Two Republican senators are questioning whether a conflict of interest could prohibit a Department of Justice national security appointee from taking part in an investigation into the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) in a letter this week asked Attorney General Merrick Garland about Susan Hennessey’s role in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Hennessey, who previously held posts at the Brookings Institution and CNN, was a vocal proponent of the now-debunked theory that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Politico reported in May that Hennessey joined the National Security Division as senior counsel.
Hennessey has also criticized an investigation being led by John Durham, a federal prosecutor looking into whether the government broke the law during its surveillance of Trump associates. Grassley and Johnson asked Garland whether Hennessey has played any role in the Durham probe.
"We have concerns about her role and potential impact on ongoing matters, including Special Counsel John Durham’s inquiry," they wrote Garland.
Grassley and Johnson cited a Washington Free Beacon report about tweets in which Hennessey criticized Durham while promoting the debunked Trump-Russia collusion narrative.
"Durham has made abundantly clear that in a year and a half, he hasn’t come up with anything. I guess this kind of partisan silliness has become characteristic of Barr’s legacy, but unclear to me why Durham would want to go along with it," she wrote in a since-deleted tweet on Dec. 1, 2020.
William Barr, attorney general under former president Donald Trump, designated Durham to serve as a special counsel on Oct. 19, 2020. The Biden administration has allowed Durham to remain in that role, but he was asked to step down as U.S. attorney for Connecticut.
Grassley and Johnson asked Garland whether Hennessey has access to any drafts or final reports from the investigation, and whether or not she has been recused from the investigation.
"Ms. Hennessey’s apparent bias against Durham’s inquiry presents a clear conflict that makes it impossible for her to be objective and credible with respect to any elements relating to the Durham inquiry, should she have access to any of it," they wrote.
Grassley and Johnson also asked Garland for an update on the investigation and whether the attorney general agreed with Barr that a report of the investigation should be released to the public.
Republicans have also expressed frustration at Durham’s investigation. The prosecutor has obtained just one conviction during his investigation, which began as an administrative inquiry in April 2019. Former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty in August 2020 to altering an email from the CIA regarding its past relationship with Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide who was the target of FBI surveillance.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to questions raised in the GOP letter to Garland.