Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: United States Attorney’s Office, District of Connecticut
the national interest

John Durham Shows ‘Lock Her Up’ Politics Were Never About Real Crimes

Republicans want to send people to jail after Durham finds no crimes.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: United States Attorney’s Office, District of Connecticut

After John Durham released his final report yesterday, laying out his unproven theories of a deep-state conspiracy against Donald Trump, Republicans met the anticlimactic finale not with regret but with renewed fervor to imprison Trump’s targets. “Who should go to jail for this?” asked Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene). “Someone needs to be going to jail,” said Representative Andy Biggs. “Who’s going to go to jail for this? Hard to tell,” complained Representative Doug LaMalfa.

The remarkable aspect of these demands for jailing people is that this is precisely the thing Durham attempted. Trump found the perfect figure for the job: Durham is a talented prosecutor who had built up a solid reputation and who in recent years has apparently sunk into the right-wing conspiratorial fever swamps. If anybody had both the inclination and the legal ability to find some crimes committed against Mr. Trump, it was Durham.

Durham indeed tried to bring charges against at least medium-profile targets, but he kept losing in court. The underlying cause of his failure was blindingly obvious to anybody who was in touch with reality. As the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee found, Trump’s campaign was deeply corrupted by ties to Russia. And as the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded, the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia was in fact adequately predicated.

Perhaps Trump’s loyalists would have a point if their suspicions of misconduct had gone uninvestigated. This is why I argued from the outset that Durham’s appointment was a good thing — he was always unlikely to discover any serious crimes because he was pursuing an imaginary conspiracy, and his failure would expose the delusions that produced it.

Andrew Prokop cleverly explains how Durham’s report actually reveals the theory he was trying to prove — that the FBI investigation into Russian election interference was part of the “Clinton Plan.” Durham seems to have gotten this idea from hacked Russian documents, which were filled with inconsistencies. (The irony is that the single greatest flaw in the FBI’s investigation of Trump — its excessively credulous view of shaky intelligence from Russia by Christopher Steele — seems to have been repeated by Durham himself.) He spent years in manic, fruitless pursuit of this conspiracy, and wound up alleging it without having evidence for his fantasies.

Of course, the most loyal Trumpists are still demanding imprisonment nonetheless. This merely serves to reveal that their ideal of the criminal-justice system is completely disconnected from any legitimate function. Their response to the discovery that their enemies did not commit crimes is to demand their imprisonment anyway.

Senator Tommy Tuberville’s angry response is perhaps the purest distillation of Trumpist thinking. After calling for imprisoning people in the wake of Durham failing to find any crimes, he immediately proceeded to call elections corrupt: “If people don’t go to jail for this, the American people should just stand up and say, ‘Listen, enough’s enough. Let’s don’t have elections anymore.’ I wish there was a special investigation into the voter fraud!”

The idea that Trump’s enemies are inherently criminal, whether or not even the most devoted reactionary prosecutor can find crimes, is easily connected to the idea that their election victories are inherently fraudulent, whether or not actual fraud can be found. Trump and his followers believe they are entitled to rule and to use the power of the state to punish their enemies as they see fit.

John Durham Shows ‘Lock Her Up’ Was Never About Real Crimes