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Merrick Garland dodges questions over allowing for completion of Durham probe

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Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden‘s nominee for attorney general, on Monday said he sees “no reason why” Special Counsel John Durham should stay in his position to continue his investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

On Monday during Garland’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s ranking member, asked Garland about if he would let Durham continue his investigation.

“Will you commit to providing Special Counsel Durham with staff, resources and funds needed to thoroughly complete his investigation?” Grassley asked.

Biden’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) replied, saying that, at the current moment, he does not have “any information about the investigation as I sit here today.”

“I understand that he has been permitted to remain in this position and sitting here today, I have no reason to think that was not the correct decision,” Garland said, adding that he does “have to have an opportunity to talk with” Durham.

“I don’t have any reason, from what I know now, which is really very little, to make any determination on that ground,” Garland continued. “But I have no reason to think he should not remain in place.”

Grassley pointed out that, during former Attorney General William Barr’s confirmation hearing, he stated it was “vitally important” that then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller be allowed to finish his Trump-Russia probe.

The Iowa Republican asked Garland again, but rather about if he would commit to letting Durham’s report to be made public.

“I am a great believer in transparency. I would, though, have to talk with Durham and understand the nature of what he’s been doing and the nature of his report,” Garland said.

Grassley said he understood that Garland was limited in what he could say regarding the Durham investigation, but was frustrated that the judge didn’t provide a stronger commitment.

“Your [answers] were not quite as explicit as I’d hoped they’d be,” the Iowa senator said. “I think you’ve come close to satisfying me, but maybe not entirely.”

Shortly following the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into now-debunked allegations the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to swing the 2016 election in then-candidate Donald Trump’s favor, Durham’s probe launched in May 2019. Ultimately, Mueller’s yearslong probe yielded no evidence of criminal conspiracy or such collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign.

Back in October last year, Barr appointed Durham as special counsel so that Durham could continue his investigation.

Conservatives have long accused Mueller’s probe of being motivated by political animus, with former President Donald Trump having repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Thus far, Durham’s investigation has resulted in only one criminal charge.

Late last month, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to one year of probation and 400 hours of community service for altering an email during Mueller’s investigation that was used as grounds for the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Back in August, Clinesmith had pleaded guilty to “one count of making a false statement within both the jurisdiction of the executive branch and judicial branch of the U.S. government, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.”

Significantly, the DOJ used Clinesmith’s allegation as a basis for submitting a third and final application to surveil Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) asked Garland about FISA, as well as about DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on abuses of FISA during the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

“There were certainly serious problems with respect to the FISA applications for Carter Page,” Garland said, adding that the inspector general had a “substantial” amount of suggestions for how the FISA system “could be fixed and must be fixed.”

Garland stated that, if confirmed by the Senate, he plans to talk with Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray “to make sure these and any other things necessary” with regard to FISA reform “be done.”

“I am always very concerned, and have always been concerned that we be very careful about FISA,” Garland said, referring to it as a “very useful and important” tool for investigations.

As to whether he feels Durham’s probe was legitimate, Garland said: “I don’t know really anything about the investigation.”

“I do think that somebody should look at what happened with respect to those FISAs and I believe the inspector general has done that,” the judge added.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Cuomo says he’ll ‘fully cooperate’ with NY AG’s review of sexual harassment claims

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he will “fully cooperate” with the state attorney general’s independent review into sexual harassment allegations made against the currently scandal-ridden governor, saying, “I fully support a woman’s right to come forward.”

Last Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, who served in his administration for over three years, accused Cuomo of suggesting to her on a 2017 flight that they play strip poker, inappropriate touching, and kissing her on the lips without her consent.

RELATED: ‘Let’s play strip poker’: Fmr. Cuomo aide accuses NY governor of sexual harassment

Following Boylan’s accusations, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett alleged the governor indicated interest in having an affair with her while she was serving in his administration as a health policy adviser. In a Saturday New York Times report, Bennett told the newspaper that Cuomo asked her if she had “ever been with an older man,” adding that “age doesn’t matter” in relationships.

At Wednesday’s press briefing, the Empire State governor addressed the accusations leveled against him over the past seven days by three women and New York Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) independent review into those claims, which she announced on Monday was formally proceeding.

RELATED: De Blasio ‘sickened’ by Cuomo sexual harassment claims

“As you probably know, the attorney general is doing an independent review, and I will fully cooperate with that review,” Cuomo said at the beginning of his statement. “Now, the lawyers say I shouldn’t say anything when you have a pending review until that review is over. I understand that, I’m a lawyer, too. But, I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this.”

“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward,” the governor began. “And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth.”

This echoes what Cuomo said in a Sunday statement about the allegations, in which he stated he “may have been insensitive” during his tenure but charged his accusers of misinterpreting his actions, saying, “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation… I am truly sorry about that.”

RELATED: Cuomo responds to sexual harassment claims, saying he ‘may have been insensitive’

During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo iterated “I never touched anyone inappropriately,” repeated that sentence, then said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable” and repeated that one too.

“And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do,” he continued. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion.”

“I also want you to know that I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson,” the governor said at the end of his statement. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”

Amid Boylan and Bennett’s allegations, another report of Cuomo sexually harassing a woman has cropped up. On Monday, a woman named Anna Ruch accused the governor of placing his hands on her cheeks—without her consent—at a 2019 wedding reception and asking if he could kiss her. A photograph of the two together at the event has also been circulating on social media.

RELATED: ‘Eat the whole sausage: Gov. Cuomo in hot water for resurfaced video

Asked at Wednesday’s briefing about the pictures that have resurfaced of him being touchy with people, particularly that of him and Ruch, the governor claimed that it is his way of greeting people.

“I understand the opinion of—and feelings of—Ms. Ruch,” Cuomo said. “You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people—women, children, men, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. […] It is my usual and customary way of greeting.”

Moreover, the governor said that his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, would do the same thing.

“By the way, it was my father’s way of greeting people,” Cuomo said, explaining, “You’re the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable, you want to reach out to them.”

He also mentioned that he kisses and hugs legislators and noted that at an event in Queens the other day he hugged pastors and state assembly members.

Furthermore, the governor said that his intent “doesn’t matter,” saying, “What it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”

“But if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” he added, going on to say that if they were offended or hurt by it, he apologizes.

MORE ON CUOMO: NY dem says state legislature is ‘inching toward’ Cuomo impeachment probe

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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