Attorney General Bill Barr on Monday defended the criminal probe into the origins of the 2016 Russian investigation — a probe that is under fire for appearing to be geared toward validating conspiracy theories — and said FBI Director Chris Wray has lent “outstanding” support to John Durham, the U.S. attorney ostensibly leading the ongoing investigation.
Barr also offered an explanation to Fox News as to why he had made two under-the-radar trips to Italy to pressure foreign leaders to cooperate with Durham’s probe. Barr’s heavy involvement in those meetings with foreign leaders fueled claims that the Durham probe is a partisan endeavor meant to boost President Trump.
“Well, some of the countries that John Durham thought might have some information that would be helpful to the 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, and so forth,” Barr told Fox News. “So I initially discussed these matters with those countries and introduced them to John Durham and established a channel by which Mr. Durham can obtain assistance from those countries.”
Barr claimed in the interview that Durham was “in charge” of the probe. The probe started last spring as an administrative review of how the Russian election meddling investigation was launched, but has since evolved into a criminal investigation, the New York Times reported last week.
It’s unclear what alleged crimes are being investigated. The timing of the leak to the New York Times that the probe was now criminal prompted speculation that the news was being put out to counteract last week’s cascade of damaging revelations in the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Barr on Monday pointed to Durham’s leadership to push back on the criticism the ongoing probe has attracted.
Durham is a “by the book” kind of guy, Barr said, who has a “great reputation for nonpartisanship” and was previously selected by attorneys general in Democratic administration to lead “sensitive investigations.”
“As I understand, he is making great progress,” Barr told Fox News, later adding that he was “confident” the Durham will “get to the bottom of things.”
“We’ll let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
Barr’s praise of Wray came with some shots at former FBI Director James Comey, who President Trump fired and who has continued to be a target of Trump’s ire.
“One of the reasons Mr. Durham is able to make the kind of progress he is making is because Director Wray and his team at the FBI have just been outstanding in the support and the responsiveness they’ve given,” Barr told Fox News. “As you know, I’ve said previously that I felt there was a failure of leadership at the bureau in 2016 and part of 2017, but since Director Wray and his team have taken over there’s been a world of change. I think that he is restoring the steady professionalism that’s been a hallmark of the FBI. I really appreciate his leadership there.”
It’s unclear when the review morphed into a criminal probe and many other questions remain about what has been Durham’s focus. But Barr’s activity related to the probe suggests he’s chasing some of the wilder claims made by Trump and his allies about why his campaign was investigated in 2016.
He told Fox News on Monday that the claims he’s acting as the President’s personal attorney rather on behalf of the U.S. were “completely wrong” and without basis.