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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in New York

Trump-Russia: what we know about the Durham investigation of an investigation

The final report by special prosecutor John Durham was released Monday.
The final report by special prosecutor John Durham was released Monday. Photograph: Jon Elswick/AP

In May 2019, the then US attorney general in the Trump administration, William Barr, asked federal prosecutor John Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut, to investigate an investigation: the one carried out into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and links between Donald Trump and Moscow.

Durham had a background in investigating corruption on either side of the political aisle, and for attorneys general from both parties.

His new mission was to look for political bias in the federal investigation which ensnared Trump and aides including Michael Flynn, the national security adviser fired for lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Durham’s appointment came in the immediate aftermath of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Trump and Russia.

Mueller did not find evidence of collusion but did lay out extensive evidence of Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice.

Trump and his allies had predicted Durham would reveal systemic wrongdoing, proving the rightwing conspiracy theory that a “deep state” of bureaucrats and intelligence operatives was thwarting Trump’s every move.

Some Democrats cautiously welcomed the appointment. Critics said Durham was being sent on a retaliatory political mission.

In October 2020, shortly before the presidential election, Barr made Durham a special counsel, thereby ensuring he could continue should Trump lose the White House to Joe Biden, which was the outcome that November. On Monday, nearly two and a half years into Biden’s presidency, Durham released his report.

It was highly critical of FBI and justice department practices but it did not reveal systemic wrongdoing or recommend new charges.

As the Associated Press noted, the investigation had wrapped up after delivering “underwhelming results, prosecutors securing a guilty plea from a little-known FBI employee but losing the only two criminal cases they took to trial”.

The little-known FBI employee was Kevin Clinesmith, a former bureau lawyer. In August 2020, he pleaded guilty to altering an email about Carter Page, a low-level Trump adviser with Russian connections who was subjected to federal surveillance but never charged.

Charged with one count of making a false statement within both the jurisdiction of the executive branch and judicial branch of the US government, Clinesmith faced five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

In January 2021, he was sentenced to 12 months probation. He spent no time behind bars.

In September 2021, Durham charged Michael Sussmann, a former campaign lawyer for Hillary Clinton, with lying to the FBI regarding an “alleged secret channel of communications between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank”.

In May 2022, Sussmann was acquitted.

In November 2021, Igor Danchenko, a thinktank analyst, was charged with five counts “of making false statements to the FBI … relating to the sources he used in providing information to” Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative who produced a famous “dossier” regarding Trump and Russia.

In October 2022, Danchenko was acquitted on all counts.

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