Conservatives cheered the recent news that Attorney General William Barr had assigned U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the launch of the investigation into the Trump campaign. After his name hit the press, journalists covering the Spygate scandal quickly realized that Durham was the prosecutor investigating former FBI lawyer James Baker for potential illegal leaks.
During his October 3, 2018, testimony to the House judiciary and oversight committees, Baker testified about his long-time friendship with Mother Jones reporter David Corn. But when Rep. Jim Jordan asked whether he had spoken with Corn about any FBI investigations, and specifically the Steele dossier, Baker’s attorney shut down the questioning. Baker’s lawyer told the committee Baker would not discuss any conversations with reporters because Baker was still the subject of a criminal investigation into illegal leaks. When pushed on who was handling that investigation, Baker’s lawyer said, “John Durham.”
In addition to Durham’s appointment, we know that former attorney general Jeff Sessions tapped Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber more than a year ago to investigate aspects of the Russia-collusion hoax. The office of Inspector General Michael Horowitz is also conducting an internal review, focusing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act surveillance order.
While the breadth of Huber, Durham, and Horowitz’s investigations are unknown, when Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, he provided many clues to the scope of malfeasance the DOJ is looking at—and it appears to be a wide-ranging investigation.
For instance, during the May 1 questioning, when asked about “unauthorized media contact,” Barr responded, “We have multiple criminal leak investigations under way.” With the spotlight on Durham, we now realize Baker is one of those under investigation for illegal leaking, but this testimony makes clear that others are as well.
Barr was also asked if he had “looked into the decision by the FBI into why they launched a counterintelligence investigation,” and he responded, “I am looking into it and have looked into it.” And when asked whether he had “already tasked any staff to look into whether or not spying was properly predicated,” Barr testified, “Yes, I have people in the department helping me review the activities over the summer of 2016.”
Barr added more texture to the types of questions being probed when he was asked whether Carter Page was “under surveillance while he was working with the Trump administration.” The attorney general responded that he didn’t know. Barr also did not know whether any other Trump campaign officials were under surveillance, but told the senators that those are things he “needs to look at.” We’re “trying to reconstruct exactly what went down,” Barr explained.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Barr also revealed several other areas of concern to the attorney general, including “the FISA warrant process,” “the investigation and how and why it was opened,” and the “lack of professionalism in the [Clinton] email investigation”—all things Barr says needed to be looked at.
Barr also testified about other details he is looking into, including when the DOJ and the FBI knew that the Democratic Party paid for the Steele dossier. As of two weeks ago, Barr did not know the answer to that question.
Barr also did not know if the DOJ, FBI, or other agencies had engaged in investigative activities targeting the Trump campaign before July 2016. And when asked, “When did surveillance of the Trump campaign begin?” Barr replied, “The position today appears to be that it began in July, but I do not know the answer to the question.” All of these questions, Barr explained, need be investigated.
Barr, however, isn’t stopping there: According to his testimony, he is also reviewing the special counsel’s investigation to determine what the special counsel looked into. From that inquiry we will learn whether Mueller’s team buried any facts or failed to pursue leads indicating, for example, that dossier author Steele lied about his Russian source, or instead that the Kremlin fed Steele misinformation in order to interfere in the 2016 presidential election—a question on which the special counsel report was silent.
These questions are likely just a handful of those being asked by Barr and his team, all for the purpose of answering the bottom-line question plaguing Barr: “How did we get to the point here where the evidence is now that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous and accused of being a Russian agent? The evidence now is that was without a basis. Two years of [Trump’s] administration have been dominated by allegations that have been proven false.”
Yes, how indeed.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.