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Nora Dannehy says Barr meddled in Trump-Russia probe

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Nora Dannehy says Barr meddled in Trump-Russia probe

Sep 21, 2023 | 9:31 am ET
By Mark Pazniokas/CT Mirror
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Nora R. Dannehy listens to a question from the committee at a hearing on her nomination to the Connecticut Supreme Court. SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR
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Nora R. Dannehy listens to a question from the committee at a hearing on her nomination to the Connecticut Supreme Court. SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR

Nora R. Dannehy, a nominee for the Connecticut Supreme Court, broke her long silence Wednesday on why she quit the Trump-Russia investigation and resigned from the Department of Justice, calling it a matter of conscience.

Testifying at her confirmation hearing, Dannehy confirmed what media outlets have reported: She saw Attorney General William P. Barr as improperly pressuring the investigation for an interim public report ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Dannehy told the Judiciary Committee of the General Assembly that not only did Barr’s request violate Department of Justice policies against commenting on ongoing investigations or influencing elections, but she “strongly disagreed” with conclusions in a draft interim report.

“My conscience did not allow me to remain,” Dannehy said.

The committee voted 30-4 to recommend that the full General Assembly confirm her nomination next week when lawmakers are returning to Hartford for a one-day special session.

Dannehy was the deputy to John H. Durham, the U.S. attorney tasked with investigating whether intelligence agencies or the FBI were guilty of wrongdoing in examining whether Russia colluded with the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump in 2016.

Her resignation without public comment in September 2020 raised questions nationally about dissent inside the investigation and generated shock in Connecticut legal circles, where Durham was known as an apolitical prosecutor and a friend to Dannehy and her husband, Leonard C. Boyle.

Boyle, a retired federal prosecutor and key deputy to Durham during much of his career, sat in the second row of a hearing room at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford as Dannehy spoke publicly for the first time about the extraordinary end of her personal and professional relationship with Durham.

On Wednesday, Dannehy offered only indirect criticism of Durham, focusing instead on Barr. She gave no details about what elements of the interim draft report she found so objectionable but was clear that she saw Barr as pressing her and Durham to act in the service of Trump’s reelection.

Dannehy, who worked as a career prosecutor during the administrations of three Republican and two Democratic presidencies, said she never saw the DOJ as a political actor. In Connecticut, she worked under U.S. attorneys of both parties.

“Before I get to the crux of what caused my resignation, I do want to address the issue of first initially joining what some had labeled the ‘Trump DOJ.’ I didn’t return to the Trump Department of Justice,” Dannehy said. “Politics never played a role in how I was expected to do my job.”

Until the Trump-Russia probe, that is.

Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, immediately pressed her about the episode, saying how she made decisions and approached the law were relevant to her confirmation to an eight-year term on the Supreme Court.

“My experience during the Russia investigation, my decision to resign, I hope reflects my unwavering commitment to the rule of law and to fairness and impartiality,” Dannehy said.

The Hartford Courant first reported her resignation, quoting unnamed sources about her objections to the direction of the investigation and pressure from Barr. In January, the New York Times published a deeply reported story asserting the fissures on the team were deeper than previously known.

“The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics,” the Times reported. “A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway.”

On Wednesday, Dannehy confirmed at least a broad outline of the story. When pressed for details about the resignation of others or the ultimate findings, Dannehy demurred. Dannehy said she was not privy to what occurred after her departure in September 2020. 

Dannehy, who was the general counsel to Lamont from March 2021 until the start of his second term in January, was his second nominee for the vacancy. His first choice was a recommendation from Dannehy: Sandra Slack Glover, the appellate chief of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Connecticut.

Glover withdrew after failing to win the Judiciary Committee’s endorsement, largely over concerns about her commitment to reproductive rights.

Republicans on the committee challenged Dannehy over the view she expressed in a committee questionnaire that the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly overturned Roe v. Wade, ending a half-century of women having a federal right to abortion prior to fetal viability.

“To me, I read that as a political answer,” said Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, one of four negative votes. She also was opposed by another Republican, Rep. Patrick Callahan of New Fairfield, and two Democratic members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Reps. Robyn Porter of New Haven and Travis Simms of Norwalk.

Several community advocates who say the court is overly weighted with former prosecutors and corporate lawyers gave testimony opposing the nomination. One faulted the governor for not adding a woman of color to a court that now has three white men, two Black men and one white woman.

Dawn Westbrook, a Black woman who has been a Superior Court judge since 2009, is known to be on the short list of candidates for the Appellate Court vacancy opening in October when Judge Eliot D. Prescott takes senior status.