Durham Entered With Lofty Expectations. What Happened?

(TPM Illustrations/Getty Images)

Three years ago, when President Trump ordered an investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigations, he set expectations at a high level.

“Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions,” Trump said in a May 2019 statement, delegating to Attorney General Bill Barr massive authority to declassify records from the intelligence community.

Now, what started then appears to be on the verge of concluding with the second loss of Special Counsel John Durham at trial.

It’s a big comedown from the heady expectations that embraced Durham from the right, with figures that included Trump, Barr, and others suggesting at times that Durham’s investigation would uncover a level of wrongdoing that would not only disconnect Trump from Russian interference in the 2016 election, but unveil a criminal conspiracy with none other than Hillary Clinton at the top.

The result has been three prosecutions. One, of FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, lead to a guilty plea and a sentence of no jail time.

The other two, of DNC lawyer Michael Sussmann and researcher Igor Danchenko, both resulted in fast acquittals.

When Durham first started his work in 2019, Trump and those around him fanned expectations.

“I look forward to Bull Durham’s report — that’s the one I look forward to,” Trump said at a December 2019 rally, saying that the prosecutor was investigating the “crime of the century.”

Barr himself spoke out about his hopes for Durham in May 2019, before giving the Connecticut prosecutor the status of special counsel in October 2020.

Barr said that he wanted Durham to uncover whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Trump-Russia investigation. He added that he had received answers that were “inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together, in a sense I have more questions today than when I first started.”

Barr also drew an early conclusion about what took place, saying that “the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign to me is unprecedented and it’s a serious red line that’s been crossed.”

After that, there was silence.

What filled the maw from Durham was rampant speculation in conservative media that the prosecutor would bring down the edifice that created the Trump-Russia investigation.

When Clinesmith, the FBI attorney, pleaded guilty in August 2020, one Wall Street Journal columnist “struggl[ed] to recall a more serious allegation of abuse of our democratic process by officials of the federal government.”

Clinesmith received a sentence of 12 months probation and 400 hours community service.

Then came the Sussmann and Danchenko trials.

Again, both cases were heralded as the means of cracking open the Clinton conspiracy and, potentially, demolishing the FBI.

“The narrow Sussmann indictment opens another the window on a far greater offense, which was the Clinton team and the media’s dirty trick against U.S. democracy,” wrote the Wall Street Journal editorial board in September 2021.

Sussmann was acquitted in May.

Danchenko, whose trial featured Durham criticizing witnesses that he had called, was acquitted on Tuesday.

For both acquittals, Durham issued the same, brief statement.

“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service,” he said. “I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case.”

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