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Democratic lawmakers ask DOJ watchdog to investigate Barr, Durham

Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham in a 2006 photo.  Behind him at left is former prosecutor Nora Dannehy.

Washington – Democratic House leaders on Friday asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate whether Attorney General Bill Barr and Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham are seeking to improperly influence the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.,  House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff,  D-Calif., Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney,  D-N.Y. and House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., have asked Inspector General Michael Horowitz to probe whether public comments by Barr and Durham violate Justice Department policy. Durham is heading an investigation of the FBI and CIA’s probes into Russian meddling into the 2016 election.

The lawmakers’ letter to Horowitz said Barr has indicated he would likely allow the Justice Department to take prosecutorial action and issue a preliminary report on Durham’s probe before the Nov. 3 elections.  “Such actions clearly appear intended to benefit President Trump politically,” the top Democrats wrote to Horowitz.

They also said their “concerns are even more pressing in light of the resignation of Assistant U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, who reportedly resigned due to political pressure from Attorney General Barr on the investigative team to produce a report before the election.”

On Thursday, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, asked Horowitz to investigate whether Durham’s probe has violated DOJ policies meant to insulate criminal investigations from partisan politics. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also signed the letter requesting the probe.

“[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.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Connecticut and the Justice Department did not have an immediate response to the requests that the DOJ’s top watchdog investigate Barr and Durham.

Durham was chosen by Barr last year to conduct the “investigation into the investigators” into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.  Trump has long characterized the federal investigation, which led to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment, as a “witch hunt,” and has expressed disappointment that Durham has not released a report of his findings yet.

So far, Durham’s investigation has resulted in one indictment, that of former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty last month to falsifying an email used to support the surveillance of Trump’s former campaign aide Carter Page.

That hasn’t stopped the president’s supporters from insinuating there will be more indictments to come.

Appearing on Fox Business News earlier this month  White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows indicated he’d seen documents relevant to Durham’s probe that implicate several Trump and Obama administration officials — including former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Agent Peter Strzok — in potentially illegal conduct. That raised questions of whether the president’s chief of staff had somehow become privy to details of Durham’s mostly hidden investigation

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