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White House Chief of Staff’s Comments on Durham Investigation Stoke Fears of ‘Highly Inappropriate’ Coordination


White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows appeared to claim that he has seen documents—relevant to U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe of the origins of the Russia investigation—which implicate several Trump and Obama administration officials in potentially illegal conduct. While Meadows did not provide any specifics to substantiate his assertion, legal experts specializing in government affairs immediately wondered and worried if the president’s chief of staff had somehow become privy to details of Durham’s mostly hidden investigation.

Appearing on Fox Business Network on Tuesday morning, Meadows told host Maria Bartiromo that while he was unable to provide an update on the progress of Durham’s investigation, he could confirm that he has seen “additional documents” confirming that— “at worst”—several individuals had engaged in still-unspecified illegal activities for which they should go to jail.

“Additional documents that I’ve been able to review say that a number of the players – the Peter Strzoks, the Andy McCabes, the James Comeys, and even others in the administration previously – are in real trouble because of their willingness to participate in an unlawful act. And I use the word ‘unlawful’ – at best it broke all kinds of protocols and at worst people should go to jail as I mentioned previously,” Meadows said.

Washington, D.C.-based national security attorney Bradley Moss and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig immediately questioned why Meadows or the White House would have been granted any special access to details of Durham’s investigation—if, indeed, that’s what Meadows was suggesting.

“Why would the [White House] know the details of what Durham has been reviewing?” Moss tweeted.

“Yes and what the hell is the White House Chief of Staff doing with sensitive people enforcement documents like these? Who sent them over? Why?” asked Honig.

Former U.S. Attorney, University of Michigan law professor, and MSNBC legal analyst Barbara McQuade remarked that DOJ policy says this is a no-no.

“DOJ policy forbids publicly describing evidence in a criminal case, even after charges are filed, let alone before, because it could improperly influence a jury. This is an improper use of law enforcement authority for a political purpose,” she said.

Durham was hand-picked by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr in May 2019 to oversee an administrative review of the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. By Oct. 2019, it was confirmed that the investigation would also be looking into possible criminal conduct and include actions taken under former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

The probe has been lambasted by Democrats as politically motivated and redundant in light of in-depth reports on the matter from the Justice Department Inspector General’s Office and the Senate Intelligence Committee. Additionally, Barr, who has long maintained that U.S. intelligence agencies “spied” on a presidential campaign, has been publicly pressured by President Donald Trump to use the Durham investigation to prosecute his political enemies (Barr claims he feels no pressure).

Meadows comments, if true, are likely to further mire Durham’s investigation in partisan turmoil.

“It would be highly inappropriate for there to be White House coordination with Durham’s probe in this manner,” Moss told Law&Crime. “However, it is not clear Meadows has actually seen something only Durham would know about or if he is merely referencing documents Congressional allies sent to Durham for consideration.”

Former Intelligence Community attorney Susan Hennessey took a similarly cautious approach to Meadows’s statements, saying it may have been nothing more than a ham-fisted attempt to spin the story in the president’s favor.

“It’s not clear Meadows is actually referring to documents provided by DOJ or investigation materials. He just says it’s something he claims is relevant,” she wrote. “I think there are even odds he’s just trying to spin a story out of some dumb internet conspiracy.”

But former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub, a vehement critic of the Trump administration and the president, interpreted Meadows’ statement in the most unfavorable light. He said it looked more like Meadows accidentally revealed that the White House was using the DOJ for political purposes.

“Mark Meadows is touting his knowledge of an ongoing investigation by AG Barr’s handpicked lackey, John Durham, into Obama admin officials—inadvertently revealing the WH is corruptly using the Justice Department as a political weapon, just as leaders do in authoritarian countries,” he tweeted.

[image via Fox Business Network screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.