A federal jury acquitted Russian analyst Igor Danchenko on Tuesday on four counts of lying to the FBI in what is expected to be the final case stemming from special counsel John Durham’s three-year probe into the origins of the agency’s investigation into allegations of ties between former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Prosecutors alleged Danchenko provided false information to the FBI in 2017, as part of its efforts to verify information from Christopher Steele’s dossier on Trump’s alleged Russia ties. The case was thin; jurors noticed; and Danchenko was acquitted.
And at that point, the entire Durham probe appeared to reach an ignominious end.
For those who might benefit from a refresher — you’d be forgiven for thinking, “John Durham’s name sounds familiar, but I can’t remember why I’m supposed to care about him” — let’s revisit our earlier coverage and explain how we arrived at this point.
The original investigation into Trump’s Russia scandal, led by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller, led to a series of striking findings: The former president’s political operation in 2016 sought, embraced, capitalized on, and lied about Russian assistance — and then took steps to obstruct the investigation into the foreign interference.
The Trump White House wasn’t pleased with the conclusions, but the Justice Department’s inspector general conducted a lengthy probe of the Mueller investigation, and not surprisingly, the IG’s office found nothing improper.
This, of course, only outraged Trump further, so then-Attorney General Bill Barr tapped a federal prosecutor — U.S. Attorney John Durham — to conduct his own investigation into the investigation. That was over three years ago.
At this point, Durham’s investigation into the Russia scandal investigation has lasted longer than Mueller’s original probe of the Russia scandal.
After an extended period of apparent inactivity, the prosecutor last year indicted cybersecurity attorney Michael Sussmann for allegedly having lied to the FBI. The case proved to be baseless; Sussmann was acquitted; and one of the jurors publicly mocked Durham’s team for having taken the case to trial.
Yesterday, Team Durham failed again to secure a conviction — and by all accounts, there won’t be any additional charges filed against anyone. The tale of the tape is brutal:
- Two trials
- Zero convictions
- One provocative resignation
- And a largely meaningless guilty plea from an obscure figure
By any fair measure, this is the most embarrassing and inconsequential special counsel investigation in the modern history of American law enforcement.
But the humiliation is not limited to the prosecutor. Every once in a while, Trump still blurts out Durham’s name, hoping the prosecutor might yet bolster some of the former president’s conspiracy theories. As regular readers may recall, the Republican has even suggested at times that Durham’s probe could serve as a possible vehicle for retaliating against his perceived enemies.
So much for that idea.
Over the summer, The New York Times’ Charlie Savage wrote a report questioning why the Durham investigation existed. He added, “Mr. Barr’s mandate to Mr. Durham appears to have been to investigate a series of conspiracy theories.”
Those theories, however, lacked merit, which is why the Durham probe is ending with a whimper.
There is a degree of irony to the circumstances: For years, Team Trump insisted that the Russia scandal was pointless but the Durham investigation was real. It now appears these Republicans had it exactly backward: The Russia scandal was real, and the Durham investigation was pointless.