John H. Durham, a 40-year career federal prosecutor, was nominated Wednesday by President Donald Trump to be the next U.S. attorney for Connecticut.
A Republican, Durham, 67, currently serves as counsel to the U.S. attorney in Connecticut. He has been a Justice Department attorney since 1982. Previous Connecticut posts include working as acting U.S. attorney and deputy U.S. attorney, and he was chief of the Criminal Division. He also previously headed the New Haven field office and the Boston Strike Force on Organized Crime. Durham has also been involved in special investigative projects under four different attorneys general.
If approved by the U.S. Senate, Durham would succeed Deirdre Daly, who stepped down Oct. 27.
“I am deeply honored to be nominated by the president to serve as the United States attorney for Connecticut,” Durham said. “If confirmed by the Senate, I look forward to continuing my career in the office in the cause of justice for the people of our state and nation.”
Among the cases Durham helped prosecute was former Republican Connecticut Gov. John Rowland. Rowland’s first of two separate stints in prison saw him serve a year and a day for accepting $107,000 in gifts from people doing business with the state, and for not paying taxes.
Durham was also responsible for prosecuting mobsters in the Boston area. He led an inquiry into allegations that FBI agents and Boston police had ties with the mob.
In 2002, Durham helped secure the conviction of retired FBI agent John Connolly Jr., who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal racketeering charges tied to his relationship with mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
In 2009, then-Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Durham to lead the Justice Department’s investigation into the legality of the CIA’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
Those who know Durham say he will focus on public corruption, white-collar crime and crimes in Connecticut’s inner-cities.
“John will follow the cases that deserve to be followed,” said Stan Twardy Jr., who was U.S. attorney from 1985 to 1991. “John will make sure the Department of Justice is felt within Connecticut.”
Twardy, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said it was Durham who enacted several initiatives targeting violent street crime.
“It is an issue that is near and dear to John’s heart,” said Twardy, a managing partner with Day Pitney in Hartford. “The inner-city initiatives in the late 1990s and early 2000s were led by John. At the time, the state government did not have enough resources so the feds would go in and use federal statutes to get rid of violent street crime and drugs.”
Attorney Jamie Sullivan called Durham a “decorated prosecutor that has worked on many high-profile cases. He has a national reputation as thorough, bright and well-prepared.”
Sullivan suspects Durham will focus on political corruption and white collar cases.
“That is a great direction for the office to head in,” said Sullivan, a partner with Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald in Hartford. “There has not been a lot of white-collar cases in Connecticut. The Southern District of New York has tons because you are dealing with Manhattan. But, with Stamford growing and the hedge funds becoming more prominent, that can be a big issue moving forward.”
Even though Durham is a Trump appointee, veteran attorney John Williams said Durham is one of the least political people he knows.
“This office has always been nonpolitical and it will continue to be nonpolitical with John there,” said Williams, owner of John Williams & Associates in New Haven. “I can think of one or two people in that office who had an eye on something other than being a great lawyer, but that is not John.”
Former Connecticut U.S. Attorney Stephen Robinson, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1998, said Trump could not have made a better choice.
“I have never crossed paths with anyone that I respected more for their intellectual capabilities and their interpersonal practices,” said Robinson, a former federal judge and current partner with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City.
“John has been in that office for a long time,” Robinson added. “You will see a theme with John and you will see it soon. I do not know what that theme will be, but you will see it. He will not have a learning curve like I did or like Deirdre did coming in. He knows that office.”
Robinson also highlighted the type of person Durham is outside the courtroom.
“Toward the end of my term, my wife passed away,” Robinson said. “I had an 11-year-old daughter and I was not functioning at my highest level and John handled everything. He handled the funeral arrangements, he got the church and the cemetery and he did the program so I could focus on my daughter.”
Durham received his bachelor’s degree from Colgate University and his law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
The announcement by Trump marked the president’s eighth wave of U.S. attorney nominations.