Prosecutor appointed by Barr poised to enter Washington firestorm

A new U.S. prosecutor is about to enter the center of a partisan firestorm in Washington. 

John Durham, a longtime Justice Department official who is serving as a U.S. attorney in Connecticut, has reportedly been picked by Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump sides with religious leaders in fight against governors Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans MORE to review the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference. 

The Justice Department has been silent on the reports about Barr’s decision, and a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut also declined to comment.

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Reports of the move have prompted cheers from Republicans while evoking suspicion from Democrats who have been critical of Barr’s decision to review the origins of the intelligence collection on the Trump campaign, which the attorney general referred to as “spying” last month.   

Durham has a reputation for nonpartisanship and investigating sensitive national security matters, including leading a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which are now widely viewed as torture, on terrorist suspects starting in 2008 under the appointment of then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderLegal challenges to stay-at-home orders gain momentum Census delay threatens to roil redistricting Storm builds around Barr over dropping of Flynn case MORE. He also helped prosecute Connecticut’s former Gov. John Rowland, who is a Republican.

The attorney received a positive recommendation by his state’s two Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress eyes changes to small business pandemic aid Top Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump's ability to fire IGs MORE, when he was appointed to his position in Connecticut by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order MORE. The Senate confirmed Durham by voice vote.

But Democrats are blasting the purpose of the investigation, accusing Barr of fueling conspiracy theories and GOP talking points by dedicating resources to a third investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, a move they say threatens to alienate members of the attorney general’s own law enforcement team. 

“It is another very professional public servant tasked with a very unprofessional and unbecoming job,” said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal said Durham risks “sullying” his long record as a straight shooter.

“This investigation of the investigators is a politically motivated distraction. And it threatens to degrade the career professionals who devote their lives — like John Durham — to law enforcement,” the Connecticut senator added.

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Conservative allies of the president, however, are hailing the decision as another sign of progress under the leadership of Barr, whom they say has proved he is committed to unearthing bias against the president during the early days of the Russia probe. 

“I view this as something we’ve been asking for and that the attorney general is now going to do it,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFBI director stuck in the middle with 'Obamagate' Merger moratorium takes center stage in antitrust debate Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans MORE (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and one of the president’s close allies.

Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Barr to open the inquiry but expressed satisfaction at the developments. 

“I think it’s a great thing that he did it. I saw it last night. And they want to look at how that whole hoax got started,” Trump said. “I am so proud of our attorney general that he is looking into it.” 

Barr said last month that he was reviewing the “genesis and conduct” of the original Russia investigation in order to determine whether “improper surveillance” occurred, bringing together a group of colleagues to help him. He didn’t offer any names and dismissed reports he had set up a “team” to handle the review. 

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee in April. 

“I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I’m saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it. That’s all,” he said later. 

Republicans, who welcomed Barr’s earlier remarks, have long been calling for a second special counsel to be put in charge of such an investigation, but Barr’s reported appointment does not give Durham the formal title of a special counsel or a special prosecutor. 

Despite this, Republicans indicate they are satisfied by the move because they trust Barr will thoroughly examine how and why the FBI and DOJ officials decided to launch a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential candidate.

“I don’t know that you necessarily need the formal title of a special counsel. I just think you need to get to the bottom of it, and I think the attorney general’s indicated he’s going to do that,” Jordan told The Hill. “I trust the attorney general. And I trust the folks that the attorney general’s selected to help him complete this task.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Abrams announces endorsements in 7 Senate races Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes MORE (R-S.C.) described it as a “reasonable approach.”  

Durham’s reported investigation runs parallel to two other ongoing probes, including those led by Inspector General Michael Horowitz and John Huber, a U.S. attorney in Utah who is working in cooperation with the DOJ watchdog.

Horowitz is investigating whether the FBI followed applicable procedures in applying for a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and is also said to be looking into whether the bureau appropriately handled informants. Huber, who was quietly tapped by former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBiden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' Trump says Sessions wasn't 'mentally qualified' to be attorney general Trump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' MORE last year, is examining certain aspects of the early days of the Russia probe.

The findings of both investigations have not been announced, but Barr has previously said the inspector general is expected to conclude his inquiry in May or June. 

And while the timing for Huber’s findings remains unclear, his appointment and unusual arrangement with Horowitz were viewed at the time as a way of placating a vocal group of Republicans alleging bias against the president. 

Instead, Republicans have grown critical of Huber’s work.

In a letter earlier this year, Jordan and Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLoeffler says she won't drop out of Georgia Senate race after stock trade controversy Kelly Loeffler's husband donates million to pro-Trump group Poll: Trump and Biden running neck and neck in Georgia MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, asked Huber to provide Congress with an update on his probe while expressing concern he has not talked to a series of key witnesses. 

Jordan on Tuesday said Durham’s appointment suggests Huber “hasn’t done squat.”

“We haven’t heard a darn thing for him in over a year or close to a year now,” Jordan said.