Durham Bull


Spare us the comparisons between John Durham — the newly named special prosecutor of Interrogate, the CIA tapes scandal — and Plamegate prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

The Washington Post succumbs to this typical piece of journalist b.s., noting this morning:

Several courtroom adversaries compared Durham, a Roman Catholic reared in the Northeast, to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the staid U.S. attorney in Chicago who served as special prosecutor in the investigation of the leaked identity of a CIA officer. “He’s Fitzgerald with a sense of humor,” said Hugh O’Keefe, a Connecticut criminal defense lawyer who has known Durham for 20 years.

That’s the easiest trick in political journalism: Get a quote from someone who shares the small, local stage with Durham — and who doesn’t know whether Durham can handle the big stage — and run with it, instead of doing some serious checking to see whether Durham has any frame of reference in dealing with national and international crimes, criminals, and cases.

The Post does at least add that caveat:

But Durham has had little experience with national security issues and with cases involving executive authority that appear to be less than black-and-white. His probe may require calling lawyers and aides to Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the CIA before a grand jury to testify about their knowledge of the tapes’ destruction.

Durham made his bones by prosecuting GOP Connecticut governor John Rowland for sleazy business dealings. Rowland wound up exiting Hartford and entering prison for a short bid.

Fitzgerald, on the other hand, had vast experience in national and international cases before he tried to hound Scooter Libby. He prosecuted the plotters of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The new attorney general, Mike Mukasey, knows the difference. He presided over that WTC case. But as Bill Kunstler pointed out at the time (read my earlier item here), Mukasey should have recused himself (because he’s a fundamentalist Jew) from presiding over the case, which, after all, was against fundamentalist Muslims.

Unfortunately, Durham comes with the recommendation of Kevin O’Connor. Who he? Again from the Post:

Two former prosecutors and a Justice Department official said that Durham, 57, was recommended for his assignment by his former boss, Kevin J. O’Connor, who was the U.S. attorney in Connecticut until he became an assistant to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales shortly before Gonzales resigned last year. O’Connor is awaiting confirmation as an associate attorney general.

Durham is supposedly a guy who’s tough on violent criminals. That really sets him apart from other prosecutors. Dealing with White House schmucks is another matter altogether. And this is a monumental chore that requires some nuanced pressuring of true heavyweight schnooks. As this morning’s New York Times story says:

The announcement is the first indication that investigators have concluded on a preliminary basis that C.I.A. officers, possibly along with other government officials, may have committed criminal acts in their handling of the tapes, which recorded the interrogations in 2002 of two operatives with Al Qaeda and were destroyed in 2005.

C.I.A. officials have for years feared becoming entangled in a criminal investigation involving alleged improprieties in secret counterterrorism programs. Now, the investigation and a probable grand jury inquiry will scrutinize the actions of some of the highest-ranking current and former officials at the agency.

The tapes were never provided to the courts or to the Sept. 11 commission, which had requested all C.I.A. documents related to Qaeda prisoners. The question of whether to destroy the tapes was for nearly three years the subject of deliberations among lawyers at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

Don’t expect much, and don’t expect it soon.