Durham expanded Trump probe to include criminal investigation of financial deals: Report

After four years of wondering what special counsel John Durham has been doing, only to learn that there was no wrongdoing in the Trump-Russia investigation, The New York Times has published a report claiming Italian officials tipped Durham off in 2019 to alleged financial crimes committed by Donald Trump and sparked a separate investigation.

According to The Times, which interviewed “more than a dozen current and former officials,” Durham “spent his first months looking for any evidence that the origin of the Russia investigation involved an intelligence operation targeting the Trump campaign.”

After finding nothing in the CIA’s files to support the allegation that “the origin of the Russia investigation involved an intelligence operation targeting the Trump campaign,” Durham and then-Attorney General Bill Barr “traveled abroad together to press British and Italian officials to reveal everything their agencies had gleaned about the Trump campaign and relayed to the United States, but both allied governments denied they had done any such thing.”

It was on one of those trips abroad, according to anonymous “people familiar with the matter,” that “Italian officials — while denying any role in setting off the Russia investigation — unexpectedly offered a potentially explosive tip linking Mr. Trump to certain suspected financial crimes.”

Reports The Times:

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham decided that the tip was too serious and credible to ignore. But rather than assign it to another prosecutor, Mr. Barr had Mr. Durham investigate the matter himself — giving him criminal prosecution powers for the first time — even though the possible wrongdoing by Mr. Trump did not fall squarely within Mr. Durham’s assignment to scrutinize the origins of the Russia inquiry, the people said.

 

Now, The Times and the media outlets that have picked its story up are calling this a “bombshell report.

And, indeed, The Times is using such words as “explosive” and “serious and credible” to frame the Italian tip. The outlet is painting a cloak-and-dagger picture of Barr and Durham meeting over glasses of scotch and going rogue with an investigation they were potentially keeping from the White House.

But strip away the leading adjectives and the anecdotal observations, and you’ll find that the story is far less interesting than The Times would have readers think.

Even with all their anonymous sources, no one seems to know what the Italians told Barr and Durham, other than it was super serious and totally credible.

Acting appropriately, Barr and Durham followed up on the tip and it apparently went nowhere.

But The Times thinks this “secret” investigation is “extraordinary.”

The Times writes:

Mr. Durham never filed charges, and it remains unclear what level of an investigation it was, what steps he took, what he learned and whether anyone at the White House ever found out. The extraordinary fact that Mr. Durham opened a criminal investigation that included scrutinizing Mr. Trump has remained secret.

 

But was it really “extraordinary”?

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of “Law & Order” knows that authorities don’t comment on ongoing investigations because they often include dead-end tips that can cloud the path to the truth.

In its attempt to turn what appears to be a nothingburger into Kobe beef, The Times notes that a “garbled” account of the investigation made it into the hands of a press that was getting rich off hating Trump:

But in October 2019, a garbled echo became public. The Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.

The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.

 

It’s interesting to note that, while The Times implies the handling of the Italian tip involved something nefarious and secretive, it attempted to discredit Durham for his pursuit of other potential leads, including those connected to George Soros:

Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

 

So, to recap, Durham’s silence while following up on a lead that pointed to potential criminal activity by Trump is “explosive,” but his actions surrounding a lead that pointed to Soros is him on a witch hunt for “a favorite target of the American right” and, of course, Russia.

Both leads apparently went nowhere.

Much like The Times’ “bombshell” report.

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Melissa Fine

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