More than 40 Republican senators on Thursday sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to respect the independence of special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the government’s probe of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It is the latest push by Republicans to keep pressure on the Justice Department to stay out of Mr. Durham’s way as his investigation picks up steam.
The senators asked Mr. Garland for assurances that he won’t interfere or limit Mr. Durham’s probe. They also urged the attorney general to provide Mr. Durham with all resources necessary to “fully, thoroughly and completely pursue his investigation.
Under Justice Department regulations, Mr. Garland can only fire Mr. Durham for “good cause,” such as misconduct or conflict of interest. If Mr. Garland moves to terminate the special counsel probe, he must spell out the reason in writing.
However, an attorney general can constrain a special counsel probe by blocking any “investigative or procedural step” Mr. Durham recommends, such as bringing an indictment or subpoena if he determines it is “unwarranted” or “inappropriate.”
Mr. Garland is required to notify Congress of such a decision.
The attorney general could also cut the budget for the special counsel’s office.
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During a Senate hearing in October, Mr. Garland pledged that there will be “no political or otherwise undue inference in Mr. Durham’s investigation.”
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
The letter comes days after Mr. Durham filed a motion that included allegations that operatives connected to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign exploited their access to former President Trump’s internet traffic in an effort to dig up “derogatory information.”
“We hope you agree that those responsible for that manipulation and exploitation must be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law by special counsel Durham,” the senators wrote. “We further expect you will support his important work until all those responsible for the fraud committed upon the American people are brought to justice.”
Signers of the letter included Republican Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana, Rick Scott of Florida, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Republicans have been pressing Mr. Garland for public assurances that he will not interfere with Mr. Durham’s probe, and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley on Wednesday demanded Mr. Garland bar the wife of White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan from having any role in the investigation.
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Mr. Sullivan’s wife, Maggie Goodlander, serves as a counsel to Mr. Garland. A foreign policy adviser for Ms. Clinton’s campaign, Mr. Sullivan has come under intense scrutiny since Mr. Durham’s filing became public over the weekend.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request to comment, but in November, said that Ms. Goodlander is not connected to the Durham probe and works on antitrust and international issues.
Mr. Garland told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October that there would be no political interference with Mr. Durham‘s probe, initiated by predecessor Attorney General William P. Barr during the Trump administration, and said he hoped to make as much of the findings public as allowed under the law.
“I have to be concerned about Privacy Act concerns and classification, but other than that, the commitment is to provide a public report, yes,” he told lawmakers at the time.