WASHINGTON – From the beginning, John H. Durham’s investigation into Russia’s investigation was politically charged. President Trump took it for granted to discover a “deep state” conspiracy against him, Attorney General William P. Barr scolded investigators under scrutiny, and he and Mr. Durham publicly guessed an independent inspector general and traveled the world to pursue you conspiracy theories.
It turns out that Durham also focused attention on certain political enemies of Trump: the Clintons.
Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut assigned by Barr to review the inquiry in Russia, sought documents and interviews about how federal law enforcement officers handled an investigation at the same time. on allegations of political corruption at the Clinton Foundation, according to people familiar with the matter.
Durham’s team members suggested to others that they are comparing the two investigations, as well as examining whether investigators in the Russian investigation have broken laws or policies. It was not clear whether the Durham investigators were looking for violations in the Clinton Foundation investigation, nor whether the comparison would be included or would play an important role in the outcome of the Durham investigation.
The approach is highly unusual, according to people informed about the investigation. Although the suspicious crimes themselves are not comparable – one involves a possible conspiracy between a presidential campaign and a foreign adversary to interfere in an election, and the other involves potential bribery and corruption – and it largely included different teams of investigators and prosecutors, Mr. Durham’s efforts suggest that the scope of his review is broader than previously known.
Durham’s focus on the Clinton Foundation inquiry comes as concerns among Democrats and some former Justice Department officials increase that his investigation is being politically armed to help Trump. Last week, Congressional Democrats asked the department’s inspector general to investigate whether Durham’s review was free of political influence after his top aide abruptly resigned, allegedly for fears that the team’s findings would be released prematurely before the election. in November.
The Clinton Foundation investigation began about five years ago, under the Obama administration, and was paralyzed in part because some former career police officers found the case too weak to issue subpoenas. Finally, Arkansas prosecutors obtained a subpoena for the charity in early 2018. So far, the case has not resulted in criminal charges.
Some former police officers refused to speak to the Durham team about the foundation’s investigation because they felt the nature of their investigation was highly unusual, according to people familiar with the investigation. Durham team members sought information about the subpoena debate that the FBI attempted to obtain in 2016 and also approached current agents on the matter, but it is unclear what they told investigators.
A spokesman for Durham declined to comment.
“The Clinton Foundation has been regularly subjected to unfounded and politically motivated claims, and again and again these claims have been proven false,” the foundation said in a statement.
The right-wing media and prominent Republicans have long promoted a narrative that the FBI leadership and the Justice Department under the Obama administration were biased in favor of Hillary Clinton. They accused agents and prosecutors of aggressively investigating Trump and his associates – ignoring evidence to the contrary – while acting more cautiously in the Clinton Foundation’s corruption allegations and Clinton’s use of a private email server to drive government affairs while she was secretary of state.
“There was a clear double standard on the part of the Department of Justice and the FBI when it came to the Trump and Clinton campaigns in 2016,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a staunch advocate of Mr. Trump.
In the Russian investigation, FBI officials took aggressive measures, such as obtaining a secret eavesdropping to spy on a former Trump adviser. But they also acted silently, deploying informants and a secret agent in part to prevent the existence of the investigation from becoming public and affecting the 2016 elections.
Mr. Barr repeatedly attacked the Russian inquiry while Durham investigated him, calling him “one of the greatest transvestites in American history” and ignoring a policy that generally prohibits the department from making public statements about ongoing investigations. Barr’s statements increased hope among supporters of the president that Durham will discover evidence of a plot to sabotage the Trump campaign and presidency.
So far, only one person has been charged with a criminal offense: Kevin E. Clinesmith, a former FBI attorney who pleaded guilty to altering an email investigators trusted to renew a former adviser’s secret wiretap request. of Trump’s campaign, Carter Page.
The president and his Republican allies tried to classify the Clinton Foundation, a philanthropic organization, as corrupt, accusing Clinton of taking steps as secretary of state to support the interests of the foundation’s donors.
Critics suggested it was part of a quid pro quo in which the foundation received large donations in exchange for supporting the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with links to mining interests in the United States, to a Russian nuclear agency. The deal was approved by the United States Foreign Investment Committee when Clinton was President Barack Obama’s secretary of state and had a seat on the panel.
The charges against Clinton were presented in the book “Clinton Cash” by Peter Schweizer, a senior editor at Breitbart News, the right-wing vehicle once controlled by former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon. The book contained several errors, and the foundation rejected its claims.
But the book caught the attention of FBI agents, who saw part of its content as an additional justification for obtaining a subpoena for the foundation’s records.
Senior officials in the Justice Department’s criminal division denied a 2016 request from senior FBI managers in Washington to obtain a subpoena, determining that the bureau did not have sufficient basis for this and that the book had a political agenda, former officials said. At the time, some prosecutors considered the book to have been discredited.
The decision frustrated some agents who believed they had sufficient evidence beyond the book, including a discussion that touched on the fundamentals and was captured by wiretapping in an unrelated investigation. Other FBI officials at the time believed that the relevance of the conversation to the foundation’s case was tenuous at best.
The disagreement broke out again in the summer of 2016, when a senior Justice Department official suspected that FBI agents in New York were trying to persuade federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to authorize a subpoena after officials from the department’s criminal division in Washington refused such a request. At the time, F.BI. The authorities revisited the matter, the Justice Department officials were also concerned that compliance with subpoenas would violate the practice of avoiding such investigative activity so close to an election.
Ultimately, the Clinton Foundation dispute involved Andrew G. McCabe, then deputy director of the FBI, who was accused of leaking information about the case to a reporter and later lying to the Justice Department’s inspector general. The episode helped trigger McCabe’s 2018 resignation and a failed Justice Department attempt to prosecute him.
The foundation’s case – which was spread among the FBI’s field offices in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Little Rock, Ark – exploded until Trump was elected. In early 2018, Patrick C. Harris, a career promoter in Little Rock, issued a grand jury summons to the foundation’s records, said two former police officers familiar with the investigation.
A foundation official confirmed that the charity was subpoenaed and responded to the request for information.
In 2017, Republicans asked for a second special lawyer to investigate the foundation, but Rod J. Rosenstein, then deputy attorney general, does not believe that the scarce evidence collected in the case justifies one, said a person familiar with the matter. Instead, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, asked John W. Huber, the United States attorney in Utah, to review whether federal police officers had fully investigated the matter.
Shortly after Durham began his review, Barr said in an interview with CBS News in May 2019 that Huber was ending his Clinton-related work. In January, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Huber’s investigation was over; its conclusions have not been made public. Mr trump after attacked Mr. Huber, accusing him of doing “absolutely NOTHING”.
Adam Goldman reported from Washington, and William K. Rashbaum and Nicole Hong from New York. Katie Benner and Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington.