Prosecutor reportedly resigns from probe into Russia investigation

A respected career prosecutor has reportedly seen first-hand evidence of political pressure into the probe into the Russia investigation.
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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference to announce money laundering charges against HSBC on December 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.Ramin Talaie / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Last year, the Justice Department's inspector general wrapped up a lengthy probe and concluded that there was nothing improper about the federal investigation into the Russia scandal. Attorney General Bill Barr didn't much care for those independent findings, so he tapped a federal prosecutor -- U.S. Attorney John Durham -- to investigate the investigation.

In theory, this need not be especially scandalous. A legitimate, independent probe, free of political interference, could reasonably be seen as a credible review.

But in practice, we're apparently not dealing with a legitimate, independent probe. The Hartford Courant reported today:

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned from the U.S. Justice Department probe -- at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

While it's not unheard of for a prosecutor to depart an investigation before its completion, the Courant's report added that Dannehy "has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr -- who appointed Durham -- to produce results before the election."

If this is accurate, it's an important development: a respected career prosecutor has apparently seen first-hand evidence of political pressure -- during an election season -- into in a supposedly independent federal investigation.

Matthew Miller, a Justice Department veteran and an MSNBC analyst, noted today that is Dannehy "an incredibly well-respected prosecutor," who is "not the type of person who would take this step for no reason."

This comes against a backdrop in which Donald Trump recently pointed specifically to the Durham probe as a possible vehicle for retribution against his perceived enemies.

For his part, Attorney General Bill Barr recently declared, "We are gonna proceed with this investigation and not put it on hold right now during election season." The attorney general further suggested he's prepared to release information from the supposedly independent Durham probe before voters cast their ballots.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows addressed the Durham inquiry earlier this week and suggested he's been able to "review" documents related to the investigation. There was some ambiguity about what he meant, but it's worth emphasizing that Justice Department policy would prohibit prosecutors from sharing materials with the White House during ongoing probe.

Don't be surprised if there's some coverage on this on tonight's show.