Durham could “punt” investigation to after the election if it takes much longer

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There’s no way. The president would have an aneurysm.

I spent the first half of my presidency buried in Russiagate innuendo, he’d say, and we don’t even get to the see the evidence against the Obama administration until after the vote?

I think he’d fire Bill Barr if Durham punted. At the very least, there’d be a barrage of tweets about how he thought Barr was the new Roy Cohn but now, sadly, he realizes he was mistaken.

Which would be funny, as he’s one of a handful of people on Earth who thinks comparing someone to Roy Cohn is a compliment.

Two sources familiar with Durham’s investigation told Fox News this week that Durham is working expeditiously to try to finish the probe by the end of summer, but that several lines of investigation are not yet complete.

“He believes it’s critical to do them,” one source said. “He is feeling more pressure to get this done and wrapped up.”

The source also told Fox News that Durham “does not want this to be viewed political,” and the closer it gets to November, Durham could “punt it to after the election.”

Some Republicans are pushing for the probe to come to a conclusion soon. Earlier this week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said it was “SAD” that Attorney General Bill Barr and Durham could wait until after Election Day to initiate prosecutions.

Does this sound like a man who’d take the news well that Durham can’t wrap things up before November?

It’s interesting that Fox is hearing whispers about Durham punting today, as Chuck Grassley also complained out of the blue a few days ago about the Durham probe possibly stretching past early November: “IF NO PROSECUTIONS TIL AFTER ELECTIONS SAD SAD.” Who told Grassley and who’s whispering to Fox? And why? To all appearances, the leakers are trying to raise alarm on the right that an investigation the GOP has long hoped to use against Democrats in the campaign won’t be available after all.

But that’s self-defeating if the goal is to secure convictions. (Which it isn’t really.) Ed argued correctly a few days ago that Grassley’s tweet makes it easy for any potential defendants to claim in court that the charges against them are politically motivated. If Fox’s story successfully baits Trump into tweeting angrily about it, it’ll become easier still. Everyone understands (except maybe Durham himself?) that the value of this probe is as a potential political weapon, something the GOP can use to belatedly fight back against Russiagate. But to have influential Republicans, up to and including the president, go on record to that effect would help any defense lawyer appeal to a jury and to the public generally that their client is the victim of an abuse of power, targeted for prosecution as an election-year ploy.

Which would be fine by Trump and the GOP. If they can pressure Durham into delivering his findings early and the fallout helps the president win a second term, who cares if anyone goes to jail? The thing is: Durham might care. There’s no escaping the political repercussions of his investigation, but it would have a different impact on the campaign if he released his findings in late July instead of late October. He’s a credible person and a respected prosecutor. The last thing he wants, I assume, is to be known as the James Comey of the 2020 election, the man who swung the outcome of a presidential race by calling voters’ attention to the mere possibility of criminal activity in the waning days of the campaign. I wonder what his personal “deadline” is for wrapping things up or else waiting until after the votes are in. If he’s not ready by August 1, does he bag it until after November? By September 1? October 1?

I wonder how much it would even matter to the polls if he showed his cards. If he has something on Biden himself, it would matter — but Barr told Fox earlier this year that he doesn’t expect Durham’s probe would lead to charges against Obama or Biden. If he has evidence that Biden facilitated someone else’s criminal activity, that might matter too. If Biden plays no meaningful role in his findings, they probably won’t matter. Maybe during normal times they would, but if the second wave of the pandemic is as fearsome as people like Anthony Fauci expect, most voters will be focused on that this fall. Hopefully there’s no second wave and we can have an election about the economy and Durham.

By the way, since POTUS is complaining today about judicial double standards between Russiagate and the tax-return cases that were decided this morning, here’s an interesting point:

The conventional wisdom on this morning’s rulings is that, although Trump “lost,” he won inasmuch as neither Congress nor the Manhattan D.A. is likely to obtain his records before November. In both cases, the president can keep litigating to try to block them. All the Court decided was that he doesn’t have absolute immunity from investigation. The bottom line is that Democrats won’t be able to weaponize them for electoral purposes. Silver’s point, though, is that the current political climate is so awful for Trump that getting the public to focus on something else — virtually anything else — might be a net gain for him. Barring evidence of out-and-out criminal activity, it’s hard to imagine anything in those returns that are worse for him than 130,000 Americans dead and spiraling outbreaks across the southern half of the U.S.

But it’s hard to imagine anything in the returns that would help him politically either. There’s a reason, unknown to all of us, that he’s fought so doggedly to keep them a secret. My guess has always been that they’d show he’s worth much less than the billions he’s always claimed, which is a small thing but which he may fear would puncture his mystique as the world’s most successful man. (It would damage it, for sure.) Even if the country spent the month of October sidetracked by a congressional investigation of the returns, it seems to me that the best-case scenario for its outcome is that it doesn’t add further to Biden’s lead — that Democrats would find nothing amiss, Trump would take a victory lap and accuse them of wasting the public’s time with another specious probe, and then the country would go right back to its anxiety of COVID-19. That’s the singular political fact about the pandemic: It doesn’t go away. People live with it hour by hour. Barring a miracle drug in the near-term or America achieving herd immunity much, much sooner than any scientist expects, it’s going to dominate American politics for the next four months.

“Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is the only election issue that matters,” says Harry Enten in a piece today. I think that’s right. If Durham produces something truly earth-shaking before November, maybe that would change. A big enough economic rebound over the next two or three months might change it too. But increasingly it seems like the election’s going to be an up or down vote on Trump versus COVID-19.





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