Special Prosecutor John Durham took his latest loss. But has he failed?

John Durham.

John Durham. Illustrated | Getty Images

Special counsel John Durham lost in court on Tuesday when a federal jury acquitted Igor Danchenko, a private investigator he charged with five charges of lying to the FBI. It was Durham’s second loss in the two lawsuits he filed during his three-and-a-half-year investigation into the origins of the Justice Department’s investigation into former President Donald Trump’s campaign and its ties to Russia. It is also likely to be Durham’s last case, and last loss, as special counsel.

Trump and his supporters had long maintained that the Durham investigation would turn out to be a ‘deep state’ conspiracy against him. The New York Times reports. “Trump predicted that Durham would discover ‘the crime of the century’ within the US law enforcement and intelligence agencies investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia,” Trump said. The Washington Post adds. Instead, he was given a plea deal and 12 months probation for an FBI attorney who admitted to falsifying information to renew a top-secret warrant.

Here’s a look back at what Durham had to research, what he did, and why he couldn’t find more:

What was Durham’s order?

William Barr, shortly after Trump appointed him attorney general, ordered Durham, then the US attorney in Connecticut, to review the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. At that time, in May 2019, Durham was the third active investigation into the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation, along with investigations by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah.

By October 2019, Durham’s administrative review had been turned into a criminal investigation, although the Justice Department had not released any information about who or what crimes were being investigated. A month earlier, Barr and Durham had traveled to Italy to ask the Italian government for help with the investigation, and Barr also asked for help from Australia and Britain.

In December 2020, Barr announced that he had upgraded Durham to special counsel just before the election, to protect him from political interference in the event that Trump loses. Order from Barr on October 19, obtained by: The Associated Pressauthorized Durham to “investigate whether any federal official, employee, or any person or entity has violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counterintelligence, or law enforcement activities” targeting the 2016 presidential campaigns or officials of the Trump administration.

Barr told AP that Durham’s investigation started very broad but was “considerably curtailed” and “really focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI.”

What has he achieved as special counsel?

Durham’s investigation has been shrouded in mystery since its inception, but his major public efforts have included the guilty plea for FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith and the failed prosecution of Danchenko, a key source of information used by former British spy Christopher Steele in his largely discredited Trump-Russia dossier, and cybersecurity attorney Michael Sussmann.

That may not seem like much, especially since the Horowitz investigation developed the case against Clinesmith.

But “Durham and his aides used the forum of the recent lawsuits to provide evidence of what they suggested FBI personnel failed to find clues as they investigated the provenance of the Steele file,” PoliticsJosh Gerstein writes. “Durham’s open criticism of the FBI made for an unusual spectacle at the trial, as he and his team attacked the prowess of FBI agents and analysts who were the prosecution’s primary witnesses,” but Durham’s “disciples” see those salvos as ” a silver lining in the veteran’s checkered courtroom record.”

The Sussmann and Danchenko cases may have also achieved something else, the Time reports, referring to Durham’s crisis, “In pursuing charges, they have harmed national security.” Especially in the latter case, Durham’s FBI witnesses said that Danchenko had become a valuable paid informant that FBI agents can no longer use because Barr effectively revealed his identity and Durham charged him.

What’s next in Durham’s investigation?

“If Danchenko is indeed Durham’s last criminal case, then his report will be next,” The Washington Examiner reports. “The special counsel is reportedly working to finalize a long line of findings outlining the conclusions of his investigation, which will be turned over to Attorney General Merrick Garland,” and Garland has testified that he plans to release as much as possible. to the public.

Durham has used his trials to portray his investigation as a sort of antidote to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian election meddling — though in some cases he misrepresented Mueller’s findings. Barr has released an edited version of Mueller’s final report; subsequent documents suggest Barr put his thumb on the scale in Trump’s favor from the jump.

How does Durham’s investigation compare to Mueller’s?

Mueller accomplished a lot more than Durham in less time, but he had more resources at his disposal and presumably better material to work with. Mueller has submitted his final report 23 months after his appointment as special counsel, while Durham is now in the 42nd month of his investigation, according to a chart compiled by Marcy Wheeler.

While Durham indicted three minor characters in the Trump-Russia saga and got one plea deal, Mueller has indicted 34 people — including top Trump associates Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn — and three Russian companies. He received nine convictions or IOUs, and passed on to other prosecutors a handful of fruitful investigations that did not fit within his purview. Trump then pardoned Manafort, Stone, Flynn and Mueller prey George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan.

Durham’s investigation cost taxpayers more than $5.8 million between October 2020 — when he was appointed special counsel, 18 months after his first appointment in the case — and March 2022, the Justice Department reports.

Mueller’s total investigation cost nearly $32 million, including parts of the Department of Justice supporting his office. He actually returned much of that to the federal government through Manafort, who agreed to forfeit New York property, money in three bank accounts, and his life insurance policy, all worth between $22 million and $42 million.

Has Durham failed?

That’s a bit subjective, and Durham still has his final report to defend his case. But “simply put, federal prosecutors are not used to losing,” Politics‘s Gerstein writes. “So Durham’s defeat in the Danchenko trial — which came less than five months after a similar acquittal in another special counsel’s case — is an undeniable defeat.”

You can compare Durham’s record as special counsel to what had previously been “the most notable act of his career, when he led a special investigation into the CIA’s torture of terrorism prisoners in the Bush era and the destruction of videos.” of interrogation sessions”. Time reports. At the time: “Durham had set a high bar for charges and for releasing information related to the investigation. During his 2008-2012 investigation, he found no one he deemed worthy of charge, although two detainees had died in the custody of the CIA, and he filed a lawsuit against the Freedom of Information Act to prevent his findings and witness statements from being made public.”

Many people, hearing of Danchenko’s acquittal, likely expressed “surprise that Durham was still going on,” while others would likely shake their heads “and call the probe a waste of time and money,” writes David A. Graham on The Atlantic Ocean. These comments “are correct, but they miss the point. Even if Durham approached the probe with genuine sincerity, the real reason he was appointed is that Donald Trump’s political scam requires the promise of total justification around the corner,” and his investigation has already served that purpose.

“The hope for Trump supporters was that someone would open the case and show that the investigation was devised by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” perhaps with help from George Soros and antifa, Graham explains. But Trump himself “recognized that the fact of an investigation was far more important than the results.” It worked with Benghazi and Clinton’s emails, and even previous Trump and Russia counter-investigations, he adds. “By the time Trump extorted Volodymyr Zelensky by withholding defense supplies in 2019, Trump just wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden. He didn’t even care if it actually happened because the topic of conversation is what he needed. “

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