Saturday, October 19, 2019

Where Does The Durham Investigation Currently Stand?

This morning we have two fairly lengthy articles out that offer--along with generous helpings of political bias and tendentious misrepresentations--some idea of where John Durham's investigation stands and how we should expect it to proceed. 

The two articles appear in the NTY and at NBC. They track each other closely, meaning that they clearly rely on the same sources. The intent is just as clearly to get a narrative out, to rally the political left and intimidate Congressional GOPers. The narrative? That the Barr/Durham investigation is a "controversial" political witchhunt that may even somehow be legally suspect and, in any event, is based in conspiracy theory--the last claim being particularly rich, coming from a political position that's reduced itself to a bizarre lefty version of McCarthyism, accusing all opponents or even inconvenient dissenters as "Russian agents." The desperation verging on hysteria at the progress of the investigation is everywhere apparent in these articles, as also in the NYT Op-Ed yesterday.

Still, let's make of it what we can. Here are the two articles--NYT and NBC, in that order:

Review of Russia Inquiry Grows as F.B.I. Witnesses Are Questioned
The review, led by the prosecutor John Durham, has focused on former investigators who are frequent targets of President Trump.

AG Barr expands mysterious review into origin of Russia investigation
If U.S. Attorney John Durham is conducting a criminal investigation, it’s not clear what allegations of wrongdoing are being examined.

The NYT article is somewhat more detailed so I'll follow that, for the most part. I'll provide what appear to be reliable facts concerning the direction of the investigation. Follow the links for the political spin.

In general, what we see is what can be expected. Durham is methodically working his way up the investigative ladder. As expected, the FBI is located at the bottom rungs. Durham is interviewing the outer circles at the FBI before confronting the central players: Strzok, McCabe, Baker, and Comey. Once that aspect of the investigation has been completed he will be moving on to the CIA, which he clearly views as located at a higher position on the ladder. Left out of the story is where the position of former DoJ officials--Sally Yates, David Laufman, Andrew Weissmann, Rod Rosenstein, Bruce Ohr, etc.--fit in this scheme of things. My guess is that they may occupy an even higher rung on the ladder, for the reason that, while Brennan may have been the core planner, none of this coup attempt would have gone anywhere without DoJ cooperation--they controlled the key legal levers of power.

At the same time, Durham has been hard at work tracking down foreign players, with AG Barr's assistance. Key in all this is Barr's role. He is reported to be closely monitoring and directing the entire investigation. Thus:

Federal prosecutors reviewing the origins of the Russia investigation have asked witnesses pointed questions about any anti-Trump bias among former F.B.I. officials who are frequent targets of President Trump and about the earliest steps they took in the Russia inquiry, ...
The prosecutors, led by John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, have interviewed about two dozen former and current F.B.I. officials, ...
The number of interviews shows that Mr. Durham’s review is further along than previously known. ...
Closely overseen by Mr. Barr, Mr. Durham and his investigators have sought help from governments in countries that figure into ... the Russia investigation, ...
... Ukraine is one country that Mr. Durham has sought help from. His team has interviewed private Ukrainian citizens, ...
Mr. Durham has yet to interview all the F.B.I. officials who played key roles in opening the Russian investigation in the summer of 2016, the people familiar with the review said. He has not spoken with Peter Strzok, a former top counterintelligence official who opened the inquiry; the former director James B. Comey or his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe; or James A. Baker, then the bureau’s general counsel.
Those omissions suggest Mr. Durham may be waiting until he has gathered all the facts before he asks to question the main decision makers in the Russia inquiry.
Mr. Durham’s investigators appeared focused at one point on Mr. Strzok, said one former official who was interviewed. Mr. Strzok opened the Russia inquiry in late July 2016 after receiving information from the Australian government that the Russians had offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton to a Trump campaign adviser. Mr. Durham’s team has asked about the events surrounding the Australian tip, some of the people familiar with the review said.
Mr. Durham’s team, including Nora R. Dannehy, a veteran prosecutor, has questioned witnesses about why Mr. Strzok both drafted and signed the paperwork opening the investigation, suggesting that was unusual for one person to take both steps. Mr. Strzok began the inquiry after consulting with F.B.I. leadership, former officials familiar with the episode said.
Mr. Durham has also questioned why Mr. Strzok opened the case on a weekend, again suggesting that the step might have been out of the ordinary. Former officials said that Mr. McCabe had directed Mr. Strzok to travel immediately to London to interview the two Australian diplomats who had learned about the Russians’ offer to help the Trump campaign and that he was trying to ensure he took the necessary administrative steps first.
It is not clear how many people Mr. Durham’s team has interviewed outside of the F.B.I. His investigators have questioned officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence but apparently have yet to interview C.I.A. personnel, people familiar with the review said. Mr. Durham would probably want to speak with Gina Haspel, the agency’s director, who ran its London station when the Australians passed along the explosive information about Russia’s offer of political dirt. [Yes, notice how that last part is reported as "fact."]
Many of the questions from Mr. Durham’s team overlapped with ones that the Justice Department inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, has posed in his own look into aspects of the Russia inquiry, according to the people.
... Mr. Durham has asked witnesses about the role of Christopher Steele,  ...
Mr. Durham’s investigators asked why F.B.I. officials would use unsubstantiated or incorrect information in their application for a court order allowing the wiretap and seemed skeptical about why agents relied on Mr. Steele’s dossier.
The inspector general has also raised concerns that the F.B.I. inflated Mr. Steele’s value as an informant in order to obtain the wiretap on Mr. Page. Mr. Durham’s investigators have done the same, according to the people familiar with his review.
Mr. Horowitz has asked witnesses about an assessment of Mr. Steele that MI6, the British spy agency, provided to the F.B.I. after bureau officials received his dossier on Mr. Trump in September 2016. MI6 officials said Mr. Steele, a Russia expert, was honest and persistent but sometimes showed questionable judgment in pursuing targets that others viewed as a waste of time, two people familiar with the assessment said.

Thus, the NYT. From NBC we glean this additional information. Some of it has already been discussed, as that Barr's investigation is in no way limited or constrained by Horowitz's IG investigation.

... Durham, has expressed his intent to interview a number of current and former intelligence officials ... including former CIA Director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, Brennan told NBC News.
Durham has also requested to talk to CIA analysts involved in the intelligence assessment of Russia’s activities, prompting some of them to hire lawyers, according to three former CIA officials familiar with the matter. And there is tension between the CIA and the Justice Department over what classified documents Durham can examine, two people familiar with the matter said.
Although the probe did not begin as a criminal investigation, Justice Department officials won’t comment on whether it has morphed into one.
But Barr has said he believes an IG inquiry is not sufficient to answer the questions he has about how the investigation began. In doing so, he made comments suggesting Durham had authority only a criminal investigation could provide.
In a May 31 interview with CBS News, Barr said Horowitz “doesn't have the power to compel testimony, he doesn't have the power really to investigate beyond the current cast of characters at the Department of Justice. His ability to get information from former officials or from other agencies outside the department is very limited.”
Justice Department officials have said that Durham has found something significant, and that critics should be careful.
Skeptics who have been trying to track Durham’s movements say he has yet to interview key figures, including former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Stzrok and former FBI general counsel James Baker.
“Nobody who knows anything has been interviewed,” said a person in touch with those former officials. [No, Durham is not likely to be bullied by the press into interviewing those key players until he has all his ducks in a row. No interview before its time.]
But Durham has been busy on other fronts. ...
A Western intelligence official familiar with what Durham has been asking of foreign officials says his inquiries track closely with the questions raised about the Russia investigation in right-wing media. [LOL!] Many of those questions spring from accusations made by George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He declined to comment Friday.

Trump and his "personal lawyer" enjoying a laugh together.


  1. "...the Russians’ offer to help the Trump campaign."

    "...the explosive information about Russia’s offer of political dirt. [Yes, notice how that last part is reported as "fact."]"

    While the last refuge of a scoundrel may be patriotism, his first refuge is lying by omission, and his second is begging the question.

    1. Despicable. One forgets how loathesome ...

      But then one is reminded.

    2. I guess they would consider Hillary's statement about Tulsi Babbard to be conspiracy theory too.

  2. Barr/Durham don't need to announce the status of the investigation. It's obvious.
    Hillary is now screeching at "disloyal" Democrats.
    Congressroaches are scurrying around trying to build an impeachment nest to hide in.
    Democrat Media are bug-eyed with rage at Trump The Russian Agent no wait The North Korean Naif no wait The Orange Rapist no wait The Recession King no wait The Ukrainian Mafia Don no wait The Turkish Puppet.
    Democrats are freaking out. What do they know they're not telling us?

    1. They undoubtedly know more than we do. And they don't want anyone else to know what they know. They're still hoping to cover it up.

  3. I read both articles earlier today. The FBI and DoJ people are already retreating to a defense line that they were fed bad intelligence by Steele and the CIA. I don't think this line of defense is likely to work. I get the impression that Steele might well have flipped on his handlers- it is difficult to explain the tone of the articles in regards to the dossier with any other explanation. I wouldn't be surprised to find articles in the next couple of weeks literally claiming Steele is a fraud and a cheat in these same media organs.

    1. I agree that this line of defense isn't likely to hold. One big problem for the conspirators, of course, is that none of them can be sure that one or more of their number hasn't already flipped and may even be wearing a wire. Hard to coordinate defense in such circumstances.

    2. Totally agree they shouldn't be able to get around the fact Steele never assured them the info was solid. In addition to what Mark mentioned, there should be a paper trail, including on Steele's end. And even if they all say Steele did assure them, they knew enough very early on (the source they checked who turned out to be garbage, the Kavalec memos, etc) that assurance was utterly unfounded, which meant he wasn't reliable as a source which means no way could they have legitimately based what they did on his assurance.

      On a side note - Stephen McIntyre earlier today:

      "I wonder if 'whistleblower' would have been so insolent if Comey had been prosecuted for leaking - as he ought to have been."

      Not a bad point.

    3. Another major point re Steele and the FBI--they knew he was working for Hillary through Glenn Simpson. Ohr told them.

    4. Don't forget Steele would've been known to AG Loretta Lynch, whose office prosecuted the FIFA case when she was USA in the EDNY. And who can forget the infamous June 27, 2016 meeting on the tarmac in Phoenix between Bill Clinton and LL. Lynch's first appointment as USA for EDNY was by Bill Clinton in 1999.

  4. Another point: aren't McCabe, Strzok, Page and Priestap's fingerprints all over the FBI's London escapades in the Spring of 2016? Those guys work for the FBI, n'est-ce pas? How was that the CIA's fault?

    1. I think the idea is that the guidance, direction, and resources came from Brennan and the CIA. For example, Mifsud, Downer, Halper and others would have been primarily CIA contacts. They may well have been known to the FBI, but their primary work would have been with the CIA. So the CIA shared those assets with the FBI.

    2. Got it.

      But the FBI co-operated (co-conspired?) in, for example, the false Mifsud narrative. They knew he was not a Russian asset. They lied. For example, they lied to the Papadopoulos judge. Whether or not they were bamboozled by Brennan into believing the Russia delusion.

      Which they weren't. Remember Peter Strzok: "There's no big there there."

    3. Plus...

      John Brennan and the CIA boys aren't just going to roll over and concede that it was all their idea and they just duped poor James Comey and pals, will they?

      It should be fun watching them blame each other...should we (it is devoutly to be prayed) get that far.

    4. Of course you're right--the FBI was undoubtedly complicit, although they'll try to claim otherwise, and the CIA won't just roll over. The second part first--as the article indicates, the CIA is fighting in part a delaying action on declassification and in part a counterattack through collusion with the House Dems and through leaks. Standard Bureaucratic fare. As for the FBI, the reason I've spent so much time over the months stressing the importance of the Guidelines of various sorts, especially re opening investigations and justifying the use of various investigative techniques (esp. FISA, but others as well) is because the failure to follow the Guidelines except in a pro forma way gives the lie to their claim that they acted in good faith. Thus, the articles show Durham honing in on those issues: you opened it on a Sunday, you wrote and approved the opening yourself without review from above? Etc.

    5. These are exactly the issues I would expect Durham (and Horowitz) to focus on as building blocks to the overall conspiracy theory (in the correct legal sense of establishing that such a conspiracy existed and is chargeable as such).

  5. And the other truly striking thing about these articles is that they directly contradict the narrative being put forth by the politicians in the Democratic Party as late as of today- that Russia still has Trump over a barrel. The prospect of being charged does force one to abandon cherished narratives for other, more personally practical ones.

    1. Right again. That "all roads lead to Putin" nonsense is pablum for Leftist cretins who dwell in a weird Lefty McCarthy-ite dream world of "right wing" conspiracies. All the major players know that's all BS. From Hillary and Obama on down through DoS, CIA, FBI, NYT, and the rest. With their backs to the wall, as you suggest, they forget to even raise that nonsense and grasp at straws such as that Barr's investigation is somehow baseless or even illegal. Yet if you go to Lefty sites, the true believers are in full cry with their bizarre theories.


    The subtitle of this article is 'Following the Damascus-Kurdish alliance, Syria may become the biggest defeat for the Central Intelligence Agency since Vietnam'.

    I don't know Pepe Escobar, nor do I follow him. I'm no expert (far from it) on Syria and the Greater Middle East. And I find his article pretty tough reading...

    But if he is right...that the CIA has suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of...Vladimir Putin and...Donald Trump...

    Well, then, maybe the squeals from Brennan, and the McRavens, and even Hillary Clinton, for example, begin to make sense...

    There is more of this kind of thinking on zerohedge this morning:

    1. I'll check those out. I'm generally very cautious, not to say skeptical, re escobar. Luongo too, although not to the same degree. Sometimes entertaining and provocative.

    2. I read them. Here's a quick take, FWIW. Escobar provides useful historical background to a point, but essentially nothing about the CIA role in recent Syrian history--despite the subtitle.

      Luongo, as usual, has flashes of insight. I like his discussions of the dynamics of bureaucratic jockeying around Trump. That suggests that Trump, while having made big personnel mistakes, must nevertheless be one helluva sharp guy in the end. If Luongo is right about Milley, and with Barr in place, Trump and Mulvaney may be in position to take control over government finally. We shall see.

  7. As loathsome as Comey is, he got played by Brennan, who dumped a load of crap on the FBI in the summer of 2016 and them asked them to save the day despite the (typical) CIA incompetence in running a coup OP. Comey tiptoed the FBI into the coup with trepidation and got temporary cold feet after the Weiner laptop fiasco. Comey still thinks that his cache of personal diary memos will save him if Durham indictments him.

    That said, Comey is being set up to flip (and could take down all the high players if he does), but the Swamp thinks they can stop the bleeding at Brennan, who is now designated as the official fall-guy. Brennan's counter-strategy is to threaten to expose some GOPe senators as co-conspirators in the coup. The timing is getting very dicey as at least one of these senators is up for reelection next year. Bumpy road ahead.

    1. It seems clear that Barr's investigation has driven a wedge between the historically unlikely CIA/FBI alliance. If Comey cooperates Barr might be willing to give him a deal, given that the biggest players are above him and that Barr's DoJ can probably subdue Wray at FBI.

      There's little doubt that senators were involved in the coup, and that would have to include GOPe types. McConnell's posturing--I think he was smart enough to stay clear of the coup--may be intended to protect his turf, which would also strengthen his hand within the senate.

    2. I may be able to add to the bit about CIA/FBI later. The whole IC concept was a dangerous delusion, almost creating a de facto praetorian guard around and controlling the POTUS. Trump seems to understand that, thus his talk of neutering (reducing in size is euphemistic) the ODNI. Restoring distrust and rivalry between CIA and FBI is important.

  8. I thought Luongo's post a day or so ago on Gabbard going after Clinton was highly entertaining...and basically right on.

    Well worth reading. But I know nothing else about him.

    On the question of what do recent events in Syria mean big picture...I'm with you -- let's be cautious.

    As for me, I have yet another big learning curve in front of me to understand what's going on in Syria...but I can well imagine that Brennan and Trump do not see eye to eye on what's going on...

    1. Escobar doesn't get into the civilizational rivalries among the various players that go back literally over 2000 years. Syria has been and will remain a crucible for some of those conflicts. We think of Turks as inhabiting Anatolia. They do, now, of course, but they have inhabited Central Asia for far longer and have regularly invaded and devastated Persia to the West and the Subcontinent to the south and east. The Mongol horde brought Central Asian Turks to Russia (and the Crimea) to torment the Russians and other Slavs for centuries. Any thought that these groups want peace rather than dominance is naive. As for the Arabs, absent Western protection they would be crushed by Turks and/or Persians.

  9. "As for the Arabs, absent Western protection they would be crushed by Turks and/or Persians."

    Thereby justifying Endless War at a cost of trillions? Perhaps...just asking...

    I have been ruminating about our role as the world's policeman this morning (and, again, I am no scholar...)

    It seems to me we have had three ostensibly good reasons since WWII ended to spend our blood and treasure abroad.

    1. To defeat Communism.
    2. To protect our source of oil in the Middle East.
    3. To protect and defend the world's shipping lanes to promote global trade.

    (There is perhaps a fourth -- to protect Israel in the Middle East -- but that one's above my pay grade...)

    As for the first three, it seems that 'Communism', at least in the Cold War sense, is no longer a threat. Is Putin really an existential threat? Perhaps there is some new ideological threat arising in the East...

    As far as Middle Eastern oil is concerned, the political calculus must have shifted substantially over the last ten years or so as the United States has become increasingly self-sufficient in energy production.

    Lastly, the cost of our undertaking to protect the world's shipping lanes is undoubtedly being reexamined in the Trump Administration as it looks at the costs and benefits of globalized trade and in particular reviews the China ledger. I would have thought America First politics would inevitably impact our desire to police the world's trade routes.

    Just some Sunday morning ruminations...

    1. Re ME oil, that's not actually for us. We're protecting the source of oil for Europe, Japan, and China--we don't want China protecting it for themselves.

    2. Re: ME oil protection: Not just for Europe, et al, but to prevent ISIS & other terrorists from grabbing control of it.

    3. The point is that we don't need ME oil and wouldn't care who had it--except that our "allies", or at least people we want to control, need it. That's the only reason we care who controls it.

    4. "other terrorists"

      Like the Saudis?

      Other problems with that narrative--we and other allies have supported ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria.