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John Durham, Trump-era special counsel, testifies about "sobering" report on FBI's Russia probe

John Durham testifies before Congress
Special Counsel John Durham lays out "sobering" findings about FBI's Russia-Trump probe 05:09

Washington Special counsel John Durham, who scrutinized the origins of the FBI's investigation into possible links between Russia and former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, testified before a House committee on Wednesday, detailing the "sobering" findings of his controversial report one week after its release. 

Durham's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee was the second time he appeared before lawmakers this week. He testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

"As we said in the report, our findings were sobering," Durham told the committee. "I can tell you, having spent 40 years plus as a prosecutor, they were particularly sobering to me."

Durham's 316-page report was critical of the FBI, saying agents showed "confirmation bias" and finding that the basis for opening an investigation into whether Trump's campaign was coordinating with Russia in 2016 was "seriously flawed." 

"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 report said, referring to the codename for the FBI's Trump probe.

A career federal prosecutor and Justice Department official, Durham was serving as the Connecticut U.S. attorney in 2019 when then-Attorney General William Barr tasked him with examining the FBI's decision to open an investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016. He was elevated to special counsel the following year and allowed to continue his probe under the Biden administration.

U.S. Justice Department special counsel John Durham testifies about his report on the FBI's inquiry into potential contacts between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, before a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 21, 2023.
Special counsel John Durham testifies about his report on the FBI's inquiry into potential contacts between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, before a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 21, 2023. JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

Throughout the course of the four-year investigation, Trump and his allies were convinced Durham's investigation would show the FBI unfairly targeted him when it opened an investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

On Wednesday, Durham underscored that the production of the so-called Steele dossier, an opposition memo that included unproven accusations compiled by a former British intelligence officer, was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, and was a deeply flawed record that was used by the FBI to secure surveillance warrants.

Under questioning from Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, Durham agreed that he had the authority to pursue charges against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or former FBI Director James Comey in his role as special counsel — if he had the evidence. Durham also agreed Attorney General Merrick Garland did not interfere with his investigation. 

"Attorney General Garland never asked me not to indict somebody," Durham said. 

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse asked Durham if he sides with some conservatives who believe the Department of Justice and the FBI should be defunded. 

"I don't believe the Department of Justice or the FBI should be defunded," Durham said. "I think there maybe ought to be some changes and the like, but defunded, no."

Trump is now fighting federal charges alleging he mishandled classified documents and obstructed the government's efforts to retrieve them, prompting the former president and his supporters to once again claim the Justice Department has been "weaponized" against him.

Much of Durham's findings echoed details revealed in the Justice Department inspector general's 2019 investigation into the FBI's probe, which identified several procedural errors but concluded there was no "political bias" at the bureau. 

Just three prosecutions resulted from Durham's investigation. Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty, admitting that he doctored an email that was submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as part of an application used to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. 

Prominent Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann was acquitted on charges of lying to investigators about his ties to Clinton's presidential campaign when he brought allegations to the FBI related to the Trump investigation. 

The case against Russian analyst Igor Danchenko also ended with an acquittal. Danchenko was accused of lying to investigators about the sources of information he provided to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer behind the controversial dossier about Trump and Russia. 

In an apparent reference to the lack of significant criminal convictions stemming from the probe, the report said that "not every injustice or transgression amounts to a criminal offense." 

"[T]he law does not always make a person's bad judgment, even horribly bad judgment, standing alone, a crime," it said. 

Moving forward, Durham recommended in his report a career official be assigned to challenge the FBI's politically sensitive surveillance applications.

Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.

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