Former Attorney General William Barr chastised The New York Times for its critical reporting of special counsel John Durham‘s investigation into potential misconduct in the Trump-Russia probe.
Barr broke his silence Wednesday while speaking to a reporter after delivering a speech in Sacramento, California. He challenged aspects of an article published last week detailing alleged problems in Durham’s endeavor. “They ignored some fundamental facts as to why some of the information that Durham was seeking was very important information,” Barr charged, according to the Los Angeles Times. He also said the article missed “obvious reasons” for Durham’s investigation.
The New York Times “stands behind this story and the reporting it contains,” a spokesperson for the newspaper said in response. The original report noted Barr declined to comment for the article.
In May 2019, shortly after special counsel Robert Mueller released his report, Barr appointed then-U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Durham to investigate the origins and conduct of the FBI inquiry into alleged ties between former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. Barr elevated Durham to special counsel status in the final months of the Trump administration, giving Durham extra protections to continue his work once President Joe Biden took office. Trump and his allies often champion Durham’s investigation as a means to unravel a suspected “Russiagate” plot against the former president. Democrats and others have criticized the inquiry as a politically tainted endeavor meant to discredit Mueller and top officials from the FBI.
The New York Times report gave fuel to Durham’s detractors in Congress. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) threatened an investigation and House Democrats pressed the Justice Department inspector general to start a review to determine whether Barr or Durham “violated any laws, DOJ rules or practices, or canons of legal ethics.”
Goldman: Ted Lieu and I sent you a letter requesting that you conduct an investigation into Durham’s investigation to see if Mr. Barr or Mr. Durham violated any department policies, regulations, or law. Have you reviewed this letter yet? pic.twitter.com/fXPvuk8ots
— Acyn (@Acyn) February 1, 2023
The article, published on January 26, said a monthslong review by the New York Times “found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court.” The article also outlined how Durham’s investigation “became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes,” leading to resignations by some dissatisfied prosecutors on the team, including Durham’s No. 2 Nora Dannehy, who allegedly disliked how Barr spoke ominously about the probe’s findings in public.
Barr, who made an appearance at the California News Publishers Association meeting, outright rejected the notion that appointing Durham to the task was problematic from the start.
“The idea that there was a thin basis for doing it doesn’t hold water,” Barr said. “Because it wasn’t started as a criminal investigation. One of the duties of the attorney general is to protect against the abuse of criminal and intelligence powers, that they’re not abused to impinge on political activity, so I felt it was my duty to find out what happened there.”
In addition, Barr defended himself in response to one of the most explosive claims in the article — that Durham expanded his inquiry in the fall of 2019 to include a criminal investigation into “suspicious financial dealings” tied to Trump in response to a tip from Italian officials. However, the report asserted the details were largely unclear and said this line of inquiry did not result in Durham bringing charges.
Barr insisted the tip “was not directly about Trump” and argued it was appropriate to rope it into Durham’s investigation because “it did have a relationship to the Russiagate stuff. It was not completely separate from it. And it turned out to be a complete non-issue.”
So far, Durham has secured one guilty plea: that of former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who was accused of falsifying a document in efforts to renew the authority to conduct FISA surveillance on onetime Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Clinesmith was spared prison time and faced a one-year bar suspension. Last year, Durham endured setbacks when prosecutions against former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann and Igor Danchenko, a key source for British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier, ended in acquittal in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, respectively.
Whenever Durham’s report is complete, Attorney General Merrick Garland has said he would “like as much as possible to be made public,” but he also stressed there will be Privacy Act concerns and classification to consider.
“I think [Durham]’s going to explain, to the extent he’s allowed to put it out, the whole genesis of [the Russia interference claims] and how it all occurred,” Barr said, per the Los Angeles Times. “So what’s wrong with that? You review something, you get the facts. Yes, we wanted to hold people accountable if something came up that indicated criminality, or you could prove criminality. But it wasn’t a criminal investigation, it was a review to get the story. And he got the story.”