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Durham report criticizes FBI for launching 2016 Trump-Russia probe

The long-awaited special counsel's report was the conclusion of a four-year probe into the FBI's decision to examine the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia.

WASHINGTON — The special counsel who spent four years investigating the Trump-Russia probe accused the FBI of acting negligently by opening the investigation based on vague and insufficient information in a sweeping 300-page report made public Monday.

Special counsel John Durham, named by then-Attorney General William Barr to examine the origins and conduct of the investigation into whether Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia, criticized the FBI at length in the report.

“The [Justice] Department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to law,” the conclusion section of Durham’s report says. “Senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor toward the information they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons or entities.”

The FBI, in response to the report, indicated that the missteps identified by Durham have already been addressed.

Then-President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin  during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.
President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki on July 16, 2018.Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images file

“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," the statement said. "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.”

Durham lost the only two prosecutions he brought to court. But the report released Monday appeared to be an appeal to the court of public opinion — an argument that Trump was treated unfairly by FBI officials who were too quick to unleash the bureau’s investigative powers.

Trump allies have been eager to see the report, arguing that Durham would make it clear what the former president has been saying all along — that his campaign did nothing wrong but that the Obama administration was using the power of the federal government to try to influence the 2016 election.

"WOW! After extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes the FBI never should have launched the Trump-Russia Probe! 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!" Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

Durham’s central conclusions were previously contradicted by a 2019 report by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, which found that while the FBI made a series of mistakes, the decision to open the probe was justified as a matter of law and policy — and untainted by any evidence of political bias.

Durham, who issued a statement disagreeing with the Justice Department inspector general’s report at the time, expanded his dissent in the report released Monday.

Durham, a former U.S. attorney in Connecticut, submitted his report Friday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who read it over the weekend and ordered it released without changes, a Justice Department spokesperson said.

Durham’s report examines in painstaking detail various aspects of the FBI investigation code-named “Crossfire Hurricane,” which led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller ultimately did not establish any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he found a series of contacts between campaign officials and Russians and a campaign that was willing and eager to accept help from Moscow. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report went further, saying the Trump campaign posed a counterintelligence risk to the U.S. by opening itself to foreign influence.

But Durham argued that the FBI acted too hastily when it opened the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in July 2016, after a Trump campaign aide told an Australian diplomat that the Trump campaign had received an offer from Russia to help Trump by releasing damaging information on his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“The objective facts show that the FBI’s handling of important aspects of the Crossfire Hurricane matter were seriously deficient," the report said. "Some FBI employees who were interviewed by our investigators advised that they had significant reservations about aspects of Crossfire Hurricane and tried to convey their misgivings to their superiors. Others had doubts about the investigation, but did not voice their concerns. In some cases, nothing was said because of a sense that there had to be more compelling information in the possession of those closest to the decision-making center of the case than had been made known to them.

"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," the report added.

Durham’s investigation found that at the time, neither the FBI nor the CIA had any intelligence suggesting an improper relationship between Trump and Russia. But it also noted that it was known by then that Russian intelligence had hacked the Democrats, and Trump had made his infamous comment publicly beseeching Russia to find emails that were missing from a server used by Clinton.

Durham said the FBI opened a full counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign “based on raw, uncorroborated information,” and the key agent involved in the decision, Peter Strzok, was later found to have excoriated Trump in private texts to a companion.

Durham said the FBI took a much different approach with other counterintelligence matters that had the potential to affect the election. For example, when it learned that an unnamed foreign government was seeking to influence the Clinton campaign with political contributions, the FBI moved cautiously and ultimately provided fact-specific “defensive briefings,” warning Clinton campaign officials — something the FBI decided not to do with Trump.

The Durham report also discusses intelligence gathered in 2016 that suggested that the Russian government believed Clinton had a plan to vilify Trump “by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.” Durham appears to suggest that the intelligence information should have given the FBI pause in its pursuit of allegations involving the Trump campaign. A former senior intelligence official said the intelligence in question was never verified.

While the report is the first time Durham has made sweeping conclusions, much of the lengthy document summarizes well-known history, including examining the veracity of the so-called dossier gathered by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, which the FBI relied on in part to get a national security warrant to conduct surveillance of Trump aide Carter Page.

The FBI was not able to substantiate most of the dossier, which appeared to have been gathered in large part by a Russian named Igor Danchenko.

Durham prosecuted Danchenko on charges of lying to the FBI, but a jury acquitted him. Another jury absolved Michael Sussmann, a lawyer whom Durham also charged with lying.

Durham secured a guilty plea from an FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted having falsified an application for a national security warrant for Page. Clinesmith got probation, and his law license was suspended for a year. The FBI also overhauled the way it deals with warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.