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The conclusion of the four-year special counsel investigation led by John Durham has taken a significant turn in the narrative surrounding the 2016 Trump campaign and its alleged ties to Russian interference. The 300-page report, double the length of your standard airport thriller, provides a comprehensive account of the FBI’s investigation known as “Crossfire Hurricane”, throwing a proverbial wrench into the previous understanding of events.
The report’s primary conclusion? The FBI, like a kid in a candy store, rushed its investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign and leaned heavily on raw, uncorroborated intelligence. This comes in stark contrast to the former President’s claims of the “crime of the century” being on the cusp of discovery. Instead, the report paints a picture of overeager investigation marred by missteps and biases.
It’s as if the FBI sprinted into a marathon, not pacing itself or taking the time to gather the proper fuel for the long haul. The report criticizes the FBI for opening a full-scale investigation based on “raw, unanalyzed and uncorroborated intelligence”, an unorthodox rapid-fire approach. It also suggests that investigators were victims of “confirmation bias”, a psychological phenomenon where one interprets information to confirm their preexisting beliefs. In this case, the report suggests that investigators ignored or explained away any evidence that didn’t fit their narrative of a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
The report states, “Based on the review of Crossfire Hurricane and related intelligence activities, we conclude that the Department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities described in this report.” It’s a damning statement, casting a long shadow over the credibility of the FBI and Justice Department’s methods.
However, the full impact of Durham’s report might be lessened by his somewhat checkered prosecution record and the fact that many of the issues cited were already examined by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The FBI, like a student who’s been scolded by their teacher, has already announced dozens of corrective actions. They’ve been busy writing up their plan for a new, improved approach, detailing steps to ensure the accuracy of secretive surveillance applications and other key investigative procedures.
The FBI stated, “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.” The agency also emphasized that the report focused on the FBI’s prior leadership, before current Director Christopher Wray assumed his role in 2017.
Despite the report’s harsh criticism of the FBI, it seems to be serving as a launching pad for even further scrutiny of the Bureau. Trump, who’s been like a dog with a bone about this issue, is again seeking the presidency. The report is likely to be used as fuel by congressional Republicans who have launched their investigation into the purported “weaponization” of the FBI and Justice Department. After the report was released, Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan said he had invited Durham to testify next week.
Trump, on his Truth Social platform, claimed anew that the report showed the “crime of the century” and referred to the Russia investigation as a “Democrat Hoax”.
John Durham, former U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, was appointed in 2019 by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr. This appointment was made soon after special counsel Robert Mueller had completed his investigation into whether the 2016 Trump campaign had colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor.
The Mueller investigation resulted in approximately three dozen criminal charges, including convictions of a half-dozen Trump associates. It concluded that Russia intervened on the Trump campaign’s behalf and that the campaign welcomed the help. Yet Mueller’s team did not find that they actually conspired to sway the election, creating an opening for critics of the probe — including Barr himself — to assert that it had been launched without a proper basis.
The subsequent months revealed a series of flaws with the investigation, including errors and omissions in Justice Department applications to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, as well as the reliance by the FBI on a dossier of uncorroborated or discredited information compiled by a British ex-spy, Christopher Steele.
Durham’s team delved deep into these mistakes, unearthing that investigators rushed into the investigation without conducting key interviews or a significant review of intelligence databases. The report reveals that the FBI, at the time the investigation was opened, had no information indicating that any Trump campaign officials had been in contact with any Russian intelligence officials.
The original Russia investigation was triggered in July 2016 after the FBI learned from an Australian diplomat that a Trump campaign associate named George Papadopoulos had claimed to know of “dirt” that the Russians had on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked emails. However, the report finds fault with the FBI for not conducting crucial groundwork before launching the investigation.
Moreover, it states that the FBI did not corroborate a “single substantive allegation” in the so-called Steele dossier and ignored or rationalized what it asserts was exculpatory information that Trump associates had provided to FBI confidential informants. That includes, the report said, minimizing the importance of a conversation in which Papadopoulos strenuously denied to the FBI informant that he had any knowledge of ties between the campaign and Russia.
The report bluntly states, “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. Unfortunately, it did not. ” It’s a stark assessment that raises questions about the motivations behind the initial investigation and the subsequent conduct of it.
Durham’s mandate was to scrutinize government decisions and identify possible misconduct during the early stages of the Trump-Russia probe. His appointment was met with enthusiasm by Trump, who in a 2019 interview with Fox News said Durham was “supposed to be the smartest and the best.” Trump and his supporters hoped the investigation would uncover a “deep state” conspiracy within the upper echelons of the FBI and other agencies to derail Trump’s presidency and candidacy.
Durham and his team cast a broad net, interviewing top officials at the FBI, Justice Department, and CIA in an investigation that ultimately cost more than $6.5 million. In his first year on the job, he traveled with Barr to Italy to meet with government officials as Trump himself asked the Australian prime minister and other leaders to assist with the probe.
Weeks before his December 2020 resignation as attorney general, Barr appointed Durham as a Justice Department special counsel to ensure that his work would continue in a Democratic administration.
The slow pace of the probe frustrated Trump, who berated Barr before he left office about the whereabouts of the report. By the end of the Trump administration, only one criminal case had been brought, and the sudden departure of Durham’s top deputy in the final months of Trump’s tenure raised questions about whether the team was in sync.
Despite expectations that Durham might charge senior government officials, his team produced only three prosecutions. A former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to altering an email the FBI relied on in applying to eavesdrop on an ex-Trump campaign aide. Two other defendants — a lawyer for the Clinton campaign and a Russian-American think tank analyst — were both acquitted on charges of lying to the FBI.
The relative scarcity of legal action resulting from Durham’s investigation contrasts sharply with the high hopes and expectations that surrounded its inception. The complexity of the investigation, its political implications, and the long wait for its conclusion have contributed to the drama of the report’s release.
The report’s revelations, particularly about the hastiness of the FBI’s actions and its overreliance on raw, unconfirmed intelligence, are significant. They provide a sobering reminder of the importance of methodical, unbiased investigation, especially in matters of national security and high-stakes political intrigue.
The FBI, under the current leadership of Director Christopher Wray, has already pledged to learn from these findings and institute reforms. It is clear that the FBI’s actions during this period will continue to be examined and debated in the coming years, especially as the implications of this report ripple through the political landscape.
Meanwhile, the reactions to the report are as polarized as ever. Trump and his supporters continue to decry the original investigation as a “hoax,” while critics of the Trump administration emphasize the confirmed findings of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Whether this report will ultimately change the narrative surrounding the Trump-Russia saga remains to be seen.
One thing is certain, however: this report marks a significant chapter in the ongoing story of the 2016 election and its aftermath. It serves as a testament to the importance of conducting thorough, unbiased investigations and the dangers of allowing preconceived notions to guide such crucial processes. As the dust settles on Durham’s report, it is clear that its findings will have lasting implications for how we understand the intersection of law enforcement, intelligence, and politics in the United States.
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