What is the next shoe to drop in U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation?
That’s one of the big questions in Washington this month, even as lawmakers’ attention is torn among coronavirus, school reopenings, economic uncertainty, wildfires, social unrest and the presidential election.
Speculation over the status of Durham’s review into the origins of the Russia probe has only intensified amid the resignation of a top aide last week and comments from congressional Republicans suggesting developments could soon be announced.
Nora Dannehy, a top aide to Durham, resigned Friday, after working closely with the U.S. attorney for Connecticut for years. Durham’s office confirmed her departure but did not elaborate on the backstory.
Reports suggested, though, that Dannehy’s departure came amid concerns that the team investigating alleged misconduct at the origins of the Trump-Russia probe was being pressed by top Justice Department officials to produce a report on its findings before their full review was completed, for political purposes.
One source familiar with the investigation pushed back, telling Fox News on Monday that Dannehy “came in for a brief job” and questions surrounding her departure were simply from an “echo chamber trying to make things look bad” for Attorney General Bill Barr.
“They’re doing their job,” the source told Fox News. “It’s not easy to do stuff like this. Takes time.”
Durham’s investigation has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but that has not blunted the level of anticipation from President Trump, his Republican allies on Capitol Hill and his supporters, some of whom have called for findings to be released before November’s presidential election.
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hinted that developments in Durham’s investigation were on the horizon. This was after newly released Justice Department records showed numerous phones belonging to members of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team were wiped of information because of forgotten passcodes, irreparable screen damage, loss of the device, intentional deletion or other reasons—all before the Justice Department inspector general’s office could review the devices.
“You think you are mad about the phones being wiped?” Graham said on Fox News’ “Hannity” last week. “Stay tuned.”
He added: “We’ll talk in about 10 or 12 days and we’ll see if there is something else you can get mad about.”
Graham also said the issue should be considered by Durham.
Republicans, like Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., demanded answers last week as to whether there “was widespread intentional effort” to wipe the devices and suggested it could amount to “anticipatory obstruction of justice.”
It is unclear, at this point, whether Durham’s team is reviewing the matter.
When asked whether he anticipated further charges coming, Johnson told Fox News: “I sure hope so.”
“There was an awful lot of wrongdoing that people need to be held accountable for,” Johnson said. “We continue to be slow-walked obtaining information, so the public is still in the dark regarding specifics. That said, it’s not easy to find smoking guns.”
He added: “People cover their tracks or don’t leave tracks.”
Durham was appointed by Attorney General Barr last year to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe shortly after Mueller completed his yearslong investigation into whether the campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election.
In the year and a half since, he has questioned former law enforcement and intelligence officials — former CIA Director John Brennan among them — about decisions made during the course of the Russia investigation.
Durham’s timeline is focused on July 2016, when the FBI’s original Russia probe began, through the appointment of Mueller in May 2017.
Trump himself has indicated that he wants results soon, saying at a White House press conference on Thursday that Durham was a “very, very respected man” and that his work would involve a “report or maybe it’s much more than that.”
The investigation has produced one criminal charge so far, against former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who was accused of altering an email related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide. But that prosecution did not allege a broader conspiracy within the FBI, and the conduct it involved had largely been laid out in a Justice Department inspector general report from last December.
It is not clear if Durham will be able to conclude his work before the election, though Barr has not ruled out the possibility of additional criminal charges.
“Yeah, there could be,” Barr said while declining to say whether any such charges would be announced prior to Election Day.
In July, though, Fox News reported that Durham could wait to reveal his findings or initiate further prosecutions until after the 2020 presidential election.
Two sources familiar with Durham’s investigation told Fox News at the time that Durham was working expeditiously to try to finish the probe before Labor Day — which he did not — but that several lines of investigation had not yet been completed.
“He believes it’s critical to do them,” one source said at the time. “He is feeling more pressure to get this done and wrapped up.”
The source also told Fox News that Durham “does not want this to be viewed political,” and the closer it gets to November, Durham could “punt it to after the election.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.