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Durham’s Russia Probe Reportedly Sought Former CIA Director John Brennan’s Communications

U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s 2016 Russia investigation has reportedly spent a significant amount of attention scrutinizing the top ranks of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Attorney General Bill Barr’s hand-picked prosecutor is “focusing much of his attention” on the agency, and requested the communications of its former director John Brennan, according to Politico.

Per the report, Durham has sought Brennan’s communications as part of an examination into the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, which concluded with “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” and that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Brennan left the CIA loudly in Jan. 2017.

The report from former special counsel Robert Mueller reached the same conclusion regarding Russia’s preference for Donald Trump, as did an internal review by Mike Pompeo when he took over the agency in 2017. Attorney General Barr, who in May tasked Durham with ensuring that the government’s “intelligence collections activities” involving the Trump campaign were “lawful and appropriate,” has not rushed to accept those findings.

The Durham investigation has at times been derided as an overreach by the attorney general. Barr’s critics say he acts more like the president’s personal attorney than the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Former deputy director and acting director of the CIA John McLaughlin said in the Politico report that Durham’s probe was both “unprecedented” and “inappropriate.”

“It is unprecedented and inappropriate to do this via Justice department prosecutors who will tend to apply the standards of a courtroom to the more nuanced, and often more challenging world of intelligence analysis,” he said.

John Sipher, a 28-year veteran of the CIA, expressed concern that Durham was encroaching on what would normally be Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) Michael Atkinson’s territory.

“I find this troubling and I suspect many inside the intelligence community do as well,” Sipher said, adding that Durham’s probe “was initiated and sold in a partisan manner and this news only highlights that concern.”

Atkinson is a Trump appointee who became widely known for finding that the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint about President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “credible” and “urgent.” Despite this determination, the complaint was initially withheld from Congress. President Trump has since been impeached.

Durham’s investigation overlapped with Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review of the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation. The “political” statement that Durham made after Horowitz’s report was released is an example of the partisanship Sipher said was concerning.

The latest report also noted that Trump-appointed CIA Director Gina Haspel, who replaced Pompeo last year, has been caught in the “politically toxic tug-of-war” between the Intel community and the Department of Justice that may hinge on the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that Russian-linked professor Joseph Mifsud was actually a Western intelligence asset linked to Brennan’s CIA.

Haspel was the CIA’s station chief in London in 2016 when Australian diplomat Alexander Downer told U.S. officials about Mifsud’s contact with Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos. Per Politico:

An inspector general report released earlier this month said the embassy’s deputy chief of mission at the time briefed the FBI’s legal attache and another official—whose title is redacted, but is Haspel, according to another person familiar with the matter—on Downer’s outreach. The attache told the inspector general that Haspel, upon being briefed, said the Downer information sounded “like an FBI matter.”

Papadopoulos was ensnared in the Mueller probe and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He spent 12 days behind bars. Papadopoulos then claimed he was “forced” to say he lied. Now he’s running for Congress in California.

Durham and Haspel’s paths have crossed before.

[image via Drew Angerer and Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.