The Durham Investigation Isn’t Just An Expensive Wild Goose Chase
It’s worse than that
In June, 2018 William Barr sent an unsolicited, 20-page memo to the Department of Justice deriding the special counsel’s investigation into Donald Trump’s many efforts to work with Russian operatives so as to rig an election. At that moment, Trump knew he had his man to replace Jeff Sessions as AG. Barr’s efforts were rewarded when Trump nominated him and a compliant GOP Senate confirmed him on Feb 14, 2019. (Given the subsequent events, one has to wonder if a quid pro quo was discussed.)
AG Barr returned the favor almost immediately by ginning up a phony investigation, to be carried out by John Durham, into the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to sway the election on Trump’s behalf. (The FBI investigation, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” had been opened in July 2016. It looked into the actions of four campaign officials: Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulus.) Thus, it was pretty clear, from the start, that Barr’s only reason for being nominated and confirmed was to use the power and agency of the Department of Justice to punish Trump’s enemies. .
Right away, the Barr-Durham team had a problem, though. Inspector General Michael Horowitz had already been working for more than a year on the same issues. Mr. Horowitz reported his findings in December 2019, but Trump and Barr didn’t like what he said. His report found that the FBI wasn’t fully competent when it came to managing its own procedures (something that comes as a surprise to none of us, I’m sure) but that the agency’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in our election was warranted. As the New York Times reported:
“[the investigation] found no evidence to back up the president’s claim that the F.B.I.’s investigations of his campaign and four former aides were inspired and tainted by political bias.”
Trump, of course, seized on those parts of the report that highlighted the Bureau’s mistakes and errors while ignoring the part about the investigation being altogether proper. Barr, having been appointed to do Trump’s bidding rather than to serve the American people, also denigrated the report. The parts he didn’t like, at any rate. Like his boss, he was happy to agree that the FBI was an administrative mess that made lots of mistakes in seeking warrants to further its investigation. He was less inclined to agree that the FBI, in the end, pursued its investigation untainted by political bias. All to say, he threw an Inspector General under the bus so as to promulgate yet another investigation essentially covering the same set of circumstances. In effect, he decided to keep working the referees until he got the outcome he wanted.
The investigation that Durham embarked on was wide-ranging and global. Durham dug into a variety of affairs including those relevant to the cases of Michael Flynn, Peter Strzok, and Christopher Steele. The CIA, NSA, and the FBI were pulled into the investigation. Trump authorized Barr to “declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates [to the investigation].” (The rest of us will be forgiven, I’m sure, if we assume that Barr and Durham were very selective about which documents and information they declassified.) Durham sought help from Australia, Italy, Ukraine, and Great Britain in carrying out his work.
Durham devoted a good bit of attention to CIA Director John Brennan’s possible role in the Russia investigation, in particular the conversations he might have had with the FBI about the Steele dossier. It’s noteworthy that there have been no charges coming from that part of the investigation.
The investigation also looked carefully into the specious claims that the Obama administration wrongly “unmasked” Michael Flynn. Again, there have been no charges coming from this facet of the investigation.
For his part, Barr went on the hustings to put his finger on the scales regarding the investigation. During interviews with the Wall Street Journal, CBS News, and Fox News, he spread the false idea that the FBI had engaged in wrongdoing, never mind that those circumstances had already been investigated and found irrelevant. In particular, during the CBS interview, Barr was clearly happy to prejudge the outcome of the investigation, going so far as to demur when asked if Comey and McCabe had committed treason. In other statements, Barr mostly just repeated Trump’s conspiracy statements, if in less direct and inflammatory terms. That a United States Attorney General would make such statements is the worst form of dereliction of duty. It’s apparent that Barr saw himself, not as an officer of the law, but as consigliere to Trump whose job it was to punish his enemies.
Durham never really expected to get a verdict he and the right-wingers wanted in the Sussman case. What really bugs the conservatives isn’t that some lawyer they never heard of may or may not have misled the FBI (for which the right-wing has no regard in any case). It’s that Hillary Clinton will get away with actually campaigning against their Dear Leader. Durham might have had better luck arguing his case had he spent less time haranguing Ms. Clinton’s campaign strategy. Benjamin Wittes explains this case effectively:
[A] huge percentage of the many hours of testimony given in this case related to Sussmann’s alleged lie — which, remember, is the only offense charged in the indictment — in the most glancing sense. You could watch hours upon hours of testimony and completely forget that this was supposed to be a case about a lie told in a brief conversation between two men with nobody else present at a single meeting six years ago.
In effect, Durham brought the case without the expectation that he’d actually be able to get a guilty verdict against Sussman. Rather, his aim was simply to keep the conservative media stirred up about Ms. Clinton’s supposed transgressions.
Kimberly Strassman of the Wall Street Journal gives the game away in her frustrated rant about this failure of the wheels of justice to turn Trump’s way:
Mr. Sussman was acquitted Tuesday of lying to the FBI, but not before the Durham team revealed the Clinton campaign’s work in 2016 to use both the FBI and the media to smear Donald Trump.
There’s not a shred of evidence that the Clinton campaign even wanted to use the FBI to smear Trump. That’s exactly the “crime” of which Sussman was found innocent. As to the campaign’s efforts to smear Trump in the media, well, that sort of thing is done in every campaign throughout the nation. That’s apart from the fact that the media didn’t need much help from the Clinton campaign to find circumstances embarrassing to the Trump campaign. Trump handled that pretty effectively on his own.
The Durham investigation has always been a politically driven effort to obtain revenge by Barr on Trump’s behalf, all on the taxpayers’ dime. Democrats would do well to remind the electorate how their money has been wasted.