We all already know this — in a way. There are two DOJ investigations ongoing into the origins of the Russia probe, one being conducted by IG Michael Horowitz, the other being run by prosecutor John Durham. The Horowitz report is due Monday, Durham’s findings are still many months away. By definition, Horowitz won’t be the last word.
But Barr means more than just a quirk in the timing. You need to read this story in the context of yesterday’s news about Barr allegedly disagreeing with Horowitz’s conclusion that there was a sufficient legal and factual basis for the FBI to open the Russia investigation. The AG seems to know something that Horowitz doesn’t. And what he knows, realistically, can only have come from Durham.
Which raises a question: What’s the point of putting out an IG report that’s only going to be undermined later? If Durham’s findings are as damning as Barr thinks/hopes, the IG will never be taken seriously again.
Horowitz’s jurisdiction extends only to the Justice Department and its agencies, including the FBI, and the inspector general investigators didn’t speak to intelligence agency employees. His report is expected to measure the FBI’s conduct based on current Justice Department standards. The threshold of evidence needed to open a counterintelligence investigation is relatively low, and Barr has suggested that the department may need to tighten procedures for counterintelligence investigations that involve political campaigns…
It’s not uncommon for attorneys general to disagree with inspector general conclusions, and at times they have made those disputes clear in responses appended to their watchdogs’ reports. A person familiar with the matter says there aren’t plans for Barr to include a formal rebuttal to Horowitz’s findings in the final inspector general report.
Instead, Barr has told allies to wait for Durham’s investigation, which he believes will be more complete.
The WSJ’s sources are also hearing grumbling from Barr. Durham’s access to other intelligence agencies besides the FBI is key to that story too:
Attorney General William Barr has told associates he believes the inspector general examined too narrow a set of questions to be able to draw any sweeping conclusions, people familiar with the matter said.
Specifically, Mr. Barr doesn’t believe the inspector general is in a position to draw a conclusion about whether the FBI was justified in opening an investigation into ties between several Trump associates and Russia by looking only at the FBI’s decisions. He has appointed Connecticut’s U.S. attorney, John Durham, to conduct a broader investigation, including into the actions of the nation’s intelligence agencies, that seeks to answer that question.
Mr. Barr has also openly lamented that the inspector general was limited in the kind of information he was able to obtain—a prosecutor for example, can use subpoenas if there is evidence of a crime while the inspector general relies mostly on voluntary cooperation.
In yesterday’s post I tried to read between the lines of the NYT and WaPo reports about why Barr disagrees with Horowitz about the sufficiency of the Russia probe’s origins. The papers weren’t specific but it sounded like Barr had reason to believe Durham uncovered information at some other U.S. spy agency that should have made the FBI question whether there really was any need for a counterintelligence probe of George Papadopoulos. My shot-in-the-dark guess was that the info had to do with Joseph Mifsud and what his motives might have been in chatting Papadopoulos up about Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton, but it’s a pure guess. It’s also a pure guess as to whether Barr suspects the FBI was negligent in not seeking out a fuller picture of the main players in Russiagate from other U.S. intel agencies before opening the investigation or if he thinks they willfully disregarded information in their possession that should have convinced them there was no cause for alarm. The latter would obviously be a nuclear scandal, but one would *hope* Horowitz would have discovered that sort of evidence if the FBI actually had it. More likely it’s that the agency never found out something it could have and should have discovered from another U.S. intel bureau.
I can’t imagine what Horowitz must be thinking, reading these stories suggesting that Durham and Barr know stuff that he doesn’t and that it’s going to end up making him a laughingstock by allegedly undermining one of his core conclusions. But then, I don’t know what either he or Barr could reasonably do in this situation to avert that given the predicament they’re in. Once Barr tapped Durham to open a parallel investigation that could reach more broadly than Horowitz’s, including into other intel agencies, both Barr and Horowitz were stuck. The IG operates independently of the AG so Barr couldn’t shut down Horowitz’s probe; even if he could have, he probably wouldn’t have since it would have stunk on ice for Trump’s very loyal new Attorney General to be closing down a probe launched by a predecessor in favor of one led by his own handpicked prosecutor. Horowitz could have voluntarily suspended his own investigation pending the results of Durham’s probe (I guess?), but who knows how long that’ll take and what interest would be served by having two mostly redundant reports released at the same time?
Besides, suspending his own investigation would effectively amount to letting Barr usurp Horowitz’s authority as IG to probe the Justice Department by appointing his own guy to open a second investigation. Horowitz really had no choice but to proceed and wait to see how badly his own conclusions will be undermined by outside evidence gathered by Durham. He’s going to look like a joke (albeit a joke limited by his jurisdiction, not his acumen) unless Barr is BSing his friends about some sooper-sekret evidence Durham has found that will expose the origins of the Russiagate investigation as illegitimate. I doubt that, but there’s a nonzero chance: Maybe Barr’s a little freaked out that Horowitz reportedly isn’t going to validate any of the conspiracy theories that Trump is invested in and is playing for time by telling everyone to wait for Durham. Maybe Durham will find something after all! Or maybe Barr will be out of office by the time the investigation ends and won’t have to deal with Trump’s rage when he doesn’t.
Unrelatedly, here’s a little commentary from Barr that’s drawing criticism today about certain communities that need to show more respect to cops or else they might just find themselves without police protection, which is an … interesting view of the duty the police have to keep the peace.