Barr asks U.S. Attorney to probe how Russia investigation got started

The president's lawyers said they welcomed the reported move by the attorney general.
Image: John Durham
John Durham speaks to reporters on the steps of U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn on April 25, 2006.Bob Child / AP file

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By Kristen Welker and Alex Johnson

WASHINGTON — Two of President Donald Trump's personal attorneys welcomed a report Monday night that Attorney General William Barr had asked a U.S. attorney to look into the origins of the Russia investigation.

NBC News hasn't independently verified The New York Times' report that Barr had assigned John Durham, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to review the FBI's decision to open a counterintelligence investigation into alleged ties between Trump associates and Russia's campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

But, asked about the report Monday night, Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's personal attorneys, told NBC News: "I believe Barr has selected an excellent person, someone who is a career prosecutor who has worked with Republicans and Democrats."

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Giuliani, who said he wasn't consulted about Durham's reported assignment ahead of time, added, "As Barr has done throughout, he made a sensible choice."

Jay Sekulow, another of Trump's personal attorney, said: "The origins of this investigation have to be examined thoroughly, and the appointment of a U.S. attorney would be the appropriate course of action."

Barr testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee last month that he was reviewing whether federal authorities spied on the Trump campaign, saying he thought they had.

"I think spying did occur," he said. "The question is whether it was adequately predicated."

Representatives of Durham and the Justice Department didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

If the report is true, Durham, a 37-year Justice Department official, would be in charge of the third publicly known inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation, which Trump and many of his supporters have consistently referred to as a witch hunt.

The office of the Justice Department's inspector general is already reviewing the warrants used to conduct surveillance of Carter Page, a campaign aide, in October 2016.

Separately, the U.S. attorney for Utah, John Huber, is also investigating allegations of surveillance abuses by the FBI, as well as suggestions that federal investigators failed to fully investigate questions about Hillary Clinton's connections to the sale of U.S. uranium rights to a Russian-controlled company through the Clinton Foundation.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have consistently defended the Russia investigation, which culminated in special counsel Robert Mueller's report in March. The report found "sweeping" and "systematic" Russian interference in the election and identified links between Trump campaign officials and figures associated with the Russian government.

The report said it didn't conclude that Trump committed a crime, but it said it "also does not exonerate him."