Attorney General William Barr named Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham a special counsel, giving him protection to continue into the Biden administration his investigation of the FBI’s 2016 Russia probe’s origins, the Wall Street Journal reports. Barr appointed Durham under the same regulation used to name Robert Mueller in 2017 to oversee that Russia investigation, which examined Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election and links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Barr made the appointment on Oct. 19 but delayed notifying lawmakers, “given the proximity to the presidential election.” The move likely means President-elect Joe Biden’s Justice Department will be left to address Durham’s investigation.
Barr tapped Durham last year to lead a wide-ranging inquiry into the actions of investigators, but he had no official title other than U.S. Attorney. The special counsel designation means that he isn’t subject to day-to-day supervision by agency officials, and can be fired only for misconduct or a conflict of interest. If the attorney general decides to overrule an investigative or prosecutorial step a special counsel wants to take, the A must tell Congress. President Donald Trump has expressed frustration that Durham didn’t deliver any of his findings before the Nov. 3 presidential election. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “Barr is using the special counsel law for a purpose it was not intended: to continue a politically motivated investigation long after Barr leaves office.”