President Biden’s pick for attorney general didn’t directly promise to protect special counsel John Durham’s investigation nor to make his report public, saying he would need to speak with the federal prosecutor before making a decision, though he said he didn’t currently have reason to think it wasn’t the right move to keep Durham on.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the committee, urged Merrick Garland to support Durham’s investigation and to handle the inquiry into Hunter Biden without interference from the White House.
“With respect to special counsel Durham’s investigation, I expect that he will be allowed to complete his investigation,” the Republican senator said. “If confirmed, will you commit to providing special counsel Durham with the staff, resources, funds, and time needed to thoroughly complete the investigation?”
“So senator, I don’t have any information about the investigation as I sit here today, and another one of the very first things I’m going to have to do is speak with Mr. Durham and figure out how his investigation is going,” the judge replied. “I understand that he has been permitted to remain in his position, and sitting here today, I have no reason to think that that was not the correct decision.”
Grassley asked Garland if he was saying that Durham would only be removed “for cause.” Garland didn’t commit to that either.
“I would have to have an opportunity to talk with him,” Garland said. “I have not had that opportunity. As I said, I don’t have any reason, from what I know now, which is really very little, to make any determination on that ground. But I don’t have any reason to think that he should not remain in place.”
Garland also would not commit to releasing Durham’s full report.
“I am a great believer in transparency,” Garland said. “I would, though, have to talk with Mr. Durham and understand the nature of what he’s been doing and the nature of the report. But I am very much committed to transparency and to explaining Justice Department decision-making.”
Durham’s criminal inquiry has netted just one guilty plea so far, with former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith admitting to editing a CIA email in 2017 to state that Carter Page was “not a source” for the CIA when it had told the bureau on multiple occasions that Page had been an “operational contact” for the agency. Clinesmith was sentenced to probation.
In Grassley’s full statement, obtained by the Washington Examiner and submitted to confirmation hearing record, the senator zeroed in on the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, launched under former President Barack Obama, which he called “a textbook example of what shouldn’t happen during investigations,” and urged Garland to allow Durham to finish his investigation into the Trump-Russia investigators.
“Today, you’ll need to be clear about what your position will be with regard to Special Counsel Durham,” Grassley said in the statement. “When we discussed this over the phone you told me that your predisposition would be to review the record before making a decision. That answer surprised me. It’s not an answer this Committee would have accepted from Barr on Mueller. I think your predisposition, frankly, should be to protect and support the ongoing investigation as much as possible.”
In early February, Biden asked all Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys for their resignations, with Durham being asked to step down as U.S. attorney from Connecticut but stay on as special counsel. A DOJ official said Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss was an exception, with acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson asking him to stay on as he investigates Hunter Biden.
Grassley’s statement said the Trump-Russia investigation was “marred by one mistake after another, starting from the beginning,” with the senator pointing to the host of errors unearthed by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz and lambasting the bureau’s use of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier. Horowitz’s report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Page and for the bureau’s reliance on the Steele dossier. The Justice Department told the FISA court it believed the final two of four Page FISA warrants were “not valid.” FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed there had been illegal surveillance.
“The Democratic National Committee’s Steele Dossier was not sound intelligence. It was political opposition research created to damage then-candidate Trump. And that’s what they used to get the Carter Page FISAs,” Grassley said, adding, “This means that the Obama administration relied on political opposition research to surveil a political opponent, used the Department of Justice to inflict maximum damage on him — all while withholding exonerating evidence from the FISA court.”
Grassley added at the hearing: “What the Obama administration did to the Trump campaign, transition, and administration can’t ever happen again.” The Republican noted that Garland would have oversight over Durham’s review of Crossfire Hurricane and pointed out that former Attorney General William Barr had promised to protect then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation during his own confirmation hearing, when Barr testified that “it’s vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.”
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