The White House has long been consumed by the idea President Donald Trump‘s 2016 campaign was infiltrated by an intelligence agent. This mysterious figure is said to have then prompted the original Russia investigation which was eventually picked up by then-special counsel Robert Mueller after Trump’s public shelving of former FBI director James Comey–or so the story goes.
This tale–and various permutations thereof–has so enraptured the 45th president and his supporters that Attorney General William Barr dispatched a handpicked prosecutor to shake down the intelligence tree and pick up whatever bears any resemblance to the president’s preferred persecution narrative. As it turns out, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence supporting the conspiracy theory at all.
According to the Washington Post, Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz recently conferred with Barr’s investigator of the investigators, U.S. Attorney John Durham, in order to assess the validity of Trump’s victimization claims.
And, according to Durham, there’s simply nothing there.
The key figure here is Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese university professor allegedly connected, always in some unknown and unexplained way per the story, to an indeterminate Western intelligence agency. The professor found his way to Trump 2016 foreign policy advisor-cum-coffee boy George Papadopoulos. The Trump campaign staffer later lied to the FBI about his contact with Mifsud after the latter man promised the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
And the rest is something not entirely unlike history.
Via multiple anonymous sources cited by the Post:
Among Horowitz’s questions: whether a Maltese professor who interacted with a Trump campaign adviser was actually a U.S. intelligence asset deployed to ensnare the campaign, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the inspector general’s findings have not been made public.
But the intelligence agencies said the professor was not among their assets, the people said. And Durham informed Horowitz’s office that his investigation had not produced any evidence that might contradict the inspector general’s findings on that point.
“The previously unreported interaction with Durham is noted in a draft of Horowitz’s forthcoming report on the Russia investigation, which concludes that the FBI had adequate cause to launch its Russia investigation, people familiar with the matter said,” the outlet continues. That report is scheduled to be released on December 9.
And, according to several legal experts surveyed by Law&Crime, the forthcoming Horowitz report should slam the door shut on the Mifsud conspiracy theory once and for all.
“Barr is desperately trying to get someone to prop up his political talking point that the Russia investigation was an illegitimate witch hunt,” former federal prosecutor, MSNBC legal analyst, and Westchester District Attorney candidate Mimi Rocah told Law&Crime. “But the facts don’t bear that out and thank goodness there seem to be ethical prosecutors–picked by Barr–still at DOJ who follow facts instead of conspiracy theories.”
CNN legal analyst, attorney and impeachment expert Ross Garber advised caution due to the still-in-progress nature of Horowitz’s report but placed his faith in Durham’s efforts and eventual output.
“There is already a crossfire hurricane of spin about an IG report that hasn’t been issued yet,” Garber told Law&Crime. “I want to read the OIG report myself on Monday. John Durham has established a well-earned reputation as a straight shooter–and has been just that in my interactions with him. I have confidence he’ll call it like he sees it.”
Bradley P. Moss is a national security attorney and partner at Mark S. Zaid, P.C. He said that, regardless, the conspiracy theories will live on, just hopefully not at the government level:
Hopefully this will be the final swan song of these conspiracy theories, at least in terms of the extent to which they are the subject of actual government investigation. They will no doubt live on forever in the fever swamps of the fringe blogs.
Law&Crime Network host Julie Rendelman is a former prosecutor and currently a defense attorney working in New York City. In an email to Law&Crime, she also welcomed Durham’s apparent findings but similarly had doubts as to whether the findings would have any impact on the president’s erstwhile defenders.
“Many conservatives have expressed concerns that there was an effort to plant spies within the Trump campaign to damage Trump,” Rendelman noted. “The fact that the very man that Attorney General Bill Barr selected to investigate this theory found no such evidence should put this story to rest…but it won’t. Regardless of any lack of evidence, it seems inevitable that people will continue to believe what they want to believe as there seems to be little trust in the political and judicial process.”
Tor Ekeland is federal criminal defense attorney and legal expert. Asked about Barr’s theory biting the dust, he said:
It’s not surprising at all. It’s a ridiculous theory, and I’m a critic of the U.S. Intelligence system. As a client once said to me, “I may deserve to go to jail for a lot of things, but this isn’t one of them.”
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]