Attorney general: John Durham remains empowered

Attorney general: John Durham remains empowered
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Attorney General Merrick Garland assured lawmakers special counsel John Durham has free rein under his watch.

During a hearing on Thursday, Republican Rep. Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin asked Garland if he could "commit to allowing special counsel Durham’s investigation to proceed and obviously free from any political influence," a question arising from concerns that the Biden administration might clamp down on his criminal inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Russia investigation.

"Let me just say first about the money," Garland replied. "We’re now in a new fiscal year, and as everyone knows, Mr. Durham is continuing. So I think you can readily assume that his budget has been approved."

This was news as the Justice Department last disclosed Durham's financial activity in May, when it provided a breakdown of the expenditures made by the Special Counsel’s Office for the period from Oct. 19, 2020, when Durham was appointed special counsel by former Attorney General William Barr, through March 31. The total cost of Durham's endeavor during this period was about $1.5 million.

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"We don’t normally make a statement about those things, but since he’s still in action, the provisions of the regulation which require approval of his budget for the next fiscal year are public, so I think ... you would know if he weren’t continuing to do his work," Garland added.

Fitzgerald also pressed Garland on reporting in September 2020 that Durham, who was a U.S. attorney in Connecticut at the time, was examining the handling of the FBI’s investigation of possible bribery and pay to play at the Clinton Foundation as part of his broader inquiry of the Trump-Russia investigators.

The congressman said he took Garland's comment about allowing Durham to continue his work as "confirmation" that the investigation was continuing into the Clinton Foundation.

“Well, I don’t want to say what it’s about. That’s up to Mr. Durham. I’m not determining what he’s investigating," Garland said.

Durham's endeavor has long been criticized by Democrats and legal observers who claim the inquiry is meant to undercut Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation into alleged ties between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have championed the investigation as a means to root out corrupt officials and settle political scores.

Garland, a former appeals federal judge, declined to promise during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February that he would protect Durham's investigation or make any eventual report public. However, Garland said he didn't have any "reason" to think it wasn't the right move to allow Durham to continue his work.

The Washington Post reported in August some private chatter about the view that Garland should press for a swift end to Durham's review.

"As Durham’s probe has continued into the Biden administration, some witnesses have privately grumbled that Attorney General Merrick Garland should push the special counsel to conclude his work. The Russia investigation, they argue, already has been scrutinized by Congress and the Justice Department inspector general, who found serious flaws but determined that it was opened with adequate basis," the report said.

Conversely, the report notes some say the investigation, which began more than two years ago, should be allowed to run its course without interference.

“It has struck me from the start as a fool’s errand at best and a political task at worst, but to shut it down would give the appearance of political interference that would be unwise,” former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade was quoted as saying.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, expressed doubt the DOJ would release a report from Durham even though, just last month, a DOJ official said the agency "agrees" with an order by Barr regarding transparency for the review when he made Durham, then the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, a special counsel — a designation that provided him extra protection to continue his work following a change in administrations.

Garland "seems to be kind of a puppet for the Left," Nunes said on Newsmax in August. The "challenge," he added, is whether the attorney general will "bury the report."

Two people have been charged in Durham's yearslong investigation.

Durham obtained a guilty plea from former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted to altering an email about a Trump campaign aide under government surveillance. Last month, a grand jury indictment was levied against Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer accused of lying to the FBI.

Sussmann, a former attorney at Perkins Coie, is accused of falsely telling the top FBI lawyer he was not representing any clients when acting on behalf of a technology executive and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. During the meeting in question in September 2016, he shared information on possible links between former President Donald Trump and Russia.

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Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to a charge of lying to the FBI. His lawyers insist he never said he didn't have clients and was representing only the technology executive.

Durham provided 81,000 pages of discovery to Sussmann, court documents this week show, produced in response to his defense team demanding more information while calling the allegations that he lied to the FBI five years ago vague and confusing.

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Tags: News, John Durham, Merrick Garland, Justice Department, Russia, William Barr

Original Author: Daniel Chaitin, Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: Attorney general: John Durham remains empowered

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