September 17, 2020

Judiciary Committee Democrats Call for Review of Political Interference in Durham Investigation

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today led all 10 committee Democrats in calling on the Justice Department inspector general to review whether U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe into FBI activities is violating longstanding rules that protect criminal investigations from political influence.

Their letter follows reports that Durham’s top deputy resigned due to concerns that Durham is being pressured to issue a report before the upcoming election.

“[Recent] actions suggest that the Durham investigation is being misused for partisan political purposes and undermine the legitimacy of any investigative steps Mr. Durham takes. In addition, it remains unclear what rules and authority permit the public release of a ‘report’ by U.S. Attorney Durham, raising additional concerns about the legitimacy of his appointment and work," the senators wrote.

“We therefore request that your office investigate whether the Durham investigation has operated consistent with Department rules governing the appointment of U.S. Attorneys and the Department’s rules on public statements concerning pending investigations, taking action that may impact an upcoming election, and White House-Department communications concerning pending criminal investigations.”

Full text of the letter follows:

September 17, 2020

The Honorable Michael E. Horowitz
Inspector General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Inspector General Horowitz:

We write to request that you investigate whether U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation complies with Department of Justice policies, including policies that protect criminal investigations from political influence.

The Department’s mission to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans” requires that its prosecutorial decisions be insulated from political influence. To that end, longstanding rules restrain Department personnel from publicly commenting on pending investigations, taking actions that may affect an upcoming election, and communicating with the White House about ongoing criminal investigations. [Justice Manual §§ 9-11.130, 9-16.500, 9-27.760; 6/2018 OIG Report, pp. 17-18; 5/11/2009 Holder Memo]

Recent reports suggest that Attorney General William Barr and other Trump administration officials are violating these longstanding rules. For example:

  • Nora Dannehy, a respected career prosecutor and Durham’s former top assistant, reportedly resigned from the Department out of concern that Durham “is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done” and before the 2020 election. [Hartford Courant, 9/11/2020]
  • Attorney General Barr has repeatedly commented on the Durham investigation and recently promised that “there are going to be developments, significant developments, before the election.” [Real Clear Politics, 8/14/2020]
  • White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows recently told the press that he had seen documents related to the Durham investigation that “spell trouble” for Obama-era officials. [Fox News, 9/6/2020]

These actions suggest that the Durham investigation is being misused for partisan political purposes and undermine the legitimacy of any investigative steps Mr. Durham takes. In addition, it remains unclear what rules and authority permit the public release of a “report” by U.S. Attorney Durham, raising additional concerns about the legitimacy of his appointment and work.

We therefore request that your office investigate whether the Durham investigation has operated consistent with Department rules governing the appointment of U.S. Attorneys and the Department’s rules on public statements concerning pending investigations, taking action that may impact an upcoming election, and White House-Department communications concerning pending criminal investigations.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
Ranking Member

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senator

Amy Klobuchar
United States Senator

Christopher A. Coons
United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator

Mazie K. Hirono
United States Senator

Cory A. Booker
United States Senator

Kalama D. Harris
United States Senator

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