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Trump-era special counsel defends his report on Russia probe against Democrats' jabs

Special Counsel John Durham testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Durham was tasked by former Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Special Counsel John Durham testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Durham was tasked by former Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Special counsel John Durham, who investigated potential government wrongdoing in the early days of the Trump-Russia probe, defended his report in an often-contentious congressional hearing Wednesday.

The hearing, in effect, served as a stage for the proxy battle being fought between parties over claims of politicization.

Republican lawmakers claim Durham's report supports what they believe is the political weaponization of the federal government, specifically the FBI. Democrats, on the other hand, cast Durham's investigation as fruitless and a rehashing of talking points by former President Donald Trump.

Durham repeatedly pushed back on assertions that politics motivated the investigation.

"My colleagues and I carried out our work in good faith, with integrity, and in the spirit of following the facts wherever they lead, without fear or favor," he said. "At no time and in no sense did we act with a purpose to further partisan political ends. To the extent that somebody suggests otherwise — that's simply untrue and offensive."

What Durham found in his report

Durham was tapped by then-Attorney General William Barr in 2019 to look into the genesis of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. The probe culminated in a 300-plus page report that was released in May.

The report referred to the FBI's basis for starting its investigation as "seriously flawed," and said agents showed confirmation bias in their approach to the probe into Trump's 2016 campaign.

In 2019, the Justice Department inspector general reported serious errors with the FBI's application to wiretap former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and the FBI says it has taken corrective steps since.

Durham's report was sharply critical of the bureau, but it did not refute the underlying findings of what would later become special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

While the Mueller investigation did not find evidence of a "conspiracy" between the Trump campaign and Russia, it did find Russia interfered, tried to help the Trump campaign, and established multiple contacts with some Trump campaign officials and advisers.

Durham told lawmakers Wednesday his own report's findings are "sobering," and he claimed the FBI used a stricter standard when approaching alleged election interference with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

How lawmakers used the hearing

Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, slammed the Russia investigation and Trump's recent indictment over classified documents — claiming they were both politically motivated.

"Nothing has changed and frankly they're never going to stop," Jordan said Wednesday. "Seven years of attacking Trump is scary enough, but what's more frightening, any one of us could be next."

For their part, Democrats heaped criticism on Durham about his nearly four-year investigation, which yielded three prosecutions, resulting in two acquittals and one conviction.

New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, accused Durham of prolonging the investigation to "keep Donald Trump's talking points in the news."

"Republicans have planned this hearing and constructed an entire false narrative around this work of special counsel Durham, in an effort to distract from the former president's legal troubles and mislead the American public," Nadler said. "The Durham report is by itself a deeply flawed vessel. After four years, thousands of employee hours and more than $6.5 million in taxpayer dollars, special counsel Durham failed to uncover any wrongdoing that Justice Department Inspector General Horowitz had not already found in 2019."

Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen told Durham his "reputation will be damaged, as everybody's reputation who gets involved with Donald Trump is damaged."

"There's no good dealing with him because you will end up on the bottom of a pyre," Cohen said.

Durham tersely responded: "My concern about my reputation is with the people who I respect, and my family, and my lord — and I'm perfectly comfortable with my reputation with them."

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.