If the previous big news on Ukraine-Gate turned out to be a disappointment, another pair of Fox News reports on Russiagate seem a little more promising. Fox reported late yesterday that the US Attorney assigned in parallel to an inspector-general investigation of the Justice Department’s actions in the Russia-collusion probe has expanded his scope to include actions taken in 2017 as well. “Based on what Durham is finding,” John Roberts said, “he has added staff and agents,” while pushing his timeline out to include the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.
And that’s not a coincidence, Roberts says:
John Durham, the U.S. attorney reviewing the origins of the 2016 counterintelligence investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, is probing a wider timeline than previously known, according to multiple senior administration officials.
Fox News previously reported that Durham would be reviewing the days leading up to the 2016 election and through the inauguration.
However, based on what he has been finding, Durham has expanded his investigation adding agents and resources, the senior administration officials said. The timeline has grown from the beginning of the probe through the election and now has included a post-election timeline through the spring of 2017, up to when Robert Mueller was named special counsel.
According to Roberts, Durham’s team has concluded that Mueller was “not being truthful” about his disinterest in the open FBI director position after James Comey got fired. Bret Baier and Jake Gibson also reported that for Fox News separately at the same time:
Multiple administration officials tell Fox News that when Robert Mueller met with President Trump in May of 2017, Mueller was indeed pursuing the open post as the director of the FBI – something the former Russia probe special counsel denied under oath during congressional testimony this summer.
These officials also told Fox News government documents showed Mueller was pursuing the job as a candidate himself.
It came as emails released this month through a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative group Judicial Watch seemed to indicate Mueller knew there was a real possibility he could be named special counsel if he wasn’t chosen as the next FBI director.
“The boss and his staff do not know about our discussions,” then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an email to Mueller on May 12, 2017. Rosenstein’s boss was then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the Russia probe, meaning the president would not have known either.
Hmmm. Perhaps this part of the expansion is merely to settle the question for good. Trump has claimed repeatedly that his meeting with Mueller on May 16th was a job interview to replace Comey. Mueller has denied this in his congressional testimony, which puts him at some theoretical legal risk if Durham can prove otherwise. It does seem odd, however, that a 73-year-old man with twelve years previously on that job would be asking for another ten-year gig running the FBI, especially in the explosive political environment of that moment. Not impossible by any means, but perhaps a bit improbable.
So it’s possible that Durham’s expanding the scope merely to dispense with that issue, but that wouldn’t require additional staff. Nor would it seem necessary to expand the staff to corroborate that allegation. If Durham’s scope now includes the whole Mueller probe right up through 2019, however, that would be yuuuge — and would create an immediate backlash. Special counsels are no longer entirely independent, so the DoJ has authority to investigate them, but it certainly would put a damper on the next special counsel that gets appointed.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. Politically controversial in this environment, though? You betcha.
This scope expansion might not be tracking in Mueller’s direction at all, of course. It seems more likely that Durham might have taken an interest in what the FBI did after the election, perhaps in its handling of the Christopher Steele dossier, and how top officials had been leaking information out to the press. Could that expansion have more to do with James Comey’s use of his pal as a cutout to leak classified material to the New York Times? That seems much more likely than a closing of the Mueller-application loop.
Of course, Inspector General Michael Horowitz has also been looking at some of the same issues in Operation Crossfire Hurricane, and has reportedly completed his report. Roberts leads off his story by teasing out the release time frame and the robustness of the public report to come:
A senior administration official tells FOX News exclusively, that the investigation into the genesis of the Russia probe is expected to be released later this month and that its findings will be detailed. The Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz has been looking into whether there were abuses of the FISA system to begin surveillance of Trump campaign officials that ultimately led to the Mueller investigation.
This morning, Fox & Friends spoke with former House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz, who says that the Durham expansion is “really bad news” for John Brennan and James Clapper. Chaffetz expects more damage from the Horowitz report, however much it has to be redacted. “The Horowitz report is going to be a bombshell,” Chaffetz predicts.