Washington – Right after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine, Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney, John Durham, boarded a plane to Italy with U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
Durham’s trip to Rome last month was part of his job of “investigating the investigators,” to look into the origins of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which Trump alleges are corrupt.
But the recent political upheaval over Trump’s request that Ukrainian leaders investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political opponent, has unearthed something else about Durham’s investigation – that it is far wider than previously thought. It has also become apparent that Connecticut’s U.S. attorney is under tremendous political pressure to conclude that the Russia inquiry was corrupt and predicated on undermining Trump.
“It’s not John’s fault that it’s become a political football, but John’s going to call the shots’” said Stanley Twardy, a former U.S. Attorney in Connecticut who worked with Durham when he was an assistant U.S. Attorney.
On Friday, in a tweet, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a key Trump ally, suggested that Durham is not only investigating the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, but also Biden and his son, Hunter. The president’s and Barr’s involvement in Durham’s investigation has also become more clear since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated an impeachment inquiry of Trump last month.
Several news outlets have reported that Trump, at Barr’s request, recently “pushed” Australia’s prime minister to help with Durham’s investigation. The Associated Press has reported that Trump has made other introductory phone calls for Barr in relation to the Durham probe.
The purpose of Durham’s recent trip to Italy was to listen to a taped deposition of Joseph Mifsud, a professor from Malta who had allegedly promised Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos he could deliver Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Durham was also attempting to find out what Italian officials knew about the professor.
Trump allies, without evidence, say the mysterious Mifsud — who left his job at Rome’s Link University and went into hiding, saying his life is in danger — was really a Western intelligence operative who was instructed to entrap Papadopoulos in order to justify the Mueller investigation.
Republican supporters of the president are confident Durham’s probe will result in the indictment of Trump foes.
“Mr. Durham works quietly to determine whether highly specific criminal laws were violated, and if so by whom,” wrote former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. “He is an experienced and principled prosecutor who has earned the confidence of attorneys general of both parties, including me. Stay tuned.”
Others say the effort is an attempt to legitimize GOP “conspiracy theories” about attacks on Trump and that it has roiled U.S. diplomatic efforts overseas. There’s also growing concern about political influence on the Durham investigation.
Presumption of fairness in doubt
“Mr. Durham is a credible, career prosecutor who presumably could conduct a fair investigation. It might even prove worthwhile if it can put to rest groundless conspiracy theories peddled by Mr. Trump and his followers — such as that Ukraine, rather than Russia, hacked the Democratic National Committee,” said a recent Washington Post editorial. “But these presumptions come into doubt when the attorney general and president are so personally involved.”
Twardy, now an attorney for Day Pitney, says “John will be an honest broker and this is what the nation needs.” He also said Durham is “completely apolitical.” “There is nobody I would trust more than John Durham to do an investigation,” Twardy said.
But Durham has powerful bosses.
Barr has said he is concerned that intelligence agencies improperly spied on the Trump campaign and that he wants to find out if the FBI and CIA conducted any intelligence-gathering activities on Trump associates before July 31, 2016, which is when the bureau opened its counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.
Barr has also suggested Hillary Clinton’s campaign provided information that generated the investigation of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Durham has enlisted CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray, both Trump appointees, to help with the task of investigating their own agencies. He has been tight-lipped about his work.
So it came as a surprise that Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec, in a statement, revealed the wide sweep of Durham’s investigation. It was released the same day last month that the White House put out a partial transcript of the July 25 call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
“A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” Kupec said. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”
Durham has investigated the FBI and CIA before.
He led an inquiry into allegations that FBI agents and Boston police had ties to the mob, and was appointed special prosecutor by the Obama administration to look into “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the torture of detainees. The investigation into the deaths of two detainees was closed with no charges filed.
In 2008, Durham also was tasked by then-Attorney General Mukasey to lead an investigation into the CIA’s destruction of interrogation tapes. Durham closed the investigation without recommending any criminal charges be filed. Durham also led a series of high-profile prosecutions in Connecticut against the New England Mafia and corrupt politicians, including former Gov. John Rowland.
The Justice Department declined to respond to question’s about Durham’s investigation. But despite its broadening scope, Durham finds time to travel from Washington D.C. to his home in New London for long weekends, said Tom Carson, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Connecticut.