Attorney General Bill Barr has appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a Special Counsel, elevating his current investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. The appointment took place shortly before the 2020 presidential election on October 19.
"On May 13, 2019, I directed United States Attorney John Durham to conduct a preliminary review into certain matters related to the 2016 presidential election campaigns, and Mr. Durham's review subsequently developed into a criminal investigation, which remains ongoing. Following consultation with Mr. Durham, I have determined that, in light of the extraordinary circumstances relating to these matters, the public interest warrants Mr. Durham continuing this investigation pursuant to the powers and independence afforded by the Special Counsel regulations," Barr wrote in an order. "The Special Counsel is authorized to investigate 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."
"If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from his investigation of these matters," the order continues.
The move by Barr ensures the investigation into government abuse during the 2016 presidential election and beyond will continue should former Vice President Joe Biden be inaugurated on January 20, 2021. Biden would have the ability to fire Durham, but given Democrats' record of defending Special Counsel Robert Mueller, doing so would be a tough political move.
"Although I 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. 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 wrote in a cover letter to Senate and House Judiciary Committee Chairmen Lindsey Graham and Jerry Nadler, along with Ranking Members Dianne Feinstein and Jim Jordan.
In September, Barr discussed the timing of the Durham probe during an interview with Townhall.
"You need strong evidence of intent, it seems to me, before you can charge that kind of crime so developing that evidence is a time consuming process. Most of the people who are mouthing off about 'well why aren't these people already indicted,' they don't understand the criminal justice process. People get lawyers, sometimes they won't talk to you. Even if they talk to you they'll say they'll take the fifth and you have to get documents and frequently fight over documents and fight over things in court so the investigation is a cumbersome process. It's not something that can be done quickly," Barr said.
"I've said that there are sort of two missions, I see it. One is to get to the bottom of what happened and get the facts out about that and we are going to do that and you know, try to be careful about that, that we don't do anything that would unduly interfere with the election," Barr said. "And then there's the issue of whether someone crossed the line. In the course of these, in my view, unjustified and horrible abuse of power, actually cross the line and committed a federal offense and I can't really say anything about the status of that investigation except that it's continuing and we'll be careful about not bringing indictments in a way that can be viewed as interfering with the  election."
This post has been updated with additional information.