WASHINGTON – Banned from Twitter, former President Donald J. Trump issued a sarcastic statement John H. Durham, the special adviser who has been investigating the Trump-Russia investigation since May 2019, recently asked about the continued public silence.
“Where’s Durham?” said Mr Trump, who had repeatedly predicted before last year’s election that the investigation into Mr Durham would prove a profound conspiracy against him. “Is he a living, breathing person? Will there ever be a Durham report? “
Mr Durham publicly ignored the complaint and the scope of his investigation remains obscure. However, one aspect has come into focus lately, according to those familiar with the investigation: Mr. Durham has looked at the FBI’s handling of an infamous dossier on opposition political research before and after the bureau began obtaining it to obtain court clearance to wiretap a former Trump campaign advisor in 2016 and 2017 and interview witnesses who may have insight into the matter.
In particular, Mr Durham has received documents from the Brookings Institution relating to Igor Danchenko, a Russian researcher who worked there a decade ago and who later helped gather rumors about Mr Trump and Russia for this research, according to Steele – The dossier is known to people who are familiar with the request.
By asking about the dossier, Mr Durham has at least partially focused on re-examining an aspect of the investigation that was identified as problematic in a general report by the Justice Department inspector in 2019 and on reforms by the F.B.I. and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
A spokesman for Mr Durham declined to comment.
When asked if the special adviser had informed his new manager – Attorney General Merrick B. Garland – a Justice Department spokesman would only point it out a statement by Mr Garland as a candidate. “If this is confirmed,” he said, “one of the first things I will do is to speak to Mr. Durham and see the status of his investigation.”
In February, a few weeks before the Senate ratified Mr. Garland, Mr. Durham received a subpoena from old personnel files and other documents relating to Mr. Danchenko from the Brookings Institution, a well-known think tank in Washington. Mr. Danchenko worked there from 2005 to 2010.
Mr Danchenko traveled to Russia in 2016 and collected rumors on behalf of Christopher Steele about Mr Trump and his staff, who was subcontracting the dossier to an investigation firm indirectly paid by Democrats to investigate any Trump-Russia relationship.
Michael Cavadel, the general counsel of Brookings, confirmed the subpoena for records and other material on Mr. Danchenko, saying it was received on December 31st and that it took the think tank until February to collect the files and turn them over to Mr. Durham’s team in part because his office is closed during the pandemic.
“In accordance with its practice on such matters, Brookings provided the response documents, none of which contained information related to the reports known as the Steele dossier,” said Cavadel.
Last September, then Attorney General William P. Barr, made public that Mr. Danchenko was the subject of an F.B.I. Investigation of counterintelligence to assess his contacts with several suspected Russian intelligence officials, including at the Russian embassy.
(Skeptics of the Steele dossier have raised the prospect that Russian intelligence used Mr. Danchenko or his sources to spread disinformation in order to further sow the chaos. Mr. Danchenko has never been charged and has denied ever being a Russian agent He also noted that while at Brookings, he presented an analysis that embarrassed President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia: Evidence that Mr. Putin plagiarized parts of his dissertation.)
Mr Durham also asked questions that put a focus on skepticism about how the F.B.I. issues were approaching that could undermine the dossier’s credibility as a basis for wiretapping applications, said those familiar with the investigation.
For example, Mr Durham’s team reportedly asked why, after identifying Mr Danchenko as the main source for the dossier and interviewing him in early 2017, the FBI failed to tell the Surveillance Court that it had once been the subject of a counterintelligence investigation.
Mr. Durham is also said to be interested in a meeting between the F.B.I. and Mr. Steele in Rome in early October 2016, just before the Office filed the first wiretap request using information from its dossier.
The previous month, Yahoo News had published an article containing information that overlapped with the claims in the dossier, and the F.B.I. He later learned that Mr. Steele had been a source of what caused the office to cut off its relationship with him. At that time, the court stated in its interception request that the office assumed that the source was someone else who had received a copy of the dossier.
Mr Durham reportedly asked why F.B.I. Officials at that October meeting apparently did not ask Mr. Steele if he was the source of the article – before using his information to request permission to wiretap former Trump adviser Carter Page.
The focus highlighted the possibility that Mr. Durham was investigating whether F.B.I. Officials have knowingly misled the Surveillance Court. But when Mr. Durham has found credible evidence of such a crime – as opposed to sloppy investigative work – he has yet to file such charges.
Mr. Durham interviewed the former C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan in August, but told him he was not the target of a criminal investigation. But he has the former F.B.I. not yet interviewed. Officials who held senior positions in 2016 who were demonized by Trump supporters, including former director James B. Comey; his former deputy Andrew G. McCabe; and a former senior counterintelligence agent, Peter Strzok, according to people familiar with the matter.
To the extent that a possible Durham report focuses on the F.B.I. To criticize, there is a risk that the floor already treated in the 2019 report of the General Inspector of the Ministry of Justice, Michael E. Horowitz, will be largely renovated.
Mr. Horowitz has already brought to light the fact that the F.B.I. botched its wiretapping requests in a number of ways, including exposing numerous material facts that law enforcement officers failed to provide to the court and which may have undermined their arguments for obtaining wiretapping permits or renewals – including the dossier.
Mr Horowitz’s report also already revealed the fact that Mr Danchenko was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation while working at Brookings, in a footnote that was originally classified before Mr Barr decided to make it public.
The report also already focused on the F.B.I.’s failure to ask Mr. Steele in October 2016 whether he had played a role in the Yahoo News article.
And the wrongdoing of the only person Mr. Durham has so far charged – Kevin Clinesmith, a former F.B.I. A lawyer who modified an email that was displayed to a colleague while preparing to replace the wiretap to prevent another problem from coming to light internally was uncovered by Mr. Horowitz’s investigation. (Mr. Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to forging the email but insisted that he not deliberately mislead his colleague, was given probation.)
Mr Barr hired Mr Durham to investigate possible wrongdoing by Trump-Russia investigators in the spring of 2019, at a time when Mr Trump and his supporters were pushing the idea that the investigation was a “Deep State” trial against him. While Mr. Durham’s work has been opaque, reports from people familiar with his investigation have made it clear that he has been pursuing various Trumpian conspiracy theories and grievances.
In an attempt to discredit the Russia investigation, Mr Trump and his allies have often linked it to the flawed Steele dossier. In fact, the site’s eavesdropping attempts were a small part of the overall effort, and Mr Horowitz’s report showed that they were irrelevant to the F.B.I. Decision to open the counterintelligence investigation in July 2016.
While the F.B.I. After botching these wiretapping requests, Mr Horowitz also concluded that the overall investigation had been legitimately initiated on an appropriate basis. When the Inspector General submitted the report, Mr. Durham intervened with an unusual public statement in which he disagreed with Mr. Horowitz that the opening of the investigation was duly predicted.
Mr. Durham did not provide details, but Mr. Horowitz later informed Congress that Mr. Durham had told him that he believed the F.B.I. should have opened the investigation as a “preliminary” investigation rather than going straight to a “full” investigation.