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Attorney General Barr Appoints U.S. Attorney To Investigate Russia Probe Origins


The attorney general says he wants to get to the bottom of how the intelligence community came to investigate the Trump campaign in 2016. Here's William Barr talking to Congress last month.


WILLIAM BARR: I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It's a big deal.


Barr has now appointed a veteran prosecutor to look into the origins of the Russian investigation. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us more to talk about that. And, Carrie, tell us about this lawyer now in charge of investigating the Russia investigation.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Sure. His name is John Durham. He's the U.S. attorney in Connecticut. And he's got a long history in law enforcement. He was tapped by former Attorney General Janet Reno to look into the FBI's relationship with organized crime in Boston in 1999. That helped inspire the movie "The Departed." He was tapped by other Justice Department leaders to examine whether CIA employees or contractors broke the law in their mistreatment of terrorism suspects. Now he's got another assignment. DOJ says he's looking at whether the intelligence community violated any rules in its surveillance of the Trump campaign prior to inauguration day, before the Trump appointees were on the job.

CORNISH: But I understand the Justice Department's inspector general has been on the case for over a year now. So why is the department launching a whole other investigation?

JOHNSON: The IG has been on the case. He's been looking into the surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, the dossier created by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and some other things. That report's in its final stages. It could become public in the next couple of months. And before that happens, Justice leaders get a chance to read it and make sure no national security secrets are revealed. It's not clear if the IG is making any recommendations about a follow-up, like criminal investigations of specific people. And it may be this new John Durham investigation is broader; one that takes into account the role of the CIA and other intelligence agencies not just DOJ and the FBI.

CORNISH: For some time now, President Trump has been demanding an investigation that sounds very much like this. Now that it's actually happening, what is he saying?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The president has blasted former FBI and CIA officials for the past two years, calling for some of them to even be locked up. But here in Washington today, the president said he did not order the attorney general to investigate this. President Trump welcomed the probe, saying it was a great thing. And he once again called the special counsel investigation a hoax, even though the special counsel found Russia had engaged in a sweeping attack on the election and that prosecutors charged six people close to the president.

CORNISH: One last thing - over the last few days, we've been hearing former FBI officials speak out to defend their actions in 2016. What more have you heard?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The former FBI general counsel Jim Baker is a mild-mannered guy, but he had a lot of emotion about this issue when he spoke to The Lawfare Podcast recently.


BARR: ...A political campaign is a big deal - it's a big deal.

JOHNSON: Basically, he said there was no way he was going to allow any kind of conspiracy or coup attempt on his watch. He didn't do anything unlawful. He's not aware of any other unlawful activity.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.

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