Special counsel John Durham found no evidence that the US justice department and the FBI conspired in a deep-state plot to investigate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia in 2016, though the report released on Monday found that the FBI’s handling of key aspects of the case were deficient.
The Durham report was sharply critical of how the FBI decided to open the counterintelligence investigation into Trump, known as “Crossfire Hurricane”, accusing top officials at the bureau of relying on raw and uncorroborated information to continue the inquiry.
Much of the criticism of the FBI in the roughly 300-page report was already known when the justice department inspector general issued its own report, which raised similar concerns but ultimately concluded that the FBI investigation into Trump was justified.
The Durham report was more scathing, finding that the FBI moved quickly on a vague tip about potential contacts between a Trump campaign aide and Russian officials in July 2016 based on “raw, unanalyzed and uncorroborated evidence” in a “departure from how it approached” the Clinton campaign.
But Durham’s inquiry failed to uncover any blockbuster revelations suggesting the bureau targeted Trump out of political motivations, and the report at times came across as a defense of his lengthy investigation.
Also contained in the report:
Durham said the FBI was more cautious of allegations of foreign influence when it came to the Clinton campaign, and did not pursue evidence in two cases of foreign governments trying to gain influence with Clinton while providing defensive briefings, unlike with the Trump campaign;
Durham said the FBI was overly reliant on investigative tips from Trump’s political opponents and did not rigorously analyze the information it received, which extended the investigation and led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Trump;
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Durham said the FBI decided to move ahead with Crossfire Hurricane despite a lack of information from the intelligence community that corroborated the hypothesis on which it was predicated and FBI agents ignored information that exonerated key people in the case;
Durham suggested that Crossfire Hurricane was “triggered” by the so-called Steele dossier, when it was in fact based on a tip from an Australian diplomat in London that a Trump campaign aide appeared to have advance knowledge about Russia releasing damaging information on Clinton.
The top FBI officials who oversaw the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and left the bureau years ago have long maintained that they had a duty to investigate allegations that Russia, a strategic US adversary, was seeking to garner influence with Trump, who had no experience in government.
The delivery of the report to the attorney general Merrick Garland and to the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate judiciary committees several hours before it was made public, largely marks the end of the nearly four-year investigation led by Durham.
Durham’s appointment as special counsel by former attorney general William Barr was unusual in that he was essentially tasked with investigating a different special counsel – Mueller.
The investigation was beset by controversy, including when Barr pressed Durham to draft an interim report just before the 2020 election, a directive that gave rise to allegations of improper political interference.
In September 2020, according to the New York Times, one of the prosecutors on Durham’s team and former acting US attorney Nora Dannehy discovered that other members of the team had written a draft report that she had not been told about.
Dannehy was reportedly furious and told Durham that no report should be issued before the investigation had been completed and especially not relying on disputed information that could impact the election. Dannehy sent her colleagues a memo about her concerns and resigned.
While Trump once predicted that Durham would uncover the “crime of the century”, the investigation proved to be defective in court. Two people he charged were acquitted in court, and only the former FBI lawyer who altered an email to help prepare a wiretap application pleaded guilty.
After the second acquittal – Igor Danchenko, a researcher who was a primary source for the 2016 dossier alleging Trump’s ties to Russia was found not guilty about lying to the FBI about where he got his information – Democrats called for Durham’s team to be shut down as a waste of taxpayer money.
The Durham report ended without recommending any wholesale changes at the FBI, but suggested the creation of a position at the bureau to provide oversight of politically sensitive investigations with the power to challenge every step of investigations, including for wiretaps.
Durham’s investigation was recorded as costing about $6.5m as of last December. Durham, a longtime federal prosecutor who was the US attorney in Connecticut during the Trump administration, was allowed to stay in his role by the current attorney general until the completion of his work.
Two cases that Durham took to court ended in failure. Last year, a jury found cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussman not guilty of lying to the FBI. A jury also found Danchenko not guilty of making false statements to the FBI in October, in a case argued personally by Durham.
Durham extracted a guilty plea from Clinesmith, who was sentenced to one year of probation after admitting in a 2020 plea agreement that he had altered a government email that a colleague then used to justify to a secret surveillance court the wiretap of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
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