Investigation into FBI’s Probe into Trump Campaign-Russian Ties is Concluded
John Durham, a Justice Department prosecutor, has concluded his four-year investigation of possible misconduct by US government officials in the Trump-Russia election interference case. The much-awaited report revealed several significant flaws in the FBI but provided no significant revelations beyond those earlier established in an inspector general’s inquiry. Nonetheless, the report will provide material for Trump’s supporters, who have long criticized the Russia investigation, as well as his opponents, who suggest that the Durham team’s investigation was a politically motivated farce.
WHO IS JOHN DURHAM?
Durham is an accomplished Justice Department prosecutor with years of experience, including investigating the FBI’s relationship with mobsters in Boston and the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of its harsh interrogations of terrorism subjects. In 2019, he was appointed to investigate potential misconduct by US government officials during the 2016 election interference by Russia and whether there was any illegal coordination between the Kremlin and Trump’s presidential campaign.
WHY WAS DURHAM APPOINTED?
Durham’s appointment to investigate the Trump-Russia ties came a few weeks after a different Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, ended his investigation. Mueller’s probe produced over two dozen criminal cases, including against half a dozen Trump associates. Although the investigation did not find any evidence of Trump’s aides working with Russia to tip the election, it did prove that Russia interfered with the election in Trump’s favor, and his presidential campaign welcomed the help. Bill Barr, who was deeply skeptical of the investigation’s foundation from the beginning, appointed an outside prosecutor, Durham, to hunt for potential misconduct at the government agencies that collected intelligence and conducted the probe.
PROBLEMS WITH THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
A Justice Department inspector general inquiry already identified several problems with the investigation. The watchdog report revealed that the FBI’s application for warrants to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide, contained serious errors and omitted information. However, the inspector general did not find any evidence that investigators acted with political bias and affirmed a legitimate basis for opening a full investigation into potential collusion, although Durham has disagreed.
WHAT CRIMINAL CASES DID DURHAM BRING, AND WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME?
Although he had Durham tenure, he brought only three prosecutions that resulted in one conviction referred by the Justice Department inspector general. None of the three cases undid Mueller’s core findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign welcomed the help. A former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty to altering an email related to the surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide and was given probation. However, both other cases, involving false statements to the FBI, resulted in acquittals.
WHAT DID DURHAM FIND?
Durham’s investigation found that the FBI acted recklessly and relied on raw and unconfirmed intelligence when it opened the Trump-Russia investigation. He stated that the FBI had no information about any actual contact between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials at the time of the probe. The investigation also proved that FBI investigators were prone to “confirmation bias,” repeatedly ignoring or rationalizing away information that could have undercut the premise of their investigation. The FBI failed to corroborate a single substantive allegation from a dossier of research it relied on during the investigation. The report stated that “an objective and honest assessment of these strands of information should have caused the FBI to question not only the predication for Crossfire Hurricane, but also to reflect on whether the FBI was being manipulated for political or other purposes.”
WHAT IS THE FBI’S RESPONSE?
The FBI noted that it had made dozens of corrective actions long ago, and if those measures had been in place in 2016, the errors outlined in the report could have been avoided. It also emphasized that the conduct in the report occurred before Christopher Wray took over as the current director in fall 2017.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Republicans in Congress have invited Durham to testify on Capitol Hill next week. Trump has also remarked on the report, stating that it shows how the American public was “scammed” in the Russia investigation. Durham said that it is possible that more reform will be needed, and his team has recommended scrutinizing politically sensitive investigations by identifying an official responsible for questioning the steps taken in a probe. Although Durham did consider recommending steps that would curtail the FBI’s investigative authorities, including its use of tools under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to eavesdrop on suspected spies or terrorists, his team did not ultimately recommend it.
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