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Durham report finds FBI "failed to uphold its mission" in handling of Trump-Russia probe

Special counsel releases Russia findings
Special Counsel John Durham releases report on FBI's Russia investigation 02:16

Washington — John Durham, the Trump-era special counsel tasked with scrutinizing the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, has concluded his sweeping examination into the bureau's conduct, finding the Justice Department and FBI "failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law" regarding the events during the 2016 campaign.

The release of Durham's roughly 300-page report Monday comes four years after his investigation into the actions of the FBI in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election began. Attorney General Merrick Garland received the report from Durham on Friday, and it was transmitted to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Monday.

Much of the information disclosed in Durham's report was revealed in a 2019 examination conducted by the Justice Department inspector general into the origins of the FBI's probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. That investigation identified several procedural errors, but overall concluded there was no "political bias" at the bureau. 

Though Durham had broader powers than the Justice Department's watchdog, he pursued prosecutions of just three people, two of whom were acquitted. The third, a former FBI lawyer, pleaded guilty.

Justice Department releases Durham report on FBI's Trump-Russia probe 09:42

The special counsel said the FBI had an "obligation" to look at the allegations, but it did not perform full due diligence in opening the probe. Durham, in the probe, concluded that the Justice Department and FBI had "failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities" described in his report. The special counsel's examination also revealed senior FBI personnel "displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor toward the information they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons and entities."

"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 found.

Durham said there was "significant reliance on investigative leads" provided or funded by Trump's opponents.

FBI response to Durham report

The FBI, under Director Christopher Wray, had implemented a number of reforms before the Durham report was released, a point that it noted in responding to the release of the report.

The bureau said in a statement that "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."

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said he has reached out to the Justice Department to have Durham testify next week.

Who is John Durham?

Then-Attorney General Bill Barr selected Durham, who was at the time the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, in May 2019 to investigate the origins of the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation, which later was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller. Durham was then named special counsel by Barr in October 2020, weeks before the presidential election. 

As part of his 48-month probe, Durham was tasked with examining the following: whether there was adequate predication for the FBI to open its Crossfire Hurricane investigation; whether the opening of the probe was consistent with FBI policy; whether there was evidence that the actions of FBI employees or third parties violated the law; and whether the Justice Department provided false information on applications for electronic surveillance.

Durham's report takes aim at the officials working in the upper ranks of the FBI when its investigation into the Trump campaign and alleged ties to Russia was opened, namely Andrew McCabe, then the bureau's deputy director, and Peter Strzok, then the deputy assistant director for counterintelligence. Both men were fired from the FBI in 2018. 

Strzok, Durham wrote, "at a minimum had pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump," and the investigation was opened "without ever having spoken to the person who provided the information" claiming there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"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 states.

Trump repeatedly asserted that members of the Obama administration had spied on his campaign and committed "the biggest political crime in American history" by trying to sabotage his presidency.

What happened to the Durham report?

Durham's probe transitioned into a criminal investigation in the fall of 2019, and aspects of the wide-ranging examination were handed off to federal prosecutors in Texas and Missouri. 

FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleads guilty

The investigation led to one conviction: former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty in 2020 to making a false statement after he was found to have altered a CIA email cited in a warrant application to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Page made several exculpatory statements, but federal investigators failed to inform the Justice Department, Durham found.

The special counsel's report detailed the conflicting approaches between the FBI and Justice Department over the initial application to surveil Page, with records demonstrating "the inclination on the part of the department personnel to move cautiously and FBI executives to move quickly."

Durham found that the FBI drafted a FISA application on Page before it received information from former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele raising allegations about the Trump campaign and Russia, but information from the so-called dossier was "used to buttress the probable cause in the initial draft FISA application targeting" the Trump campaign aide.

Citing the case against Clinesmith, Durham said other FBI personnel working on the same applications to surveil Page "displayed, at best, a cavalier attitude towards accuracy and completeness."

Bureau personnel also "repeatedly disregarded important requirements when they continued to seek renewals of the 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 re-examination."

Democratic lawyer Michael Sussman acquitted

In the first trial resulting from Durham's investigation, a Washington, D.C. jury acquitted prominent Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann last year after he was charged with one count of lying to investigators during a Sept. 19, 2016 meeting in which he conveyed now-debunked data that purportedly linked Trump Tower to Russia's Alfa Bank. Durham accused Sussmann of hiding his ties with a technology executive and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign when he brought the allegations to then-FBI general counsel Jim Baker.

Russian analyst Igor Danchenko acquitted

A third prosecution pursued by Durham, of Russian analyst Igor Danchenko, also ended with an acquittal. Danchenko worked with Steele, the former British intelligence officer behind the controversial dossier about Trump and Russia, and was charged in 2021 with five counts of lying to federal investigators about the sources of the information he provided to Steele's firm. That information was then included in the dossier passed along to the FBI.

Durham report recommendation

The only recommendation the special counsel made in his report was to institute a position to handle "politically sensitive investigations" and to make difficult decisions.  

Another review of FBI Russia probe

Durham's investigation is one of several that reviewed the FBI's Russia probe. In December 2019, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his own review into the origins of the investigation, finding there was no evidence of political bias by the bureau. But Horowitz did find 17 "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in each of the four warrant applications submitted to the surveillance court to wiretap Page.

In response to Horowitz's examination, Durham released a statement questioning the conclusions and noting his team had informed the inspector general "that we do not agree with some of the report's conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened."

Durham's investigation was more sweeping than Horowitz's because he had the authority to issue subpoenas for witness testimony and documents, and impanel a grand jury. 

Barr was not shy in criticizing the FBI for its conduct. In an April 2020 interview with Fox News, he said the bureau's treatment of Mr. Trump "was one of the greatest travesties in American history" and said it had no basis to launch its investigation. Then, in an interview with CBS News in May 2020, Barr expressed concerns the Justice Department has been increasingly used as a political weapon.

"People, you know, we should choose our leaders through the election process. And efforts to use the law enforcement process to change leaders or to disable administrations are incendiary in this country and destroy our republic," Barr said at the time. 

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