Attorney General William Barr shed new light on his role at the center of an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe in an interview Monday, telling Fox News that he spoke with foreign officials about the inquiry being run by US Attorney John Durham at their countries’ request, and that the conversations served to establish a “channel” through which Durham could “obtain assistance.”
Durham’s investigation has received remarkable assists from the attorney general since Barr initiated it earlier this year over concerns that the 2016 presidential campaign of President Donald Trump had been improperly surveilled.
Over the summer, Barr discussed the investigation with British and Italian officials on visits to the countries, and the Trump administration has made overtures to the Australians as well about cooperation with US authorities looking into the matter.
“Some of the countries that John Durham thought might have some information or be helpful to his investigation wanted preliminarily to talk to me about the scope of the investigation, the nature of the investigation, and how I intended to handle confidential information,” Barr told Fox News in an interview at a policing conference in Chicago.
“So I initially discussed these matters with those countries, then introduced them to John Durham and established a channel by which Mr. Durham can obtain assistance from those countries,” he said.
Barr’s comments Monday marked the first time he has spoken publicly about his efforts abroad, and follow the revelation last week that Durham’s work had progressed from a review into a criminal investigation, meaning Durham could now issue subpoenas to compel testimony.
That development drew criticism from Democrats, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who accused Barr over the weekend of “weaponizing” the Justice Department “to go after the President’s enemies.”
The critique mirrored a line of attack from the left that Barr has worked against the interest of justice to protect Trump like a personal attorney would. In Chicago, Barr disputed that criticism.
“That’s completely wrong and there is no basis for it, and I act on behalf of the United States,” he told Fox News.
Barr also attempted to establish the independence and credibility of Durham, a veteran prosecutor who he called a “by the book kind of guy.”
“He is in charge of the investigation. I’m not doing the investigation,” Barr said.
From the start, the Durham investigation has been driven by Barr’s suspicions — critics call them conspiracy theories — that some of the officials overseeing the counterintelligence investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign may have acted improperly.
His embrace of these theories aligns with Trump’s chief grievance that he was the victim of a “deep state” spy operation that has clouded his presidency.
In the interview, Barr said that Durham is “making great progress” and noted that the FBI has been cooperating with the scrutiny.
“One of the reasons Mr. Durham is able to make the kind of progress he’s making is because Director Wray and his team at the FBI have just been outstanding in the support and responsiveness they’ve given,” Barr said.
By some accounts, however, the investigation has received little return from the international requests.
CNN reported last week that British officials have expressed reluctance to become part of US political infighting this year, and have pointed to information they provided to US law enforcement in 2016, according to a person briefed on the matter.
And Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday that intelligence officials in his country had told Barr that they didn’t have any information concerning the Durham inquiry. Conte said that Barr used appropriate diplomatic channels to set up two meetings with Italian intelligence officials.
The Australian ambassador to the US has said his country will cooperate with the Justice Department on the Durham probe but rejected an assertion made about his country’s role in the Russia investigation that was pushed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key Republican ally of the President.