7 Takeaways From Release of Durham Report on Origin of Trump-Russia Probe
Special counsel John Durham, in a widely anticipated report Monday, condemned the Justice Department and FBI for their conduct in the “Russian collusion” investigation of Donald Trump.
Durham’s investigation looked at the origins of Crossfire Hurricane, the name of the FBI probe of whether Trump or his 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russians to win the election.
The investigation was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, after Trump was elected president. Mueller’s team concluded there was no evidence of conspiracy or collusion between Trump or his campaign and Russia.
Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr, appointed Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to look into the origins of the investigation. In late 2020, Barr named the veteran prosecutor, who has scored convictions in high-profile cases of public corruption and organized crime, as special counsel.
Here are seven key takeaways from Durham’s 306-page public report.
1. What’s Next?
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, announced that he would like Durham to testify to Congress. Jordan is also chairman of the Judiciary Select Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government.
“We’ve reached out to the Justice Department to have Special Counsel John Durham testify next week,” Jordan tweeted Monday.
Trump, meanwhile, celebrated with a post on his social media platform, Truth Social.
“WOW! After extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes the FBI never should have launched the Trump-Russia Probe!” Trump wrote. “In other words, the American Public was scammed, just as it is being scammed right now by those who don’t want to see GREATNESS for AMERICA.”
Neither the Justice Department nor the FBI pushed back against Durham’s findings.
In a written statement, the FBI didn’t contest the findings:
The conduct in 2016 and 2017 that Special Counsel Durham examined was the reason that current FBI leadership already implemented dozens of corrective actions, which have now been in place for some time. Had those reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in the report could have been prevented. This report reinforces the importance of ensuring the FBI continues to do its work with the rigor, objectivity, and professionalism the American people deserve and rightly expect.
Attorney General Merrick Garland received the Durham report Friday and, as required, notified members of Congress.
“On Friday, May 12, 2023, consistent with Attorney General Barr’s Order, Special Counsel Durham submitted to me a 306-page unclassified report ‘in a form that will permit public dissemination,’ and a 29-page classified appendix,” Garland’s letter to the House and Senate says.
2. No ‘Actual Evidence of Collusion’
The FBI’s investigation of Trump began without any evidence as a predicate, the Durham report found.
“Neither U.S. law enforcement nor the Intelligence Community appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at the commencement of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the special counsel writes.
“Based on the review of Crossfire Hurricane and related intelligence activities, we conclude that the [Justice] Department and the FBI failed to uphold their mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities described in this report,” the Durham report says.
The report later adds:
As the more complete record now shows, there are specific areas of Crossfire Hurricane activity in which the FBI badly underperformed and failed, not only in its duties to the public, but also in preventing the severe reputational harm that has befallen the FBI as a consequence of Crossfire Hurricane.
Importantly, had the Crossfire Hurricane actors faithfully followed their own principles regarding objectivity and integrity, there were clear opportunities to have avoided the mistakes and to have prevented the damage resulting from their embrace of seriously flawed information that they failed to analyze and assess properly.
3. ‘Speed’ on Trump, ‘Caution’ on Clinton
Durham’s report also notes significant differences between how the FBI investigated Trump and how it investigated his Democrat opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The speed and manner in which the FBI opened and investigated Crossfire Hurricane during the presidential election season based on raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence also reflected a noticeable departure from how it approached prior matters involving possible attempted foreign election interference plans aimed at the Clinton campaign,” the report says.
The FBI “moved with considerable caution” on matters involving Clinton, it says.
“In one such matter discussed …, Headquarters and [Justice] Department officials required defensive briefings to be provided to Clinton and other officials or candidates who appeared to be the targets of foreign interference,” the report says.
It also notes that, in a matter related to the Clinton Foundation, “both senior FBI and Department officials placed restrictions on how those matters were to be handled such that essentially no investigative activities occurred for months leading up to the election.”
“These examples are also markedly different from the FBI’s actions with respect to other highly significant intelligence it received from a trusted foreign source pointing to a Clinton campaign plan to vilify Trump by tying him to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin so as to divert attention from her own concerns relating to her use of a private email server [while she was secretary of state],” the report says.
Unlike the FBI’s opening of a full investigation of unknown members of the Trump campaign based on raw, uncorroborated information, in this separate matter involving a purported Clinton campaign plan, the FBI never opened any type of inquiry, issued any taskings, employed any analytical personnel, or produced any analytical products in connection with the information.
This lack of action was despite the fact that the significance of the Clinton plan intelligence was such as to have prompted the Director of the CIA to brief the President, Vice President, Attorney General, Director of the FBI, and other senior government officials about its content within days of its receipt. It was also of enough importance for the CIA to send a formal written referral memorandum to Director [James] Comey and the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, Peter Strzok, for their consideration and action.
4. ‘Hostile Feelings Toward Trump’
Durham’s report provides some detail about FBI officials who were “hostile” to Trump or had partisan leanings that got in the way. It says:
In particular, at the direction of Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Deputy Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Peter Strzok opened Crossfire Hurricane immediately. Strzok, at a minimum, had pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump. The matter was opened as a full investigation without [anyone] ever having spoken to the persons who provided the information.
Further, the FBI did so without (i) any significant review of its own intelligence databases, (ii) collection and examination of any relevant intelligence from other U.S. intelligence entities, (iii) interviews of witnesses essential to understand the raw information it had received or (iv) using any of the standard analytical tools typically employed by the FBI in evaluating raw intelligence.
Both the FBI’s McCabe and Strzok were fired after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report of his investigation into the matter.
5. ‘Trump’s Political Opponents’
The special counsel’s report states that the investigation was “in part triggered and sustained” by political opposition to Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“In particular, there was significant reliance on investigative leads provided or funded (directly or indirectly) by Trump’s political opponents,” the report says. “The [Justice] Department did not adequately examine or question these materials and the motivations of those providing them, even when at about the same time the Director of the FBI and others learned of significant and potentially contrary intelligence.”
The Durham report found a “continuing need for the FBI and the [Justice] Department to recognize that lack of analytical rigor, apparent confirmation bias, and an over-willingness to rely on information from individuals connected to political opponents caused investigators to fail to adequately consider alternative hypotheses and to act without appropriate objectivity or restraint in pursuing allegations of collusion or conspiracy between a U.S. political campaign and a foreign power.”
6. No ‘Wholesale Changes’
Nevertheless, Durham’s report says it “does not recommend any wholesale changes in the guidelines and policies that the Department and the FBI now have in place to ensure proper conduct and accountability in how counterintelligence activities are carried out.”
The report acknowledges hindsight, but says the problems should have been clear at the time.
“Although recognizing that in hindsight much is clearer, much of this also seems to have been clear at the time,” Durham’s report says. “We therefore believe it is important to examine past conduct to identify shortcomings and improve how the government carries out its most sensitive functions.”
7. ‘Criminal Offense,’ ‘Cavalier Attitude’
Durham’s federal grand jury indicted three people in connection with the investigation of Trump, but managed only one conviction.
FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to falsifying an email about a warrant application submitted to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Clinesmith was sentenced to community service.
The court’s approval of the application under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was used as pretext to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
Former Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann and Russian national Igor Danchenko, a U.S. resident, were indicted on charges of lying to the FBI. Both men were acquitted.
Clinesmith “committed a criminal offense by fabricating language in an email that was material to the FBI obtaining a FISA surveillance order,” the Durham report says.
“In other instances, FBI personnel working on that same FISA application displayed, at best, a cavalier attitude towards accuracy and completeness,” the report adds:
FBI personnel also repeatedly disregarded important requirements when they continued to seek renewals of that FISA surveillance while acknowledging—both then and in hindsight—that they did not genuinely believe there was probable cause to believe that the target was knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of a foreign power, or knowingly helping another person in such activities. And certain personnel disregarded significant exculpatory information that should have prompted investigative restraint and reexamination.