Will the probe of Crossfire Hurricane turn out to be a bust? NBC News reported on Thursday that John Durham had requested an interview with former CIA Director John Brennan. That looked like a sign that the US Attorney’s investigation of the FBI’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane had gone all the way to the top, and that the probe would soon be completed:
The investigation ordered by Attorney General William Barr into how the CIA and the FBI looked into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia’s 2016 election interference operation may be nearing a conclusion, people familiar with it say.
One indication is that the prosecutor in charge, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, has asked to interview former CIA Director John Brennan, according to a person familiar with the request. Brennan has agreed to be interviewed, and the details are being worked out, the person said. …
Brennan, a vocal critic of Trump and an NBC News analyst, has been the subject of intense scrutiny by Durham. Brennan was director of the CIA from 2013 until the day of Trump’s inauguration. The New York Times reported in December that the prosecutor was reviewing Brennan’s emails, call logs and other records, which was confirmed to NBC News by a person familiar with the matter.
That sounded intriguing … but perhaps too good to be true. An NPR report late yesterday that focused more on the potential for an “October surprise” from the Durham investigation also contained this little nugget (via the Washington Examiner):
Durham has been on the job for more than a year now, leading some lawyers familiar with the investigation to believe he may be close to the end. One such source told NPR that Durham has asked to interview former President Barack Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, confirming a report by NBC News.
That source said both sides are trying to iron out details for the interview, which largely involves technical questions. The source added that Brennan has been told he is not a target of prosecutors.
Emphasis mine. Bear in mind that this is a term of art, something we learned again during the special-counsel probe, and not a fixed label. In any investigation, a person can start off as a witness, turn into a subject, and then become a target. The process can work in the opposite direction, too; this site gives a pretty good overview of the official Department of Justice definitions, while warning at the same time that they’re essentially meaningless. At one time, Donald Trump was told he wasn’t a target in Operation Crossfire Hurricane, but he was at least a subject, and eventually became a target whether the FBI admitted it or not.
At this late date, however, Brennan’s status as a non-target is presumably more static, assuming this report is accurate, of course. Brennan could always leap onto a table and yell, “OF COURSE IT WAS ME ALL ALONG, YOU FOOLS!!”, which could tend to change one’s status in a federal investigation. Short of that, and again assuming NPR’s source is correct, Durham’s not going after Brennan. Attorney General William Barr has already said publicly that Durham’s not going after Barack Obama or Joe Biden, and NBC reported at the link above that James Clapper has been told that Durham’s not interested in interviewing him as part of this investigation.
Who does that leave, if this is true? Probably no one outside the FBI, but perhaps the top man in charge at that time might have reason to sweat. Sally Yates accused James Comey of “going rogue” in his pursuit of Michael Flynn, although she defended the decision to investigate Flynn. She also went after lower-echelon FBI figures for submitting false information on the Carter Page FISA warrants:
In an exchange with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham during a hearing on the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation, Yates was asked whether she authorized the FBI’s January 24, 2017, interview of Flynn.
“I didn’t authorize that interview because I wasn’t told about it in advance,” Yates, who appeared remotely, told lawmakers.
Yates said that when she heard about the FBI’s interview with Flynn, “I was upset that Director Comey didn’t coordinate this with us and acted unilaterally.” Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, asked whether Comey went “rogue” with sending agents to speak with Flynn, and Yates responded, “You could use that term, yes.” …
Yates told the Senate Judiciary Committee that had she known the warrant applications submitted to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court contained inaccurate information, “I certainly wouldn’t have signed it.”
“I believe that the Department of Justice and the FBI have a duty of candor with the FISA court that was not met,” she said.
One of the attorneys involved in that process, Kevin Clinesmith, already faces potential prosecution. Inspector General Michael Horowitz made a criminal referral on Clinesmith for allegedly tampering with evidence in order to support the warrant application. The question is whether Durham will find enough to charge others with crimes in the Crossfire Hurricane probe. At this point, it appears that Durham might only be focusing on lower-level figures in the scandal — perhaps as high as Comey, maybe more along the lines of Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe.
If so, that will disappoint many who suspected this went all the way to the Oval Office. Even a Comey indictment wouldn’t be enough to prove a wide-ranging political conspiracy against Trump in the Obama administration, and that seems like a long shot in the Durham probe anyway. However, if Durham feels compelled to write a report laying out a larger narrative, that may indeed have more impact — but Barr has all but committed to sticking to indictments as the only public statements from the Durham probe. Will he stick to that?