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In Prequel to Durham Report, Tales of Political Pressure From Barr

After almost four years, the investigation sparked by Donald Trump's claims of a "witch hunt" over his supposed Russia ties has sputtered to an end, despite intense pressure by then-Attorney General William Barr to push his special counsel John Durham where the facts wouldn't take him, the New York Times reports in a lengthy dissection of the Durham probe. The entire operation, the Times reports, was "marked by some of the very same flaws" that Trump and his allies claimed characterized the Russia investigation, including flimsy justifications for starting an investigation and a role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that never had to be tested in court. Robert Luskin, a criminal defense lawyer and former Justice Department prosecutor who represented two witnesses Durham interviewed, said he had a hard time squaring Durham’s prior reputation as an independent-minded straight shooter with his end-of-career conduct as Barr’s special counsel. “This stuff has my head spinning,” Luskin said. “When did these guys drink the Kool-Aid, and who served it to them?”

The Times reveals that at one point, the investigation accidentally turned up a claim of criminal wrongdoing by Trump in his financial dealings. But, when rumors reached the press that the Durham probe had become a criminal investigation, Barr encouraged the mistaken assumption that the targets of the criminal investigation were Trump's political opponents. Like the core case Durham tried to make, the tangential financial probe of Trump went nowhere. The story also explores internal strife in Durham's office over fellow prosecutors' qualms about tactics and over Durham's refusal to challenge Barr's misstatements about the investigation's progress. The internal disputes included the resignation by veteran prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy, Durham's No. 2 and longtime aide, over Barr's demand for an interim report, preceding the 2020 election, that would presumably bolster Trump's longstanding claims of having been attacked by the FBI. Stymied by the decision not to issue an interim Durham report that would provide a campaign bombshell, John Ratcliffe, Trump’s national intelligence director, tried another way to inject some of the same information into the campaign — by declassifying a trove of intelligence documents for Durham to use, over the objections of CIA Director Gina Haspel. Durham is now preparing his final report, likely his last official act after more than three decades as a prosecutor.


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