The Durham Investigation Was More Crooked Trump Regime Misdirection
Trump— and his apologists, including, shamefully, some on the left— are still shrieking that the investigation into the well-documented Russian interference in the 2016 election and that landed their asset in the White House, was a “witch hunt.” Yesterday, in a stupendous piece of reporting, Charle Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner looked at the counter-investigation Trump Attorney General William Barr initiated. The goal— a forerunner to Gym Jordan’s new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government— was clearly to prove “that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies.” Barr hired John Durham as a special counsel so his work would continue even after the Trump regime was replaced. It turned out to be a complete bust. None of Trump’s or Barr’s accusations had any basis in fact.
Remember, despite Trump’s non-stop gaslighting— to this day— that he was “acquitted” of all collusion with Russia, the Mueller report “detailed ‘numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,’ and it established both how Moscow had worked to help Trump win and how his campaign had expected to benefit from the foreign interference.”
The trio of Times reporters found the Durham inquiry “roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Trump and Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.”
• Barr and Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Durham brought no charges over it.
• Durham used Russian intelligence memos— suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation— to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Durham has cited in any case he pursued.
• There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)
Savage, Goldman and Benner wrote how “Barr assigned Durham to scour the origins of the Russia investigation for wrongdoing, telling Fox News that he wanted to know if ‘officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale’ in deciding to pursue the investigation… While attorneys general overseeing politically sensitive inquiries tend to keep their distance from the investigators, Durham visited Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work. They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together, people familiar with their work said… [T]he two shared a worldview: They are both Catholic conservatives and Republicans, born two months apart in 1950. As a career federal prosecutor, Durham already revered the office of the attorney general, people who know him say. And as he was drawn into Barr’s personal orbit, Durham came to embrace that particular attorney general’s intense feelings about the Russia investigation. At the time Barr was confirmed, he told aides that he already suspected that intelligence abuses played a role in igniting the Russia investigation— and that unearthing any wrongdoing would be a priority.”
In May, 2019, soon after giving Durham his assignment, Barr summoned the head of the National Security Agency, Paul Nakasone, to his office. In front of several aides, Barr demanded that the N.S.A. cooperate with the Durham inquiry.
Referring to the CIA and British spies, Barr also said he suspected that the N.S.A.’s “friends” had helped instigate the Russia investigation by targeting the Trump campaign, aides briefed on the meeting said. And repeating a sexual vulgarity, he warned that if the N.S.A. wronged him by not doing all it could to help Durham, Barr would do the same to the agency.
Barr’s insistence about what he had surmised bewildered intelligence officials. But Durham spent his first months looking for any evidence that the origin of the Russia investigation involved an intelligence operation targeting the Trump campaign.
Durham’s team spent long hours combing the CIA’s files but found no way to support the allegation. Barr and Durham traveled abroad together to press British and Italian officials to reveal everything their agencies had gleaned about the Trump campaign and relayed to the United States, but both allied governments denied they had done any such thing. Top British intelligence officials expressed indignation to their U.S. counterparts about the accusation, three former U.S. officials said.
Durham and Barr had not yet given up when a new problem arose: In early December, the Justice Department’s independent inspector general, Michael Horowitz, completed his own report on the origins of the Russia investigation… [The] findings contradicted Trump’s accusations and the rationale for Durham’s inquiry. Horowitz found no evidence that FBI actions were politically motivated. And he concluded that the investigation’s basis— an Australian diplomat’s tip that a Trump campaign adviser had seemed to disclose advance knowledge that Russia would release hacked Democratic emails— had been sufficient to lawfully open it.
…Minutes before the inspector general’s report went online, Barr issued a statement contradicting Horowitz’s major finding, declaring that the FBI opened the investigation “on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient.” He would later tell Fox News that the investigation began “without any basis,” as if the diplomat’s tip never happened.
Trump also weighed in, telling reporters that the details of the inspector general’s report were “far worse than anything I would have even imagined,” adding: “I look forward to the Durham report, which is coming out in the not-too-distant future. It’s got its own information, which is this information plus, plus, plus.”
And the [most historically politicized] Justice Department sent reporters a statement from Durham that clashed with both Justice Department principles about not discussing ongoing investigations and his personal reputation as particularly tight-lipped. He said he disagreed with Horowitz’s conclusions about the Russia investigation’s origins, citing his own access to more information and “evidence collected to date.”
But as Durham’s inquiry proceeded, he never presented any evidence contradicting Horowitz’s factual findings about the basis on which FBI officials opened the investigation.
By summer 2020, it was was clear that the hunt for evidence supporting Barr’s hunch about intelligence abuses had failed. But he waited until after the 2020 election to publicly concede that there had turned out to be no sign of “foreign government activity” and that the CIA had “stayed in its lane” after all.
On one of Barr and Durham’s trips to Europe, according to people familiar with the matter, Italian officials— while denying any role in setting off the Russia investigation— unexpectedly offered a potentially explosive tip linking Trump to certain suspected financial crimes.
Barr and Durham decided that the tip was too serious and credible to ignore. But rather than assign it to another prosecutor, Barr had Durham investigate the matter himself— giving him criminal prosecution powers for the first time— even though the possible wrongdoing byTrump did not fall squarely within Durham’s assignment to scrutinize the origins of the Russia inquiry, the people said.
Durham never filed charges, and it remains unclear what level of an investigation it was, what steps he took, what he learned and whether anyone at the White House ever found out. The extraordinary fact that Durham opened a criminal investigation that included scrutinizing Trump has remained secret.
…By the spring and summer of 2020, with Trump’s re-election campaign in full swing, the Durham investigation’s “failure to deliver scalps in time for the election” began to erode Barr’s relationship with Trump, Barr wrote in his memoir.
Trump was stoking a belief among his supporters that Durham might charge former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joseph Biden. That proved too much for Barr, who in May 2020 clarified that “our concern of potential criminality is focused on others.”
Even so, in August, Trump lashed out in a Fox interview, asserting that Obama and Biden, along with top FBI and intelligence officials, had been caught in “the single biggest political crime in the history of our country” and the only thing stopping charges would be if Barr and Durham wanted to be “politically correct.”
Against that backdrop, Barr and Durham did not shut down their inquiry when the search for intelligence abuses hit a dead end. With the inspector general’s inquiry complete, they turned to a new rationale: a hunt for a basis to accuse the Clinton campaign of conspiring to defraud the government by manufacturing the suspicions that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia, along with scrutinizing what the FBI and intelligence officials knew about the Clinton campaign’s actions.
The partisan hacks McCarthy has put on his continuation of the failed Durham probe— the so-called Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government— are Gym Jordan (chair), California career criminal Darrell Issa, Kentucky sociopath Thomas Massie, Trump fellator Elise Stefanik (NY), Chris Stewart (UT), extremist Mike Johnson (LA), extremist Chip Roy (TX), Kelly Armstrong (ND), Greg Steube (FL), extremist Dan Bishop (NC), extremist Kat Cammack (FL) and sad sack Harriet Hageman (WY). Hakeem Jeffries hasn’t announced the Democrats for the committee yet.