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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

Updated Apr 18, 2019 - Politics & Policy

What the Mueller report tells us about Trump and Russia

President Trump at the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The first part of special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report addresses Russian interference in the 2016 election and any role the Trump campaign may have played in those efforts.

What to know: Mueller defines election interference as comprising of 2 sets of efforts: The social media disinformation campaign carried out by a Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, and the hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails by Russian intelligence officers. He narrowly defines "coordination" as an "agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference."

This post is breaking news and will be updated.

When U.S. politicians exploit foreign disinformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. political actors will keep weaponizing the impact of widespread foreign disinformation campaigns on American elections, making these operations that much more effective and attractive to Russia, China, Iran or other countries backing them.

Why it matters: Hostile powers’ disinformation campaigns aim to destabilize the U.S., and each time a domestic politician embraces them, it demonstrates that they work.

Aug 22, 2019 - World

Russian interference, 2020

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans are at each other's throats. Politically, socially and culturally, we suspect each other's motives and plain sanity. So certain are we of the other's intent to do the nation harm, some of us have joined political gangs and assaulted one another, resulting in at least 1 death.

Which is to say: Americans have played into Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands — again. It is assumed he can attack next year's elections if he so chooses, but since no outsider knows exactly how, what comes next is one of the great underlying mystery-dramas of the 2020 election campaign.