Special Counsel Spends $1.5 Million in Probe of Russia Inquiry

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The U.S. Justice Department released the first official expenditure report for the special investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russia inquiry -- providing a rare bit of insight into the secretive review more than two years after it was begun in response to demands by then-President Donald Trump.

The inquiry being led by Special Counsel John Durham spent about $1.5 million from Oct. 19 to March 31, according to the report from the Justice Department released Thursday.

Of that, Durham directly spent about $934,000, mostly on personnel, while Justice Department units spent about $520,000 to support the investigation, according to the five-page report.

In April 2019, Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham, a U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to look into whether FBI or intelligence officials committed crimes when they investigated whether anyone associated with Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in that year’s election.

Barr named Durham as a special counsel in October 2020 in an effort to protect him if Trump lost re-election. It’s unclear how much Durham has spent in total, as he was only required to report expenditures since the special counsel designation.

Trump and his conservative allies have made repeated and unsubstantiated claims that a cabal of “deep state” officials illegally spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign and took actions to sabotage his presidency. Although they’ve been counting on the Durham investigation to uncover scandals to back up their assertions, frustration has grown with the lack of new developments and silence from the special counsel’s office.

“Where’s Durham?” Trump asked in a statement in March, months after losing the 2020 election to Joe Biden. “Is he a living, breathing human being? Will there ever be a Durham report?”

Durham’s work has now gone on longer than the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the original Russia interference probe in May 2017 and concluded it in March 2019. Critics continue to question the value of Durham’s inquiry and whether it should be shut down.

“Now that Durham’s probe into the FBI’s Russia probe has lasted longer even than the protracted Mueller investigation, it’s hard not to get an Alice-in-Wonderland sense about whatever bottomless rabbit holes these guys are burrowing into,” constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe said.

The decision on what to do with Durham’s investigation rests with the Biden administration’s attorney general, Merrick Garland. The Justice Department declined to comment on Garland’s position, saying only that he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing to meet with the special counsel to learn the status of the probe. Garland also said at the time he had no reason to doubt Barr’s decision allowing Durham to proceed.

Risks for Garland

Garland and the Justice Department face political risks, however, if they try to curb or end Durham’s investigation.

“I suppose DOJ should push Durham to provide a status update, but I doubt much would come from such a push as long as the political costs of forcing Durham to wind things up and close up shop exceed the legal benefits of doing so,” Tribe said in an emailed response to questions.

More than two years in, Durham has secured one guilty plea from a former FBI lawyer who acknowledged falsifying an email when seeking to renew a secret warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide. The lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, admitted he changed the email to incorrectly say that Page hadn’t been a CIA source. He pleaded guilty last August to falsifying a document.

By comparison, the Mueller investigation resulted in 34 indictments, including the conviction of Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort for unrelated financial crimes and a guilty plea from Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the FBI. Trump pardoned Manafort and Flynn in December.

Mueller also documented almost a dozen examples of possible obstruction of justice by Trump, and his investigation exposed a massive criminal conspiracy by Russian operatives to interfere in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s investigation cost about $32 million, of which $16 million was spent directly by Mueller and the rest by Justice Department components in support of the probe.

A department watchdog concluded in December 2019 that FBI officials acted legally, and were justified, in opening the Russia probe, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, in July 2016. The inspector general didn’t find evidence that anti-Trump bias affected the investigation, even though mistakes were made that led the FBI to change some internal procedures.

Barr said in December that while Durham’s investigation began very broadly, it had “narrowed considerably” and was “focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI.” Barr had previously said he didn’t expect Durham’s investigation would lead to a criminal investigation of former President Barack Obama, who was in office when Crossfire Hurricane began, or Biden, then the vice president.

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