After a jet carrying Attorney General William P. Barr touched down in Rome late last month, some diplomats and intelligence officials at the American Embassy were unsure why he had come to the Eternal City. They were later surprised, two officials said, to discover that he had circumvented protocols in arranging the trip, where he met with Italian political and intelligence officials.
Everything about the visit was unusual — perhaps most of all, the attorney general’s companion and his mission. Mr. Barr and a top federal prosecutor, John H. Durham, who is reviewing the origins of the Russia investigation, sought evidence that might bolster a conspiracy theory long nurtured by President Trump: that some of America’s closest allies plotted with his “deep state” enemies in 2016 to try to prevent him from winning the presidency.
Mr. Trump has embraced the theory in his interactions with world leaders since the days after the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, testified to lawmakers in July that his investigation found insufficient evidence to charge any Trump associates with conspiring with Russia to help subvert the election. An emboldened Mr. Trump — who could benefit politically if Mr. Durham were to unearth facts that undermined Mr. Mueller’s investigation — began pressing close allies to cooperate with the review.
The trip to Italy generated criticism that Mr. Barr was doing the president’s bidding and micromanaging a supposedly independent investigation. But Mr. Barr seems to have embraced his role, signaling that he has made the investigation a priority and is personally overseeing it. [Continue reading…]