Former US President Donald Trump once predicted that a special prosecutor appointed during his rule would uncover the “crime of the century” – a plot to sink his 2016 campaign.
However, this is the result of a three-year investigation by prosecutor John Durham: two acquittals – the latest on Tuesday – and a former FBI attorney sentenced to probation.
That fell far short of Trump supporters’ expectations that Durham would reveal a “deep state” plot behind the US government’s investigation into ties between Russia and the presidential campaign. Trump’s 2016 presidency.
The results led to scrutiny of the purpose of Durham’s appointment by former Attorney General William Barr, who tasked him with suspending misconduct in the Trump-Russia investigation. It also raises questions about whether or when the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, could move to rein in Durham’s work or hasten its completion.
“You really measure the success of an investigation by what it uncovers about malicious activity,” said Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and a former senior Justice Department official. poison and he found nothing.
There is no indication Durham intends to charge anyone else in his investigation. He is expected to issue a report at some point, but it is unclear if he has identified any significant misconduct or errors beyond those already covered by the watchdog. reported by the Department of Justice or not.
Barr gave Durham a broad mandate in 2019 to track down misconduct by the FBI or other agencies in the early days of the investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. At the time, Durham was a United States attorney in Connecticut with decades of Justice Department experience, including investigating CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects.
Trump supporters cheered for the appointment, and not just because of Durham’s trust.
The appointment comes shortly after the conclusion of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, which has found significant links between the Russians and Trump associates but does not allege criminal conspiracy. between them. In December 2019, a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that the Russia investigation was opened for good reason but identified numerous flaws in its conduct – giving Trump and others back him an offensive direction and optimism towards Durham.
But by the end of 2020, there were signs the Durham investigation had lost momentum.
One of his top prosecutors resigned without explanation from the Justice Department. Months later, Barr told The Wall Street Journal that he did not believe there had been improper activity in the CIA’s Russia investigation, even though suspicions about the intelligence community led to Durham’s appointment in the first place. head.
The year ended with just one criminal case – the guilty plea of an FBI attorney who admitted his doctorate to an internal email related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser. Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to probation, instead of jail. Notably, the case involved conduct discovered during an earlier investigation by the inspector general, not by Durham’s team.
Two other criminal cases, also narrow in nature, faltered. After deliberating for just a few hours, a jury in May acquitted Michael Sussmann, the lawyer involved in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. He was accused of lying to the FBI during a meeting in which he presented the office’s top lawyer with information about Trump that he believed should be investigated.
On Tuesday, a grand jury acquitted Igor Danchenko, a Russian analyst at a US think tank who was accused of lying to the FBI about his role in creating a dossier. discredited – a compendium of unproven assertions that sought to force Trump into Russia and their creation funded by the Democratic Party. During the trial, he attacked the credibility of the FBI agents who were his own witnesses.
Despite not having a criminal record, Durham has managed to shed light on aspects of the Russia investigation. For example, Danchenko’s trial focused on the origins of the records, which helped form the basis of covert surveillance applications the FBI filed to spy on the communications of former Trump campaign aides, Carter Page.
Despite this, Page remains one of the many topics under investigation by the FBI, and the record does not initiate a Russia investigation. Nor did the allegations from Durham’s investigation erase the core outcome of the Mueller investigation – that Russia wanted Trump to be elected and that Trump’s team welcomes help – nor did they offend the jurors. .
“While Durham essentially tried to get the FBI to trial through these prosecutions by pointing out the mistakes and flaws in the original Trump-Russia investigation, the cases show that the FBI was the victim. more than perpetrators and evidence of any conspiracies by FBI agents to direct Robert Mintz, a New Jersey attorney and former federal prosecutor, wrote in an email.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Durham’s future, including how long his team might continue or when he might issue a report. Weeks before he resigned, Barr appointed Durham as a special counsel to ensure his investigation would continue during the Biden administration.
A spokesperson for Durham declined to comment on criticism of the work.
Garland and senior Justice Department leaders, perhaps careful to avoid feeling entangled in such a politically charged investigation, took a rigorous approach to Durham’s work.
Before Sussmann was indicted, his lawyers appealed to senior department officials in hopes of stopping the charges, according to a person familiar with the matter, who stressed anonymity to discuss the matter. discuss private conversations. But the Justice Department rejected the objection, allowing the case to continue.
Now, however, pressure is mounting not only on Durham to come to an end but on Garland, as attorney general, urging him to follow suit.
Saltzburg said of Garland “I think he was very wise to let this take its course. go home.”
Associated Press journalist Matthew Barakat in Alexandria, Virginia, contributed to this report.