A top adviser to Attorney General Merrick Garland is facing calls to recuse herself from the Justice Department's investigation of the Trump-Russia probe, which has looked into the actions of her husband, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Margaret Goodlander serves as counsel to Garland, who oversees Special Counsel John Durham's investigation. Garland has oversight of Durham's budget, the scope of the investigation, and the release of a report Durham is believed to be writing. Sullivan, who married Goodlander in 2015, has been referenced in Durham's indictment of a cybersecurity lawyer who worked for the Clinton campaign. While there is no indication that Durham is targeting Sullivan, the national security adviser could be a witness for the investigation given that he was a foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Durham's report could also reveal embarrassing details about Sullivan's work on the campaign to dig up dirt on Donald Trump's possible links to Russia.
A spokesman for the Justice Department said Goodlander "has no role in Mr. Durham's investigation," but it is unclear whether she has formally recused herself from the matter or whether the Durham probe is outside her Justice Department portfolio. Fox News reported that Goodlander advises Garland on antitrust and international issues.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and the watchdog group Empower Oversight say Goodlander should be formally recused from the Durham investigation to maintain public trust in the probe.
"The Justice Department's standing guidance calls for employees to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, especially when it comes to ongoing criminal investigations," said Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"It’s in Garland's best interest—and he's obligated—to be transparent about whether his department is walling off officials who have a real or even perceived conflict, just as prior administrations have done," Grassley told the Washington Free Beacon.
Jason Foster, the founder and president of Empower Oversight, said the decline in public confidence in the Justice Department makes it "critical that decisions about Special Counsel Durham's investigation are insulated from the political biases and personal interests of senior DOJ officials."
"It would be no imposition on [Goodlander] or AG Garland to simply recuse herself from providing any advice to him in relation to that investigation—and thus reassure the public that she will continue to have no role in the future," Foster told the Free Beacon.
The Justice Department did not respond to additional questions about whether Goodlander has formally recused herself from the Durham probe. The White House did not respond to questions about whether Sullivan has been contacted by Durham's team.
As a Clinton adviser, Sullivan had contact with the campaign lawyers who commissioned the Steele dossier, the infamous British spy report that made false allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Sullivan is the Clinton adviser referenced in Durham's indictment of cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann. Sussmann, a former partner at the firm Perkins Coie, is accused of lying to an FBI lawyer about his reasons for investigating suspicious computer traffic between Trump's real estate company and Alfa Bank, a Russian bank. Durham alleges that Sussmann said he did not have a client with interest in the information when he was in fact working for the Clinton campaign.
According to the indictment, Sussmann's former Perkins Coie partner, Marc Elias, in September 2016 briefed Sullivan and others on the Clinton team about his firm's efforts to investigate the Alfa Bank data. Sullivan days before the election issued a statement that cited the Alfa-Trump allegations as evidence of collusion. It was unknown at the time that the Clinton campaign was investigating the Alfa Bank issue. The FBI later determined that there was no nefarious link between the bank and Trump.
Elias was the attorney who hired Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned the Steele dossier. Durham indicted the primary source for the dossier, Igor Danchenko, on charges that Danchenko lied to the FBI about the identity of his sources. Dancheko allegedly lied by saying that a longtime Democratic operative, Charles Dolan, was not one of his sources.
Grassley and Empower Oversight have pressed the Justice Department over the recusal of another official, Susan Hennessey, who has pushed the false claim that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Hennessey, who serves in the national security division, last year criticized Durham's investigation, calling it "partisan silliness."
Grassley said Garland has stonewalled his requests for information about Hennessey and other Justice Department officials' conflicts of interest.
"I've raised concerns about potential conflicts of several Biden Justice Department officials and can't get a straight answer from the attorney general," he told the Free Beacon.
The Free Beacon was once a client of Fusion GPS. All of the work Fusion GPS performed for the Free Beacon was based on public sources, and none of the work product appeared in the Steele dossier. For more information, see here.