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Barr names John Durham special counsel of Russia probe origins investigation

U.S. attorney John Durham has been investigating the origins of the Russia probe since May 2019. Photo courtesy the U.S. Justice Department
U.S. attorney John Durham has been investigating the origins of the Russia probe since May 2019. Photo courtesy the U.S. Justice Department

Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Attorney General William Barr has appointed federal prosecutor John Durham as special counsel to ensure his criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe would continue into the next administration.

Barr's appointment of the powers and authority of a Justice Department special counsel to the Connecticut U.S. attorney was notified to Congress Tuesday in a letter that said the appointment occurred back on Oct. 19, ahead of last month's presidential election.

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"In advance of the presidential election, I decided to appoint Mr. Durham as a Special Counsel to provide him and his team with the assurance that they could complete their work, without regard to the outcome of the election," Barr said in the letter.

The attorney general assigned Durham in May 2019 to investigate the FBI's probe of allegations of links between the Trump campaign and Russia called Crossfire Hurricane, which led to a two-year Justice Department effort that produced a lengthy report by special counsel Robert Mueller.

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More than 30 people, including those close to President Donald Trump, such as his former 2016 campaign chief Paul Manafort, friend Roger Store and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have been indicted as part of Mueller's investigation.

Since Barr tapped Durham in 2019 to launch the investigation into whether federal agencies acted within the law during the initial stages of the Russian probe, only one indictment has been produced.

In August, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email to support surveillance of Trump's former campaign aide, Carter Page, charges for which he is to be sentenced for on Dec. 10.

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Barr said in an order of Durham's appointment attached to the letter to Congress that he has determined following discussion with the attorney that public interest and "the extraordinary circumstances relating to these matters" warrant the investigation to continue.

"Although I had expected Mr. Durham to complete his work by the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as additional information he uncovered, prevented him from doing so," Barr said in the letter, without detailing what the additional information consisted of.

Barr said he did not announce Durham's appointment in October due to worries it would interfere in the election.

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The order gives few specifics on the investigation, stating Durham is authorized to probe "whether any federal official, employee or any other person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence or law-enforcement activities directed at the 2016 presidential campaigns, individuals associated with those campaigns and individuals associated with the administration of President Donald J. Trump, including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller, III."

Trump has vehemently condemned the Mueller report and investigation and despite its nearly three dozen indictments and has frequently called it a "witch hunt" and accused the Obama administration of spying on his campaign.

The president has also used his powers to pardon Stone in July and Flynn last week.

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