John Durham

“You Will End Up on the Bottom of a Pyre”: Democrats Attack Special Counsel John Durham

by Jonathan Turley | June 22, 2023

Below is my column in on yesterday’s hearing with Special Counsel John Durham and the personal attacks that he faced from the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee. Without challenging a single fact in the report as untrue, members heaped personal attacks on one of the most respected prosecutors at the Justice Department. Durham’s testimony was detached, detailed, and unbiased. He was everything that the members were not. However, one moment stood out more than the rest . . .

Here is the column:

Special Counsel John Durham has spent decades investigating and prosecuting mob leaders to murderers. Yet, nothing could have prepared him for what unfolded this week in the House Judiciary Committee.

Long praised as a professional and apolitical prosecutor, Durham looked about as comfortable as a Benedictine monk in a strip joint. Democrats accused Durham of being a MAGA stooge and a lowlife for his report detailing the lack of professional standards and factual support leading to the Russian collusion investigation.

What Durham found was that the investigation showed an abundance of bias and a paucity of evidence.

As expected, the Democrats attacked Durham and suggested that he was “tasked” with defending Trump and fostering conspiracy theories. However, the most telling moment came early when Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen issued a dire warning to Durham.

Cohen said that Durham no longer had a good reputation because he has undermined the basis for the Russian collusion investigation: “You had a good reputation. You had a good reputation … but the longer you hold on to Mr. Barr … your reputation will be damaged … you will end up on the bottom of a pyre.”

Durham seemed less concerned about liars than pyres in presenting the facts from his team: “My concern about my reputation is with the people who I respect, my family, and my Lord, and I’m perfectly comfortable with my reputation with them, sir.”

It was like a Joseph Welch moment in another hearing with then-Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy. After McCarthy criticized a young lawyer in the office of Welch, who was chief counsel for the Army, Welch famously responded, “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” He continued the exchange, adding, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

This is not the first moment in recent weeks that raises analogies to the McCarthy period.

I testified recently in Congress on the Twitter Files and how they suggest what I have called “censorship by surrogate” or proxy. In my testimony, I warned that the government’s support of blacklists and censorship was reminiscent of the McCarthy period where the FBI targeted socialists, communists, and others. I encouraged Congress not to repeat its failures from the 1950s by turning a blind eye to such abuse.

That appeared to be taken by Democrats as more of an invitation than an admonition. At that hearing, Democrats attacked virtually every witness, including former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who labeled a “Russian asset” by Hillary Clinton.

John DurhamSoon after the end of the hearing, MSNBC contributor and former Sen. Claire McCaskill appeared on MSNBC to denounce fellow witnesses Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Ron Johnson, and Gabbard as “Putin apologists” and Putin lovers. She exclaimed, “I mean, look at this, I mean, all three of those politicians are Putin apologists. I mean, Tulsi Gabbard loves Putin.” (For the record, she also attacked me as not being “a real lawyer.”)

In later hearings, Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-VI, the ranking member of the House Judiciary subcommittee, attacked the reporters appearing as witnesses as “so-called journalists” and said they were “a direct threat” to the safety of others by reporting the censorship story. Plaskett also later called for the possible arrest of Taibbi.

John DurhamVirgin Islands Democrat Del. Stacey Plaskett attacked reporters appearing as witnesses at a previous hearing as “so-called journalists.” (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Democrats have attacked experts, whistleblowers and former FBI agents who came forward to raise concerns with Congress.

Now it is Durham’s turn. Rep. Ted. Lieu, D-Calif., accused a man who has served his country honestly and faithfully for decades as acting as a “political hack.”

While Durham noted that no one has challenged the facts in his reports, he was labeled as a handmaiden of MAGA and one more body to throw on “the pyre.”

Of course, the pyre reference ignored who was stoking and feeding that fire for those who depart from the mainstream narrative. Many have found themselves tossed on that pyre. Even when allegations were disproven, it did not matter.

Indeed, in the hearing, various Democrats were resurrecting bogus past claims about criminal acts linked to a meeting in Trump Tower with Russian figures. No one, including former FBI director Robert Mueller, found any such criminal conduct despite a host of legal experts declaring clear evidence of crime on cable programs.

Despite dozens of crimes long alleged by pundits and politicians that were never charged, their reputations are of course intact. That’s the point of Cohen’s advice. If you want a future, get on the team.

John DurhamAfter all, figures like Peter Strzok were fired for bias and misconduct. It was Strzok who was part of launching a full investigation within three days of an account of a comment in a pub. It was Strzok who promised his colleague and lover Lisa Page that she did not have to worry about Trump being elected: “there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take the risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”

It was Strzok who countermanded agents who wanted to close Crossfire Razor due to a lack of evidence against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser.

As expected, the Democrats attacked Durham and suggested that he was “tasked” with defending Trump and fostering conspiracy theories. However, the most telling moment came early when Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen issued a dire warning to Durham.

However, Strzok did what Cohen suggested. He stuck with the narrative and found a soft landing on sites like LawFare, CNN and MSNBC as an analyst. He got the parade not the pyre.

There was an obvious frustration that the attacks did not seem to matter to Durham. His North Star has remained constant in maintaining his own integrity and his reputation with “the people I respect.” That clearly does not include some of these members.

However, it likely includes some of the professionals referenced in Durham’s testimony. He spoke of FBI agents who came to him to apologize for assisting in the Russian collusion investigation after learning the full story. It includes an agent who Durham said broke down emotionally when he learned what the FBI leadership hid from him and had to leave the room.

Durham has nothing to worry about on his reputation. History will be less kind to the members who have attacked him.

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