about Russian election meddling.
Based on the testimony of anonymous sources with firsthand perspectives on Durham’s work, the investigator seems “to be hunting for a basis to accuse Obama-era intelligence officials of hiding evidence or manipulating analysis about Moscow’s covert operation.”
The publication explains more fully:
‘Mr. Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal, the people said.’
The problem is that these conspiracy theories might be based in sheer incompetence about the way that these agencies actually work. One example is the hesitation by the CIA to reveal the identity of a source they had in Moscow to the National Security Agency. In reality, The Times notes (again based on the testimony of anonymous sources) that “National security officials are typically cautious about sharing their most delicate information, like source identities, even with other agencies inside the executive branch.” Yet, Durham is pursuing these suspicious questions anyway, with a clear connection to little other than the president’s own consistent political animosity.
Trump has routinely publicly derided figures like Brennan. Asked about Durham’s probe during an MSNBC appearance, he commented:
‘It’s kind of silly. Is there a criminal investigation now on analytic judgments and the activities of CIA in terms of trying to protect our national security? I’m certainly willing to talk to Mr. Durham or anybody else who has any questions about what we did during this period of 2016. It clearly, I think, is another indication that Donald Trump is using the Department of Justice to go after his enemies any way he can.’
So far, the highest-ranking former official who has actually been interviewed in the Durham probe seems to be former National Security Agency chief Michael Rogers.
Trump has also been using the department to protect his allies.
Recently, higher-ups at the department overruled a sentencing recommendation that the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office had delivered for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who they had recommended serve some seven to nine years in prison for his obstruction of justice scheme. They claimed that Trump didn’t directly order the sentencing recommendation change, but they delivered it shortly after Trump publicly ranted on Twitter about the original one.