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Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr told the AP on Tuesday he appointed veteran prosecutor John Durham as a special counsel on Oct. 19 to continue investigating the origins of the FBI's 2016 probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Why it matters: It's an extra layer of protection for Durham to continue investigating possible misconduct by Obama-era intelligence officials past Joe Biden's inauguration as president.

The big picture: President Trump and his allies have long predicted that Durham's investigation would lead to the indictments of high-level Obama administration officials, who they claim orchestrated the Russia investigation as a political hit job.

  • Thus far, Durham's sweeping investigation has only netted one criminal charge — a low-level FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to altering a surveillance application for Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
  • In October, Barr informed Republicans in Congress that Durham would not release a report or file any more charges before the election — infuriating Trump and his allies.

Timing: The special counsel order is dated Oct. 19, but Barr did not notify the House and Senate Judiciary committees of the move until Tuesday, Dec. 1. He said he waited to do so given the proximity to the election.

Details: Durham's appointment as special counsel authorizes him “to investigate whether any federal official, employee or any person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence or law enforcement activities” directed at the 2016 presidential campaigns, anyone associated with the campaigns or the Trump administration, according to the order released by the Justice Department.

What they're saying: “I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election," Barr told the AP in an interview.

  • He added that the Durham investigation, a criminal probe, has “narrowed considerably” and now “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI" — which probed ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Between the lines: Durham's focus on the FBI suggests that the CIA is no longer a target, dealing a blow to Trump and his allies' claims of a grand "deep state" conspiracy by the intelligence community, according to AP.

Read the order via DocumentCloud.

Go deeper

Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as FBI director

FBI Director Christopher Wray at a virtual DOJ news briefing on Oct. 28. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as director of the FBI and has "confidence in the job he is doing," White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed in a tweet Thursday.

The big picture: Wray, who was nominated by former President Trump in 2017 after he fired former FBI Director James Comey, came under heavy criticism from Trump and his allies over the past year.

Off the Rails

Descent into madness

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

Scoop: Over 200 papers quietly sue Big Tech

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Newspapers all over the country have been quietly filing lawsuits against Google and Facebook for the past year, alleging the two firms monopolized the digital ad market for revenue that would otherwise go to local news. 

Why it matters: What started as a small-town effort to take a stand against Big Tech has turned into a national movement, with over 200 newspapers involved across dozens of states.