If there is any issue that cries out for a special counsel investigation, it is the evolution of the Trump-Russia collusion theory. Attorney General William Barr may well have decided that the nation does not need to go through such an ordeal again, but he did the next best thing by tapping John H. Durham to investigate what could well be the most nefarious political conspiracy in American history.
Durham is Connecticut’s top federal prosecutor, an attorney with a reputation for toughness and a résumé that includes investigations into high-level government corruption cases. Reports suggest that he has been on the job for some weeks already, and that is an indication of how seriously the matter is being taken by the attorney general.
A History of Investigating Government Officials
In 1999, Durham was appointed special prosecutor to investigate alleged ties among Boston police officers, federal agents, and organized crime figures, including James “Whitey” Bulger. As a result of Durham’s work, four men who had been imprisoned for murder years earlier had their sentences vacated because they had been framed by the FBI. One retired agent was sentenced to ten years in prison on racketeering charges. Another former agent who faced charges died before his trial.
In 2008, Durham was assigned to look into a major scandal involving the CIA’s destruction of graphic interrogation recordings, though the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to bring charges in the case. The following year, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Durham to examine the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” methods.
Upping the Ante
If Barr did not anticipate the possibility of criminal indictments or the need to subpoena former government officials – people like former FBI Director James Comey – he could have handed off the probe to Michael Horowitz, the DOJ’s inspector general. Horowitz, who is currently looking into the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant in 2016 and three subsequent extensions of that warrant, does not have the scope of authority to investigate the affair conclusively. Essentially, inspectors general could be described more as auditors than investigators.
The Justice Department’s IG is expected to deliver his report sometime in June, and Durham may well use Horowitz’s findings in his own investigation. Unlike Horowitz, Durham can subpoena private citizens – including former government officials – as well as utilize the full range of prosecutorial tools.
A Massachusetts native, Durham was appointed in 2017 to his current position as a U.S. attorney by President Donald Trump. The prosecutor’s scope, with regard to the origins of the Russia investigation, has not been revealed by the DOJ. According to a source not authorized to comment publicly, Durham will determine whether the original FBI probe into alleged collusion between Russia and Trump campaign associates was properly conducted.
Durham, a Republican, is known as “apolitical.” His record indicates a tough but fair prosecutor who, as The Washington Post put it in 2009, has “parachuted into crisis situations for both political parties over three decades.” The fact that Barr has enlisted him is no small matter. The entire collusion story has crumbled rapidly, over the past few months, and it now seems possible – finally – that those who conspired to fabricate a phony, politically motivated counterintelligence operation will face a reckoning.
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