WASHINGTON — Two House Democrats urged the Justice Department’s independent inspector general on Wednesday to open an investigation into the special counsel review of the Russia inquiry, citing “alarming” disclosures in a recent New York Times article.
The article, which showed how the special counsel’s review became roiled by disputes over prosecutorial ethics, “reveals possible prosecutorial misconduct, abuse of power, ethical transgressions and a potential cover-up of an allegation of a financial crime committed by the former president,” the lawmakers wrote. In a four-page letter to the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, they asked that he scrutinize whether the special counsel, John H. Durham, or the attorney general who appointed him, William P. Barr, “violated any laws, D.O.J. rules or practices, or canons of legal ethics.”
A spokesman for Mr. Durham declined to comment.
Because Democrats are in the minority in the House, the two lawmakers — Representatives Ted Lieu of California and Dan Goldman of New York — lack the power to convene their own oversight hearings into the matter. But on Monday, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, suggested that he would hold oversight hearings into Mr. Durham’s inquiry along with other aspects of how the Trump administration handled the Justice Department.
The report is “but one of many instances where former President Trump and his allies weaponized the Justice Department,” Mr. Durbin said in a statement, adding that his committee would “do its part and take a hard look at these repeated episodes, and the regulations and policies that enabled them, to ensure such abuses of power cannot happen again.”
Mr. Barr assigned Mr. Durham to scour the Russia investigation for any wrongdoing in the spring of 2019 and later bestowed special counsel status on him, entrenching him to stay in place after Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election. Mr. Durham developed two cases centered on charges of false statements, both of which ended in acquittals, and he is completing a report about his investigation, which has lasted four years.
Based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials, The Times described an array of previously unreported episodes that showed how Mr. Durham’s inquiry became roiled by internal dissent, leading two prosecutors on his staff to resign in protest.
The article also described how Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the liberal philanthropist who is a target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham shifted to using grand jury powers to obtain the information after a judge twice rejected his request for an order as legally insufficient.
The article revealed that in the fall of 2019, Italian officials unexpectedly gave Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham a tip about suspected financial crimes linked to Mr. Trump. While the tip was unrelated to the Russia investigation, Mr. Barr decided to have Mr. Durham investigate the matter himself rather than referring it to another prosecutor. Mr. Durham brought no charges.
And the article detailed how Mr. Barr had Mr. Durham hunted for evidence that intelligence abuses lurked in the origins of the Russia inquiry. After that turned into a dead end, they kept the investigation going by shifting to searching for a basis to accuse Hillary Clinton’s campaign of framing Mr. Trump for colluding with Russia.
Mr. Durham never charged such a conspiracy, but he used court filings to insinuate that there had been one, which Mr. Barr — no longer in office — publicly cheered. Mr. Lieu and Mr. Goldman wrote that “charging individuals with crimes in order to pursue separate political narratives undermines our rule of law and represents a gross abuse of power.”