Attorney General William Barr has appointed his own very special prosecutor to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller. U.S. Attorney John Durham was appointed to that role by Trump, but he’s had plenty of experience making cases against FBI agents and government agencies.
A 2008 Boston Globe article shows that Durham is a specialist in going after government officials. In 1999, Durham was named a special prosecutor in a series of Mafia-related cases in which he helped convict retired FBI agent John Connolly of racketeering charges in connection to the “Whitey” Bolger case. In the same case, Durham helped overturn the 1960s conviction of four men after convincing a judge that they had been framed by the FBI. He investigated multiple corrupt politicians, including gaining the felony conviction of Republican Gov. John Rowland of Connecticut.
All of this makes it seem that Durham is a tough prosecutor who has been tapped by both Republicans and Democrats to look into cases of corruption and systemic abuse. That’s true. But it’s also true that Durham’s investigations have sometimes produced some unexpected results.
As Mother Jones notes, then-Attorney General Eric Holder tapped Durham to lead the investigation into 101 instances in which the CIA was suspected of violating the law by using “enhanced investigation techniques.” Durham almost immediately threw out 99 of those cases, choosing to concentrate on two that had led to deaths. Then, despite one of those cases involving a man who was stripped naked and doused with cold water until he died of hypothermia, and the other featuring a man who was hung by his arms until he suffocated and found to have somehow received five broken ribs under interrogation, and had become part of a photoshoot in which a grinning soldier posed with his frozen corpse … Durham issued no charges at all.
For anyone who ever wondered how it was possible that no one in the Bush administration ever faced a single charge from “black sites,” “enhanced interrogation,” and prisoner deaths: The answer is John Durham.
As the Mother Jones article concluded in 2012, “This means that the Obama administration will be turning the page on the Bush years with almost no accountability for anyone linked to the legalization and implementation of Bush-era interrogation techniques.”
That’s far from the end of the pain when it comes to this particular investigation. The reason that Durham chose to focus on these cases wasn’t the deaths, but the fact that CIA official Jose Rodriguez had deliberately destroyed tapes of the interrogations, saying that if they were released the public, the reaction would be “devastating.” But other than worrying about the PR, Rodriguez certainly wasn’t ashamed that two men had been tortured to death. That was, he said, just America “putting on its big boy pants.” Reports Mother Jones, “Rodriguez hasn’t faced any charges for his deliberate destruction of evidence, though he has written a book about his experiences and gone on a publicity tour making dubious arguments about the effectiveness of torture.”
The failure to bring charges against Rodriguez or anyone else involved in the torture cases came after a two-year investigation. It seems likely that, despite what should be a very limited scope, Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russian investigation will still be underway right into the 2020 elections.
Which is, of course, the point. It doesn’t matter whether Durham is “Tough Prosecutor” Durham, digging hard for convictions, or “Torture is just all right by me” Durham, ready to overlook destruction of evidence that wasn’t just obvious, but bragged about. What’s important is that he will be “Fulfilling Trump’s fantasies” Durham—an endless source of claims that “the Democrats are the real criminals” going into the next election cycle.
Speculation over what Durham is finding will be tweeted out by Trump. it will be repeated by Trump surrogates on every news station. It’ll be the daily obsession of Fox News. It’ll be spouted by Rudy Giuliani and dutifully recorded by his stenographers at The New York Times.
Durham’s appointment comes on the the heels of Barr claiming that the Russia investigation included “spying” on the Trump campaign. This investigation also follows on a concerted Republican push on claims that efforts to subpoena Barr and finding him in contempt of Congress came because he was a going to investigate “the real crimes.” Both of those claims will now get louder.
The inspector general of the Department of Justice has been conducting a review of how the Russia investigation began for months, with a final report that’s expected within a month. But Barr has now created a separate investigation that runs on top of the IG’s review. At the same time that Barr and Trump have placed the entire Mueller report under a cone of executive privilege, they’re now launching their own investigation—an absolutely unnecessary and duplicate investigation—for no purpose other than to provide Trump with things to scream about at rallies and to give Trumpist senators more cover for blocking any investigation into the hundreds of documented contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. They’ll also use it to ramp up the already considerable pressure against Republican Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr.
As Barr is demonstrating effectively, the Trumpists haven’t lost the lesson they learned when investigating Benghazi or Hillary Clinton’s email server: There is always room for another investigation. In the Mueller report, and in Wray’s testimony, the one thing that became clear is that Russian interference in 2016 was far greater than most people realized, and that it remains a persistent threat. But rather than devote resources to fighting that threat, Trumpists are dedicated to making Russia’s path smoother by smothering the watchdogs.
The AP reports that Barr “provided no details” about the areas of Durham’s investigation. Which is convenient, since it allows those talking about the investigation to project onto it every possible Q-level conspiracy theory put forward by Trump and his most fervid supporters in Congress about the origins of the Russia investigation.
The origins and timing of events in the Russia investigation are well known. The were laid out in the Mueller report. They’ve been detailed by the FBI attorneys involved. They’ve been the subject of congressional testimony. They’ve been defended by current FBI Director Christopher Wray. This is an unnecessary, confusing, and harmful investigation—which is why they are doing it.