Subpoenaing the Brookings Institution, Durham Focuses on Trump-Russia Dossier
WASHINGTON — Exiled from Twitter, former President Donald J. Trump issued a sarcastic statement recently inquiring about the ongoing public silence from John H. Durham, the special counsel who has been investigating the Trump-Russia inquiry since May 2019.
“Where’s Durham?” said Mr. Trump, who repeatedly predicted before last year’s election that Mr. Durham’s investigation would prove a deep-state conspiracy against him. “Is he a living, breathing human being? Will there ever be a Durham report?”
Mr. Durham ignored the complaint publicly, and the scope of his inquiry remains opaque. But one aspect has come into focus recently, according to people familiar with the investigation: Mr. Durham has keyed in on the F.B.I.’s handling of a notorious dossier of political opposition research both before and after the bureau started using it to obtain court permission to wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser in 2016 and 2017 and questioned witnesses who may have insight into the matter.
In particular, Mr. Durham has obtained documents from the Brookings Institution related to Igor Danchenko, a Russia researcher who worked there a decade ago and later helped gather rumors about Mr. Trump and Russia for that research, known as the Steele dossier, according to people familiar with the request.
By asking about the dossier, Mr. Durham has come to focus at least in part on re-scrutinizing an aspect of the investigation that was already exposed as problematic by a 2019 Justice Department inspector general report and led to reforms by the F.B.I. and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Asked whether the special counsel had briefed his new supervisor — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland — a Justice Department spokesman would only point to a statement by Mr. Garland as a nominee. “If confirmed,” he said, “one of the first things I am going to do is speak with Mr. Durham and learn the status of his investigation.”
In February, several weeks before the Senate confirmed Mr. Garland, Mr. Durham obtained old personnel files and other documents related to Mr. Danchenko from the Brookings Institution, a prominent Washington think tank, using a subpoena. Mr. Danchenko had worked there from 2005 until 2010.
Mr. Danchenko traveled to Russia in 2016 and gathered rumors about Mr. Trump and his associates on behalf of Christopher Steele, who produced the dossier as a subcontractor for an investigative firm being indirectly paid by Democrats to look into any Trump-Russia ties.
Michael Cavadel, the general counsel of Brookings, confirmed the subpoena for records and other materials about Mr. Danchenko, saying that it was received on Dec. 31 and that the think tank had taken until February to gather the files and turn them over to Mr. Durham’s team in part because its office is closed during the pandemic.
“Consistent with its practices in such matters, Brookings provided the responsive documents, none of which contained information associated with the reports known as the Steele dossier,” Mr. Cavadel said.