Prosecutor quits Durham probe of Trump-Russia investigation over concern about political pressure, report says

  • Nora Dannehy, a top prosecutor in an ongoing probe into the origins of the investigation of President Donald Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, has quit.
  • The Hartford Courant reported that Nora Dannehy resigned from the probe by John Durham due to fears that political concerns were behind pressure to produce a report before work was completed.
  • Critics have said Attorney General William Barr is using Durham as a political weapon to discredit the prior probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign and Russian election meddling.

A top prosecutor in the probe into the origins of the investigation of President Donald Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has quit, reportedly in part due to fears that political concerns were behind pressure to produce a report before the probe's work is completed.

The Hartford Courant on Friday reported that Nora Dannehy, the top aide to U.S. Attorney John Durham in his controversial probe, told colleagues on Thursday night that she had resigned.

Dannehy's email to colleagues in Durham's office, in the District of Connecticut, "said nothing about political pressure," the Courant reported.

But the newspaper also reported that "colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from [Attorney General William] Barr — who appointed Durham — to produce results before the election."

"They said she has been considering resignation for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics," the Courant reported.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for Durham's office in Connecticut, told CNBC in an email, "We're confirming that she has resigned from the Department of Justice and not commenting further."

A spokesman for Barr, who heads the Justice Department, which in turn supervises the nation's United States attorneys and their offices, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The resignation comes two months before the presidential election, in which the Republican Trump faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president.

Barr last month said he could reveal at least some of Durham's findings before the election, sparking concerns that such an announcement could help Trump politically.

"We'll develop this case to the extent we can before the election, and we'll use our prudent judgment to decide what's appropriate before the election and what should wait until after the election," Barr said at the time.

Dannehy, who had previously worked in the Connecticut U.S. Attorney's office, including serving as that office's acting chief, was lured out of the private sector last year to work for Durham in his special assignment of investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia probe by the Justice Department and the FBI.

Critics of the Durham investigation have said it is a politically motivated effort by Barr and the Trump administration to smear the investigation by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, whose probe led to multiple successful criminal prosecutions of Trump associates.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. last year tweeted that "Trump&AG Barr are politically weaponizing DOJ [Department of Justice] — threatening a return to its darkest days."

"Targeting law enforcers as enemies—simply because they have the spine to stand up to corrupt power—is deeply dangerous, indeed chilling. This line must not be crossed," said Blumenthal, who previously held Durham's job as U.S. Attorney for Connecticut.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., during an appearance on MSNBC on Friday, said, "The whole point of this investigation is political."

"It began for a political reason, it will end for a political reason and the whole push by Barr to get something out, the push by Trump to get this report, interim report out before the election, is so transparently political," said Schiff,  the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

"So if indeed this is why this career prosecutor retired or resigned from the case, it makes a lot of sense," he added, referring to Dannehy.

Dannehy's email to colleagues announcing her resignation came hours after Trump declined to say whether he had confidence in Durham's probe, which so far has led to one criminal case.

Last month, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering the text of an email. That email had been used by the FBI to seek court approval to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide, in 2017. Clinesmith, in pleading guilty, told a judge that he thought he was putting in accurate information in the email.

"I can't tell you that yet," Trump said during a White House press conference Thursday when asked about his confidence in Durham's investigation.

"I have to see. I'm not involved in it," Trump continued. "I purposely stayed uninvolved. I'm, I guess, considered the chief law enforcement officer of the country. I could be involved if I wanted to. I thought it would be better if I wasn't. I think it's better if our great attorney general handles it. He has Durham, who is a very, very respected man, and we're going to see what it is."

Asked if he wanted to see Durham prosecute more people in his investigation, Trump said, "I can tell you this: They — they lied, they cheated, they leaked, they got caught. They spied on my campaign. Never in history has there been anything like this."

"And I guarantee if the roles were reversed and I was on the Democrat side, people would have been in jail at the very highest level," the president said.

"People would have been in jail for two years already. Nothing like this has ever happened. And the term would be for many, many years, because it's treason and other words can be used also."

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