John Durham, a decorated career prosecutor, announced Friday he is stepping down at the end of the month as a U.S. attorney in Connecticut but will continue as a special prosecutor investigating the origins of the Russia collusion probe that dogged the early Trump presidency.
Durham’s announcement, which was widely expected as part of the transition inside the Biden Justice Department, allows him to focus on wrapping up the Russia investigation from Washington DC where the probe has been ongoing since 2019.
“My career has been as fulfilling as I could ever have imagined when I graduated from law school way back in 1975,” Durham said. “Much of that fulfillment has come from all the people with whom I’ve been blessed to share this workplace, and in our partner law enforcement agencies. My love and respect for this Office and the vitally important work done here have never diminished.”
Durham will be succeeded in Connecticut in the interim by his deputy Leonard Boyle.
Durham’s special counsel probe is focused on whether the FBI inappropriately opened an investigation into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 or committed any criminal acts by continuing the investigation and seeking FISA warrants that contained inaccurate or omitted information.
He has secured one criminal conviction of the former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith for doctoring evidence submitted to the FISA court. And in December, the Justice Department signaled Durham’s investigation had found further criminal activity, upgrading him to the position of a special counsel.
John H. Durham will continue as special counsel in the investigation of the origins on the Trump-Russia inquiry, but is being asked to resign as U.S. Attorney, as the Biden administration begins replacing top federal prosecutors appointed by former President Donald Trump with its own nominees.
Among the federal prosecutors appointed by Trump, only Durham and David C. Weiss, the U.S. Attorney in Delaware, whose office is directing a tax investigation of Biden’s son Hunter Biden, are expected to remain with the justice department after the incoming administration asks for the resignations of the Trump appointees who have not already left.
Requests by incoming administrations for the resignations of U.S. Attorneys — the top federal law enforcement officers in their districts — are in most cases routine and Durham’s office has anticipated and planned for the transition. But Durham’s position directing the politically explosive inquiry into the Russia probe — and Weiss’ role in the Hunter Biden investigation — presented a challenge for the Biden administration.
Durham could not be reached Tuesday to discuss his plans. His office in New Haven declined to comment.
A justice department spokesman said, “Continuing the practice of new administrations, President Biden and the Department of Justice have begun the transition process for the U.S. Attorneys.” An official said the remaining Trump U.S. Attorneys have been given to the end of the month to depart.
It is unclear how quickly the Biden administration will be able to move to appoint federal prosecutors; a number of lawyers in Connecticut already are maneuvering for Durham’s office in New Haven. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the judiciary committee, has said the nomination of senior justice officers will take precedence over the U.S. Attorneys.
The appointment process also faces delays caused by an historic second impeachment of Trump, the trial of which is to begin in the Senate today. Senior justice nominees and U.S. Attorneys must be confirmed by the Senate.
Durham was sworn in as U.S. Attorney in February 2018 and, not long after, was brought to Washington by former U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate leaks of confidential law enforcement and intelligence information associated with an FBI investigation of now-discredited allegations that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia. In May 2019, Barr appointed Durham to lead the Trump-Russia inquiry based on his experience in the leak investigation, as well as prior experience investigating the Central Intelligence Agency in 2008 and 2009.
Six months after his appointment to the Russia inquiry, Durham made news by publicly disputing the Justice Department inspector general who had concluded that the FBI was justified in opening its Russia collusion probe.
“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said.
In October, with the presidential election approaching, Barr quietly appointed Durham as a special counsel on the Russia inquiry, a decision that many in federal law enforcement viewed as a guarantee that he would be permitted to complete his work. The appointment gave Durham a degree of independence from the justice department.
Barr revealed the special counsel appointment in a letter to Congress two months later: “In advance of the presidential election, I decided to appoint Mr. Durham as a special counsel to provide him and his team with the assurance that they could complete their work, without regard to the outcome of the election.”
Durham became the most visible face of federal law enforcement in Connecticut, long before his appointment as U.S. Attorney or assignment to the Russia inquiry.
He joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1982 after working as a state prosecutor assigned to target career criminals. Durham, who rarely speaks or appears in public, was assigned to the federal justice department’s secret organized crime strike force. By the late 1990s, he was the senior prosecutor on a state and federal law enforcement task force that helped take down the Patriarca crime family, the ruthless mob that controlled the New England underworld.
After an extraordinary, months-long trial in Hartford, Durham convicted the Patriarca mob’s southern New England leadership — after presenting the jury with, among other things, the first-ever recording of the mafia’s secret initiation ceremony.
In the late 1990s, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno sent Durham to Boston with orders to put together a law enforcement team from around the country and determine how legendary gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was able — for years — to infiltrate and subvert the local FBI office. Durham, working with others, proved that a decorated former FBI mob investigator had been a secret member of Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang.
In the CIA inquiry, Durham was assigned by the justice departments under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2009 to investigate whether the agency used torture in interrogations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and its destruction of certain videotapes showing the torture of suspected terrorists.
Three years later, Durham directed the Connecticut aspect of history’s biggest art heist — the theft of $500 million in art masterworks from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Over nearly four decades at the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Haven, Durham has held a variety of positions, including deputy U.S. Attorney, as well as acting as an interim U.S. Attorney.
After serving as the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut for more than three years, and as a federal prosecutor in Connecticut for more than 38 years, John H. Durham today announced his resignation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, effective at midnight on February 28.
“My career has been as fulfilling as I could ever have imagined when I graduated from law school way back in 1975,” said U.S. Attorney Durham. “Much of that fulfillment has come from all the people with whom I’ve been blessed to share this workplace, and in our partner law enforcement agencies. My love and respect for this Office and the vitally important work done here have never diminished. It has been a tremendous honor to serve as U.S. Attorney, and as a career prosecutor before that, and I will sorely miss it.”
Prior to his appointment as an interim U.S. Attorney in November 2017 and subsequently as the presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney in February 2018, Mr. Durham served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in various positions in the District of Connecticut for 35 years, prosecuting complex organized crime, violent crime, public corruption and financial fraud matters. From 1978 to 1982, he served as an Assistant State’s Attorney in the New Haven State’s Attorney’s Office, and from 1977 to 1978, he served as a Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney in the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Leonard C Boyle will serve as Acting U.S. Attorney upon Mr. Durham’s departure.
“The Office will be in the extraordinarily capable hands of Len and our superb supervisory team who, together, guarantee that the proper administration of justice will continue uninterrupted in our District.”
Mr. Boyle has served as First Assistant U.S. Attorney since June 2018, when he returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office after serving as Deputy Chief State’s Attorney in Connecticut for approximately nine years. He previously served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office from 1986 to 1998, and from 1999 to 2004.
Mr. Boyle is the 53rd U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, an office that was established in 1789.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is charged with enforcing federal criminal laws in Connecticut and representing the federal government in civil litigation. The Office is composed of approximately 68 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and approximately 54 staff members at offices in New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport.