The U.S. attorney reportedly appointed to investigate whether spying by the FBI on the Trump campaign was legal previously exposed a conspiracy between the bureau’s agents and mobsters to cover up for murders committed by mob informants.
Attorney General William Barr tasked U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in Connecticut to investigate whether spying on President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 was adequately predicated, according to Reuters. The Department of Justice didn’t respond to a request to confirm the appointment.
Durham will scrutinize the conduct of several current and former senior FBI officials, including former Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok. Those officials were involved in obtaining a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign associate Carter Page and deployed at least two spies to target Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Durham may be one of the most uniquely qualified prosecutors for the job. In 2000, he exposed a group of FBI officials who used murderers as informants. The agents covered up a murder committed by a pair of mobster informants by framing four innocent men. The conspiracy to cover up for the murder involved the agents, their supervisors, and the FBI director himself, according to a ruling (pdf) by a judge who awarded the framed men and their estates more than $100 million in 2006. The bureau didn’t appeal the ruling.
Durham’s findings led to a congressional investigation of the FBI’s use of confidential human sources. In 2003, Congress released a scorching 3,500-page report titled “The FBI’s Use of Murderers as Informants.” The report concluded that the FBI’s conduct in the case amounted to “one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement.”
In the wake of the murderer-informant lawsuits and investigation, the FBI overhauled its Confidential Human Source Program. As a result, Durham will be probing the same program, which has been reformed as a result of his prior work.
Notably, Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who compiled the infamous dossier of opposition research on Trump, was a confidential human source on the FBI’s payroll during the 2016 election. The bureau fired Steele after he broke the rules of the Confidential Human Source Program by speaking to the media. Before firing Steele, the bureau used his dossier to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to spy on Carter Page.
In addition to appointing Durham, Barr is also personally working with FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to review intelligence gathering techniques used to investigate Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to sources cited by Reuters, The Associated Press, and Fox News. The DOJ, DNI, and CIA didn’t respond to requests to confirm the reports. The FBI declined to comment.
A probe into the legality of the warrant to spy on Page is already underway by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is due to release his findings in coming weeks.
In 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions assigned Utah’s top federal prosecutor, John Huber, to review a wide range of issues, from how the FBI handled investigations related to Hillary Clinton to questions about the origins of the Russia probe.
The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for Steele’s dossier.
President Donald Trump nominated Durham as Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney in November 2017. The Senate confirmed him in February 2018.
In the murderer-informant investigation, Durham looked into the 1965 murder of Edward “Teddy” Deegan. His investigation uncovered that the FBI knew for months in advance of a mob plot to kill Deegan, but withheld the evidence against the informants involved. Instead, four innocent men were convicted for the murder. Two of the men died in prison before Durham completed his inquiry.
“Known killers were protected from the consequences of their crimes and purposefully kept on the streets,” a congressional report on the matter stated.
The lead prosecutor in the Deegan case said he wouldn’t have moved forward with the prosecution if he knew of the evidence withheld by the FBI.
“That information should have been in my hands. It should have been in the hands of the defense attorneys. It is outrageous, it’s terrible, and that trial shouldn’t have gone forward,” the prosecutor said, according to the congressional report.
The withholding of evidence in the Deegan case is another parallel to Durham’s new assignment to the investigation of the Trump-Russia investigators. According to a report by the House Intelligence Committee, the FBI was aware that Steele was biased against Trump before the agency submitted an application for a spy warrant on Page. The bureau also withheld the fact that Steele’s dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign.
The FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign eventually evolved into the one led by special counsel Robert Mueller, who probed whether Trump or anyone in his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel investigation wrapped up in March, concluding there is no evidence that Trump or anyone on his campaign colluded with Russia.
Durham also handled one of the highest-profile investigations of the CIA in decades. In 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey tapped him to investigate the destruction of videotapes of the CIA’s interrogation of terrorism suspects. Months later, Attorney General Eric Holder asked Durham to also probe whether the agency’s interrogation techniques ran afoul of the law.
In 2010, Durham didn’t recommend charges in the investigation of tape destruction. He also recommended that most of the interrogation cases be closed, but called for additional scrutiny in the cases of two detainees who died in U.S. custody.
Durham’s CIA inquiry is yet another link to his new assignment. Former CIA Director John Brennan has said that intelligence he collected from foreign sources while heading the agency in 2015 and 2016 was used to establish the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign.
Reuters contributed to this report.