|Special Counsel for the |
United States Department of Justice
|Assumed office |
October 19, 2020
|Appointed by||William Barr|
|Preceded by||Position established|
|United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut|
February 22, 2018 – February 28, 2021
Acting: October 28, 2017 – February 22, 2018
|Preceded by||Deirdre M. Daly|
|Succeeded by||Leonard C. Boyle (acting)|
1997 – 1998
|Preceded by||Christopher F. Droney|
|Succeeded by||Stephen C. Robinson|
John Henry Durham
March 16, 1950
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Education||Colgate University (BA)|
University of Connecticut School of Law (JD)
Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service
Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service
John Henry Durham (born March 16, 1950) is an American lawyer who served as the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut from February 2018 to February 2021. In April 2019 he was assigned to investigate the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, and in October 2020 he was appointed Special Counsel for the Department of Justice on those matters, a position he still holds.
He previously served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in various positions in the District of Connecticut for 35 years. He is known for leading an inquiry into allegations that FBI agents and Boston Police had ties with the Irish Mob, as well as his role as special prosecutor in the 2005 CIA interrogation tapes destruction. In May 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr tasked Durham with overseeing a review of the origins of the Russia investigation and to determine if intelligence collection involving the Trump campaign was "lawful and appropriate". Barr disclosed in December 2020 that he had elevated Durham's status to special counsel in October, ensuring that his investigation could continue after the Trump Administration ended. Durham continued in his role as special counsel even after his resignation as US attorney.
Early life and education
Durham was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Colgate University in 1972 and a Juris Doctor from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1975. After graduation, he was a VISTA volunteer for two years (1975–1977) on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana.
Connecticut state government
After Durham's volunteer work, he became a state prosecutor in Connecticut. From 1977 to 1978, he served as a Deputy Assistant State's Attorney in the Office of the Chief State's Attorney. From 1978 to 1982, Durham served as an Assistant State's Attorney in the New Haven State's Attorney's Office.
Following those five years as a state prosecutor, Durham became a federal prosecutor, joining the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut. From 1982 to 1989, he served as an attorney and then supervisor in the New Haven Field Office of the Boston Strike Force in the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. From 1989 to 1994, he served as Chief of the Office's Criminal Division. From 1994 to 2008, he served as the Deputy U.S. Attorney, and served as the U.S. Attorney in an acting and interim capacity in 1997 and 1998.
In December 2000, Durham revealed secret FBI documents that convinced a judge to vacate the 1968 murder convictions of Enrico Tameleo, Joseph Salvati, Peter J. Limone and Louis Greco because they had been framed by the agency. In 2007, the documents helped Salvati, Limone, and the families of the two other men, who had died in prison, win a $101.7 million civil judgment against the government.
On November 1, 2017, he was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. Attorney for Connecticut. On February 16, 2018, his nomination was confirmed by voice vote of the Senate. He was sworn in on February 22, 2018.
Barr secretly appointed Durham Special Counsel on October 19, 2020.
Durham resigned as U.S. Attorney effective February 28, 2021. He was one of 56 remaining Trump-appointed U.S. Attorneys President Biden asked to resign in February 2021. He remains Special Counsel as of September 2021.
Appointments as special investigator
Whitey Bulger case
Amid allegations that FBI informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi had corrupted their handlers, US Attorney General Janet Reno named Durham special prosecutor in 1999. He oversaw a task force of FBI agents brought in from other offices to investigate the Boston office's handling of informants. In 2002, Durham helped secure the conviction of retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal racketeering charges for protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and warning Bulger to flee just before the gangster's 1995 indictment. Durham's task force also gathered evidence against retired FBI agent H. Paul Rico who was indicted in Oklahoma on state charges that he helped Bulger and Flemmi kill a Tulsa businessman in 1981. Rico died in 2004 before the case went to trial.
CIA interrogation tapes destruction
In 2008, Durham was appointed by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the destruction of CIA videotapes of detainee interrogations. On November 8, 2010, Durham closed the investigation without recommending any criminal charges be filed. Durham's final report remains secret but was the subject of an unsuccessful lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act filed by The New York Times reporter Charlie Savage.
In August 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Durham to lead the Justice Department's investigation of the legality of CIA's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the torture of detainees. Durham's mandate was to look at only those interrogations that had gone "beyond the officially sanctioned guidelines", with Attorney General Holder saying interrogators who had acted in "good faith" based on the guidance found in the Torture Memos issued by the Bush Justice Department were not to be prosecuted. Later in 2009, University of Toledo law professor Benjamin G. Davis attended a conference where former officials of the Bush administration had told conference participants shocking stories, and accounts of illegality on the part of more senior Bush officials. Davis wrote an appeal to former Bush officials to take their accounts of illegality directly to Durham. A criminal investigation into the deaths of two detainees, Gul Rahman in Afghanistan and Manadel al-Jamadi in Iraq, was opened in 2011. It was closed in 2012 with no charges filed.
Appointment as special counsel
In April 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that he had launched a review of the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and it was reported in May that he had assigned Durham to lead it several weeks earlier. Durham was given the authority "to broadly examin[e] the government's collection of intelligence involving the Trump campaign's interactions with Russians," reviewing government documents and requesting voluntary witness statements. In December 2020, Barr revealed to Congress that he had secretly appointed Durham special counsel on October 19. He stayed on in this capacity after he resigned as U.S. Attorney. The U.S. Justice Department's first official expenditure report for the special investigation showed that it had spent $1.5 million from Oct 19, 2020, to March 31, 2021; Durham was not required to report expenditures made before being designated special counsel.
Investigation into origins of FBI investigation "Crossfire Hurricane"
On October 24, 2019, it was reported that what had been a review of the Russia investigation was now a criminal probe into the matter. The Justice Department could now utilize subpoena power for both witness testimony and documents. Durham also had at his disposal the power to convene a grand jury and file criminal charges, if needed. The New York Times reported on November 22 that the Justice Department inspector general had made a criminal referral to Durham regarding Kevin Clinesmith, an FBI attorney who had altered an email during the process of acquiring a wiretap warrant renewal on Carter Page, and that referral appeared to be at least part of the reason Durham's investigation was elevated to criminal status. On August 14, 2020, Clinesmith pleaded guilty to a felony violation of altering an email used to maintain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. He changed an email to falsely add a claim that Page was "not a source" for the CIA, to a statement by the CIA liaison that Carter Page had a prior operational relationship with the CIA from 2008 to 2013.
The day Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz released his report on the 2016 FBI Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which found the investigation was properly predicated and debunked a number of conspiracy theories regarding its origins, Durham issued a statement saying, "we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened." Many observers inside and outside the Justice Department, including the inspector general, expressed surprise that Durham would issue such a statement, as federal investigators typically do not publicly comment on their ongoing investigations. Barr also released a statement challenging the findings of the report. Horowitz later testified to the Senate that prior to release of the report he had asked Durham for any information he had that might change the report's findings, but "none of the discussions changed our findings." The Washington Post reported that Durham could not provide evidence of any setup by American intelligence.
The New York Times reported in December 2019 that Durham was examining the role of former CIA director John Brennan in assessing Russian interference in 2016, requesting emails, call logs and other documents. Brennan had been a vocal critic of Trump and a target of the president's accusations of improper activities toward him. The Times reported Durham was specifically examining Brennan's views of the Steele dossier and what he said about it to the FBI and other intelligence agencies. Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper had testified to Congress that the CIA and other intelligence agencies did not rely on the dossier in preparing the January 2017 intelligence community assessment of Russian interference, and allies of Brennan said he disagreed with the FBI view that the dossier should be given significant weight, as the CIA characterized it as "internet rumor." The Times reported in February 2020 that Durham was examining whether intelligence community officials, and specifically Brennan, had concealed or manipulated evidence of Russian interference to achieve a desired result. FBI and NSA officials told Durham that his pursuit of this line of inquiry was due to his misunderstanding of how the intelligence community functions. Durham interviewed Brennan for eight hours on August 21, 2020, after which a Brennan advisor said Durham told Brennan he was not a subject or target of a criminal investigation, but rather a witness to events.
On November 2, 2020, the day before the presidential election, New York magazine reported that:
According to two sources familiar with the probe, there has been no evidence found, after 18 months of investigation, to support Barr’s claims that Trump was targeted by politically biased Obama officials to prevent his election. (The probe remains ongoing.) In fact, the sources said, the Durham investigation has so far uncovered no evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden or Barack Obama, or that they were even involved with the Russia investigation.
Indictment of attorney
On September 16, 2021, Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, a partner for the law firm Perkins Coie, alleging he falsely told FBI general counsel James Baker during a September 2016 meeting that he was not representing a client for their discussion. Durham alleged Sussman was actually representing "a U.S. Technology Industry Executive, a U.S. Internet Company and the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign." Sussmann focuses on privacy and cybersecurity law and had approached Baker to discuss what he claimed to be suspicious communications between computer servers at the Russian Alfa-Bank and the Trump Organization. Sussmann had represented the Democratic National Committee regarding the Russian hacking of its computer network. Sussmann's attorneys have denied he was representing the Clinton campaign. Perkins Coie represented the Clinton presidential campaign, and one of its partners, Marc Elias, commissioned Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump, which led to the production of the controversial Steele dossier. Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor, characterized the allegations against him as politically motivated and pleaded not guilty the day after his indictment.
Awards and accolades
In 2011, Durham was included on The New Republic's list of Washington's most powerful, least famous people.
According to CNN, Durham is "press-shy" and is known for his tendency to avoid the media. United States Attorney Deirdre Daly once described him as "tireless, fair and aggressive" while United States Senator Chris Murphy characterized him as "tough-nosed ... apolitical and serious".
- Mueller Report
- Timeline of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
- Timeline of investigations into Donald Trump and Russia (2019)
- Timeline of investigations into Donald Trump and Russia (2020–2021)
- Trump–Ukraine scandal
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Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Haspel were later investigated by John Durham, an assistant United States attorney. Mr. Durham ultimately recommended filing no charges over the tape destruction, but his report laying out his findings and reasoning is secret. (The New York Times lost a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to make it public.)
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