A federal prosecutor who led the investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation has resigned from the Justice Department, a spokesman said Friday.
Nora Dannehy was a top prosecutor on a team led by Connecticut United States attorney John Durham, who was appointed last year to lead an investigation into how the FBI and other federal agencies sought to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign had been coordinated with the Kremlin.
A US Attorney's spokesman in Connecticut confirmed Dannehy's departure, first reported by The Hartford Courant, but declined to comment.
Her departure could complicate the final stage of an investigation that has already been slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic but is eagerly awaited by President Donald Trump and his supporters to uncover what they see as wrongdoing within the FBI during the Russia investigation. It is leaving the investigation team without one of its experienced prosecutors, as important decisions are likely to be pending before the investigation is completed.
Durham's appointment by Attorney General William Barr was made public shortly after the publication of Special Adviser Robert Mueller's report on interference in the Russian elections. In the year and a half since, he has interviewed former law enforcement and intelligence officials – including former CIA director John Brennan – about decisions made in the course of the Russia investigation. Dannehy had been a front runner on the team, attending interviews with such officials, including Brennan.
The investigation has not yet produced the results Trump supporters had hoped for. There is also pressure to conclude soon as Justice Department policies disapprove of investigative steps that could affect an election, despite Barr said the policy would not apply here as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is not a target of the investigation is. It is also not clear that Durham's work can continue if Trump loses in November and the Democratic leadership takes control of the Justice Department.
Trump himself has stated that he would like results soon and said at a press conference at the White House Thursday that Durham was a "very, very respected man" and that his work would include a "report, or maybe much more than that." .
The investigation has so far brought charges against a former FBI attorney who is accused of modifying an email related to monitoring a former Trump campaign aide. However, the charges did not relate to any wider conspiracy within the FBI, and the related conduct was largely set out in a general report by the Department of Justice inspector last December.
It's not clear if Durham can complete his job ahead of the election, though Barr hasn't ruled out the possibility of additional criminal charges.
On other developments related to the investigation in Russia, attorneys have argued on Friday in connection with the case of former Trump administration's national security adviser Michael Flynn about how law enforcement should proceed in the face of an appeals court ruling last week.
The court ruled that US District Judge Emmet Sullivan did not have to dismiss the case just because the Justice Department asked. The verdict opened the door for Sullivan to examine the basis of the department's unusual request, which came despite Flynn pleading guilty twice of lying to the FBI.
John Gleeson, the retired federal judge appointed by Sullivan to argue against the Justice Department's position, said on a file that the case should not be dismissed and called the government's motion “clearly a corrupt political mandate for the government President "to be rejected.
"There is clear evidence that the government's motion to dismiss the case against Defendant Michael T. Flynn is based on mere pretext," Gleeson wrote. "There is clear evidence that this motion reflects a corrupt and politically motivated favor that is not worthy of our judicial system."
Flynn pleaded guilty to the Mueller investigation of lying about presidential change talks in which he urged the then Russian ambassador to stop tensions in response to sanctions imposed for meddling in the 2016 elections to escalate.
At the time, the FBI was investigating whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia to swing the election, and White House officials publicly stated that Flynn and the diplomat had not discussed sanctions.
The Justice Department tried to dismiss the case in May on the grounds that the FBI had absolutely no good reason to interview Flynn and that false statements he may have made during the questioning are not material to the investigation into Trump's relations be campaign and Russia.