Barr Got More Power to Review the Russia Inquiry. Here’s What We Know About Its Origins.

WASHINGTON — President Trump has given Attorney General William P. Barr extraordinary powers to declassify intelligence secrets as part of his review into how the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were investigated. That means Mr. Barr could make documents or information from the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. public over their intense objections, setting up a possible confrontation between the law enforcement and intelligence communities.

As the president tries to find evidence that he was the target of a political witch hunt, former and current intelligence officials are worried about the exposure of secret sources and sensitive methods. “This was an attempted takedown of the president of the United States,” Mr. Trump said on Friday.

Here is what we know about the origins of the investigation.

In July 2016, WikiLeaks released Democratic emails stolen by Russian military intelligence officers and posted thousands of internal Democratic National Committee documents revealing information about the Clinton campaign. That same month, the F.B.I. learned that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had told an Australian diplomat that he was told that the Russians had stolen Democratic emails before they were made public. F.B.I. agents traveled to London to interview the diplomat and his assistant.

Those interviews, along with information about Russian hacking, were used to open the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether any Trump associate had conspired with the Russian government. On Friday, Mr. Trump said he hoped that Mr. Barr would scrutinize the roles of the Australian and British governments in the opening of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation. Both countries work closely with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.

The F.B.I. focused on the men because of their Russian contacts. Mr. Flynn and Mr. Papadopoulos later pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. as part of the inquiry. Mr. Manafort was also convicted of tax fraud and other charges brought by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who took over the investigation in May 2017, and pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

Mr. Mueller’s investigators concluded that they did not have enough evidence to make a case that the men conspired with Russia’s election interference campaign. Investigators “did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that campaign officials such as Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page acted as agents of the Russian government — or at its direction, control or request — during the relevant time period,” they wrote.

Mr. Trump and his allies have focused their attention on the F.B.I.’s use of an informant who met with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos to better understand the extent of their possible contacts with Russians. The informant, Stefan Halper, an American academic who taught at Cambridge University in Britain, met with the men while they were still Trump campaign advisers. Mr. Page visited Mr. Halper’s house in Virginia in August 2016, and Mr. Halper arranged a meeting with Mr. Papadopoulos the next month in London.

The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, has said he was unaware of any illegal surveillance and has refused to call agents’ work “spying.”

In October 2016, more than two months after the investigation was opened, F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors obtained approval from a federal judge to wiretap Mr. Page. Mr. Trump’s allies have pointed to the warrant as major evidence that law enforcement officials were abusing their authority.

The wiretap application partly relied on Democratic-funded opposition research compiled into a dossier by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who was also an F.B.I. informant. Former officials have long maintained that the dossier was not used to open the investigation in July 2016.

Because the story involves an attack on an American election by a foreign adversary, presidential authority, the national security bureaucracy and other levers of power, and because Mr. Trump persists in accusing the government officials who investigated him and his campaign of an illegal witch hunt — or as he said on Friday, the “greatest hoax probably in the history our country.”

No longer constrained by the Mueller investigation, Mr. Trump appears determined to find ways to prove his accusations that the American intelligence community acted inappropriately.

Mr. Trump’s allies and other skeptics have also suggested that the Russia investigation actually began earlier than F.B.I. officials have said, suggesting that the bureau and foreign partners were plotting to take down Mr. Trump, rather than opening an inquiry based on facts. The Australian diplomat meeting with Mr. Papadopoulos was “paper cover for an investigation of the Trump campaign that was already underway,” Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and contributing editor, wrote in National Review, a conservative magazine.

In his report, Mr. Mueller reaffirmed that the F.B.I. had opened the Russia investigation after receiving the information about Mr. Papadopoulos from the Australian government on July 26, 2016.

The attorney general has echoed the president’s concerns about spying on Mr. Trump’s campaign. Mr. Barr recently assigned John H. Durham, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to examine the origins of the Russia investigation in a review that the attorney general is overseeing.

Mr. Barr also wants to know what the C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies were doing in 2016 and what they knew about Russia’s effort to sabotage the election. The C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, was the agency’s station chief in London in 2016 when Australian officials passed Mr. Papadopoulos’s information about Russia’s email hacking to the United States and when Mr. Halper arranged his meeting with Mr. Papadopoulos. It is not clear what Ms. Haspel knew about the operation, but a person familiar with the events said that the British intelligence service MI-5 was made aware of F.B.I. activities in London.

On Friday, the president said he hoped that Mr. Barr would look at Britain: “We’re going to find out what happened and why it happened.”


more recommended stories

  • Can Europe Wean Itself From Fossil Fuels? Its Leaders Are About to Decide

    Want climate news in your inbox?.

  • At Raucous Reparations Hearing, Ta-Nehisi Coates Takes Aim at Mitch McConnell

    The House waded into the decades-old.

  • U.S. Navy Says Mine Fragments Point to Iran in Tanker Attack

    Fragments recovered from one of two.

  • We Put 21 Democrats on the Spot: Here Are 7 Takeaways

    We tracked down 2020 Democrats and.

  • Biden, Recalling Civility in Senate, Invokes Two Segregationist Senators

    Joseph R. Biden Jr., defending himself.

  • Donald Trump Attacks Familiar Foes at Orlando Rally – Video

    Channels & Shows Home Search Donald.

  • ICE Signals Mass Immigration Arrests, but Not the ‘Millions’ Trump Promised

    WASHINGTON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

  • Trump, Seeking Re-election Since His Inauguration, Will Now Make It Official

    ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost four years.

  • As U.S. and Iran Face Off, Europe Is Stuck in the Middle

    BRUSSELS — As tensions between Washington.

  • Amy Klobuchar to Outline Plans for Her First 100 Days as President

    WASHINGTON — Senator Amy Klobuchar of.

  • On Politics: Iran Threatens to Exceed Nuclear Limits

    Good Tuesday morning. Here are some.

  • Landlords Oppose Trump Plan to Evict Undocumented Immigrants

    WASHINGTON — Landlords and local officials.

  • What Do You Want to See From the Democratic Debates?

    The 2020 Democratic primary race is.

  • ‘Hillary and Clinton’ to End Broadway Run Early

    “Hillary and Clinton,” a Broadway play.

  • Trump Campaign to Purge Pollsters After Leak of Dismal Results

    “These leaked numbers are ancient, in.

  • Elizabeth Warren Is Completely Serious

    A month earlier in Mingo County,.

  • On Politics: Trump Ousts Pollsters

    • Retailers like Walmart and Costco.

  • Drug Prices Are a Populist Campaign Issue. Here Are the Latest Proposals to Lower Costs.

    It can be hard to find.

  • Driver’s Licenses for the Undocumented: New York’s Immigration Land Mine

    [What you need to know to.

  • Visa Delays at Backlogged Immigration Service Strand International Students

    WASHINGTON — The visa applications of.

  • ‘Catastrophic,’ ‘Cataclysmic’: Trump’s Tariff Threat Has Retailers Sounding Alarm

    Already battered by the e-commerce revolution,.

  • 2020 Democratic Favorites for New York Donors? Biden, Buttigieg, Harris

    Mr. Booker, a fixture on the.

  • Trump Renews Feud With London Mayor, Calling Him a ‘Disaster’

    WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday.

  • Democratic Candidates Promise to Close Wealth Gap Between Blacks and Whites

    CHARLESTON, S.C. — Four top Democratic.

  • In Face-Off With Iran, Escalation May Depend on Who Prevails Inside Washington and Tehran

    WASHINGTON — As Iran and the.

  • Immigrants Brought Riches to Urban Schools. Now They’re in the Shadows.

    BALTIMORE — Mary Donnelly, the principal.

  • As Passions Flare in Abortion Debate, Many Americans Say ‘It’s Complicated’

    Few states have a political history.

  • U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid

    After Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Russian hackers.

  • Justice Dept. Backs Mnuchin’s Refusal to Release Trump’s Tax Returns

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on.

  • A President With a Taste for Planes Has a Plan for Air Force One: Paint It Red, White and Blue

    WASHINGTON — As someone who fancies.

  • Roadside Blast in Niger That Hit Americans Shows Growing Threat, Officials Say

    WASHINGTON — The roadside bomb that.

  • New York City Allocates $250,000 for Abortions, Challenging Conservative States

    [What you need to know to.