Democrats Worry Special Counsel John Durham Will Tie Biden's Hands, 'Settle Old Scores' on Russia

On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr notified congress that on October 19, he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a special counsel to investigate the origins of the FBI's probe into Russian ties to the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats worry that Durham's appointment—which cannot easily be dismissed by the forthcoming attorney general under President-elect Joe Biden without possible backlash and political consequences—will serve primarily to trouble the new administration by airing longstanding grievances held by President Donald Trump against Biden and former President Barack Obama.

Trump has long claimed that the FBI investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia during the 2016 election was nothing more than a political "witch hunt" started by Obama and fellow Democrats to delegitimize his presidency. Trump has also claimed that it was illegal for the Obama administration to investigate him in the first place, claiming there was no basis for it.

William Barr John Durham special counsel Democrats
On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to the the House and Senate Judiciary Committees announcing U.S. Attorney John Durham's October 19 appointment as special counsel to investigate the origins of the FBI's investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the campaign of then candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. In this April 09, 2019 photo, Barr testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Barr tapped Durham as early as May 2019 to begin investigating the genesis of the FBI's Trump-Russia probe and how federal intelligence committees reached their decisions and conclusions concerning Russia's alleged election interference and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Just as congressional Democrats pressured Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with the Trump-Russia investigation, handled by special counsel Robert Mueller, congressional Republicans are urging Biden and Democrats to let Durham conduct his investigation.

"I hope my Democrat colleagues will show Special Counsel Durham the same respect they showed Special Counsel Mueller," South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, according to Politico. "This important investigation must be allowed to proceed free from political interference."

Special counsel, Durham can't be easily removed by the Biden Administration as only an attorney general can fire a special counsel. Any firing must be made in writing and carried out only for specific reasons like misconduct and conflict of interest. As a special counsel, Durham won't be directly supervised by the Justice Department but can be required by Biden's attorney general to explain his investigation and its procedural steps.

Any attempt to fire the special counsel would likely be seen as political interference and interpreted as an attempt to hide wrongdoing by Obama or Biden administration officials.

When Barr first revealed Durham's investigation in May 2019, he said, "what happened to the president in the 2016 election and throughout the first two years of his presidency was abhorrent. It was a grave injustice and it was unprecedented in American history. The Durham investigation is trying to get to the bottom of what happened. And it will determine whether there are federal laws broken. Those who broke the laws will be held to account."

In Barr's Tuesday letter notifying the House and Senate Judiciary Committees of Durham's appointment as a special counsel, he said that he had originally intended Durham to complete his report by summer 2020, but that it had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Democratic House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff of California accused Barr of using Durham to settle political scores after Barr and Trump depart.

"In an appointment secretly conferred on Durham prior to the election and only disclosed now that Barr concedes there is no evidence of election fraud to overturn the results, Barr is using the special counsel law for a purpose it was not intended: to continue a politically motivated investigation long after Barr leaves office," Schiff wrote.

Newsweek contacted Barr's office for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Lindsey Graham as a senator from North Carolina. He is from South Carolina.