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Special counsel John Durham defends his investigation and former Attorney General Bill Barr

<i>POOL</i><br/>Durham is testifying publicly before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the details of his report that concluded that the FBI should have only launched a preliminary
Durham is testifying publicly before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the details of his report that concluded that the FBI should have only launched a preliminary

By Zachary Cohen and Marshall Cohen, CNN

(CNN) — Special counsel John Durham defended himself Wednesday amid sharp criticism from Democrats, and also rejected former President Donald Trump’s attacks on former Attorney General Bill Barr, who appointed Durham to conduct his investigation into the FBI’s Russia probe.

Durham is testifying publicly before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the details of his report that concluded that the FBI should have only launched a preliminary, but not full, investigation into connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

Despite repeated claims from Trump and Republicans that the Biden administration has “weaponized” the Justice Department, Durham said there wasn’t any political interference with his work. He testified that Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden appointee, didn’t block any of his moves, didn’t reach out to discuss the probe, and didn’t meddle with the investigation.

That stands in contrast with what Trump has promised to do if he wins back the White House next year: He said he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” Joe Biden and his family, directing an investigation against an opponent in a way that shatters longstanding norms, in place since the Watergate era, that have kept the White House away from specific criminal investigations.

Democrats were particularly critical of Durham’s handling of his own investigation, a concern he dismissed.

“My concern about my reputation is with the people who I respect, and my family, and my Lord,” Durham said responding to a House Democrat who accused him of running a biased investigation. “And I’m perfectly comfortable with my reputation with them, sir.”

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee sharply criticized Durham, saying, “You got nothing,” in regards to the special counsel’s report.

“You had a good reputation,” Cohen said. “But the longer you hold on to Mr. Barr … your reputation will be damaged, as everybody’s reputation who gets involved with Donald Trump is damaged, he’s damaged goods. There’s no good dealing with him because you will end up on the bottom of a pyre.”

The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee also slammed Durham, accusing the Trump-era prosecutor of weaponizing his “flimsy” probe to harass Trump’s opponents and generate headlines for “far-right conspiracy theorists.”

“Mr. Durham constructed a flimsy story built on shaky inferences and dog whistles to far-right conspiracy theorists,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, said. “By prolonging his investigation. Durham was able to keep Donald Trump’s talking points in the news, long after Trump left office.”

Durham denied in his opening statement that politics motivated his investigations.

Durham breaks with Trump on several issues

Durham also responded to Trump’s attacks on Barr, whom the former president has called a “gutless pig” and a “RINO.”

“In my experience, none of those are correct,” Durham told members of the House Judiciary Committee when asked about Trump’s incendiary attacks against his former attorney general.

While Durham has embraced many of Trump’s gripes about the Russia investigation, there were several key legal matters where Durham notably broke from the former president.

In addition to rejecting Trump’s insults against Barr, Durham said there was “substantial evidence” that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election. (Trump accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials.) He also said special counsel Robert Mueller was a “patriot” whom he had the “highest regard” for. (Trump has called Mueller a “national disgrace.”)

In May, Durham’s 300-plus page report was released stating that the FBI haphazardly used “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence,” to launch the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Trump and Russia. Durham said the FBI used a more careful standard when weighing concerns about alleged election interference regarding Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The special counsel, however, did not recommend any new charges against individuals or “wholesale changes” about how the FBI handles politically charged investigations, despite strongly criticizing the agency’s behavior and highlighting numerous errors and mishaps by the FBI team that handled the sensitive Trump-Russia probe.

The Durham probe fell massively short of right-wing expectations: For years, Trump repeatedly claimed Durham would indict top Democratic politicians and officials from the FBI and DOJ for “treason at the highest level” and for committing the “crime of the century.”

Durham scrutinized many of the Trump critics that the former president said should be investigated. In Durham’s report, he detailed how his team looked into roughly 30 distinct potential crimes by these figures, but they didn’t find enough evidence to bring any charges.

After four years, Durham only secured one conviction against a low-level FBI lawyer for doctoring one email related to the surveillance of an ex-Trump campaign aide. Durham’s jury trials against a Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer and Trump-Russia dossier source both ended with embarrassing acquittals last year.

Public hearing follows closed-door meeting Tuesday

Durham also spoke Tuesday behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee, telling members of the panel that he believes some reforms are needed at the FBI and for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, despite the fact that his recent report omitted any new recommendations, committee chair Mike Turner told reporters.

Turner, a Republican from Ohio, said Durham shared with committee members “his lessons learned, his big issues that he thinks need to be addressed, in addition to taking questions from us as to what proposals we think might be able to address and to get his background on,” Turner said.

“It was very clear that Durham believes that there was misconduct and if you’ve all been reading his report, he lays out what those instances of misconduct are. He gave us the impression that some of the misconduct is individualized. That there were bad people doing bad things. But then some of it is systemic. And some of it is where we need to change it so that here’s higher reviews, higher requirements for this to ever happen again,” the chairman added.

Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the committee’s ranking Democratic member, agreed on Tuesday that reforms are needed, and that he believes the committee can work in a bipartisan way to address the issues at the FBI and with FISA. Himes added that Durham’s report “did not find politicization” within the FBI, but “found confirmation bias, which is bad.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Alayna Treene, Annie Grayer, Sara Murray, Devan Cole and Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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