Law \ Legal

John Durham Investigation Ends Not With A Bang, But With A Wipeout

fail failureThey started with such lofty goals! In May of 2019, Attorney General Bill Barr appointed former US Attorney for DC John Durham as special counsel to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation into Donald Trump and his campaign. MAGAworld rejoiced, sure that the corrupt Clinton conspiracy to bring down their hero was about to be exposed.

And then … nothing.

Sure, Durham came out with an angry rebuke when the DOJ Inspector General found that the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign was appropriately predicated and not corrupted by partisan influence. And the special counsel did manage to get an FBI line attorney to plead guilty in 2021 to falsifying an email to renew a warrant of Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. But other than that, it’s been crickets.

And then hosanna, in September of 2021, just days before the statute of limitations was about to expire, Durham indicted former Perkins Coie lawyer Michael Sussmann for making false statements to the FBI about DNS traffic from a server in the basement of Trump Tower to a bank in Russia. In fact, the traffic was real, but Durham insisted that Sussmann had lied about approaching the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign, as if anyone in DC could possibly have thought otherwise.

The jury acquitted Sussmann within hours, at which point Barr was reduced to explaining to Fox’s Jesse Watters that, while Durham “did not succeed in getting a conviction from the DC jury — I think he accomplished something far more important, which is he brought out the truth in two important areas. First I think he crystallized the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching, as a dirty trick, the whole Russiagate collusion narrative and fanning the flames of it.”

Because if you think about it, isn’t the job of a prosecutor to drop a bunch of speaking indictments implying that it was improper to investigate Trump’s public solicitation of stolen Clinton emails as his son met behind closed doors with a Russian spy and his future national security advisor secretly promised sanctions relief to the Russian ambassador? Who cares about convictions, right?

After the Sussmann debacle, Durham superfans seamlessly switched to pinning their hopes on an indictment of Igor Danchenko, a Russia analyst who was one of the main sources for the infamous Steele Dossier. The longtime FBI source was charged with five counts of making false statements to the FBI, with the jury trial commencing on October 11 in the Eastern District of Virginia.

The prosecution got off to a rocky start, with Danchenko’s FBI handlers, the supposed star prosecution witnesses, admitting on direct examination that he’d actually been a pretty good source. And when confronted with prior depositions in which they’d described Danchenko as “truthful” and said he’d “assisted” in their investigation, they agreed that was about right. At which point Durham, who insisted on trying the case himself, lost his shit on redirect and impeached his own witness by bringing up the fact that he’d been recommended for a suspension. He also accused the FBI agents of botching the investigation, which was perhaps less than helpful in a case dependent not just on the literal falsity of Danchenko’s claims, but on the materiality of those false statements to the investigation.

Before the case even went to the jury, Judge Anthony Trenga dropped one of the false statements charges because it was literally true that Danchenko didn’t “talk” to a source he only communicated with via text and email. And then yesterday, after less than two full days deliberation, the jury acquitted on the other four charges.

Too busy licking his wounds to muster then energy to craft a unique anodyne statement, Durham simply recycled the one he’d used for Sussmann.

The MAGA media has already moved on to insisting that the real friends were the lies we told about the FBI along the way.

“Special Counsel John Durham made a calculated decision to transform his only criminal trials — of Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann and Steele dossier source Igor Danchenko — into forums for telling the story of the FBI’s pursuit of the unsubstantiated Russia collusion narrative,” wrote “journalist” John Solomon, who got chucked out of The Hill for flogging Rudy Giuliani’s lies about Ukraine and is now one of Trump’s designated representatives to the National Archives.

“From pretrial motions and brutal cross-examinations of FBI witnesses to his parting words at the Danchenko trial, Durham telegraphed his disdain for the FBI’s behavior to jurors in the courts of both law and public opinion,” he continued, frantically moving the goal posts after his star kicker soiled himself midfield, and later suggesting a Church Committee-style commission to root out the anti-conservative corruption at the FBI and relitigate 2016 forever, if and when Republicans take back the House.

Chief bolo tie counsel Joe diGenova was also hitting the copium hard, this morning.

In then end, there was no there there. Durham’s grand juries are expiring, and eventually he’ll put out a report which conservatives will tout as proof of what they’ve believed all along, but which will be picked apart by the media before being forgotten. The entire Durham investigation was a total waste — of money, time, reputation, and attention. And now that it’s crashed and burned in spectacular fashion, it’s just over.

Durham rebukes his own witness and slams FBI’s Russia probe after trial setbacks [CNN]
Moral of the Durham trials: Jurors won’t convict sources if the FBI wanted their bait [Just the News]
US v. Danchenko [Docket via Court Listener]

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.

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