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Why the Durham Report Matters to Democracy

May 25, 2023

It is a damning account of the corruption of the FBI and its accomplices.

Two special counsels, several inspector general reports and six years later, the country finally has a more complete account of the FBI’s Russia collusion probe of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. Special counsel John Durham’s final report makes clear that a partisan FBI became a funnel for disinformation from the Hillary Clinton campaign through a secret investigation the bureau never should have launched.

The 306-page Durham report released Monday afternoon [May 15th] is far more comprehensive than anything issued by original special counsel Robert Mueller. Mr. Durham had already unfurled some of the narrative with his prosecutions of Russian national Igor Danchenko and Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann. He lost those cases, though the indictments laid out how the Clinton campaign used foreign nationals, an oppo-research outfit, and political insiders to feed the FBI and the media lies about Trump collusion.

The Durham report gives a fuller picture of the FBI’s complicity under former director James Comey and deputy Andrew McCabe. It scores an FBI that “failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law.” Here are some of the specific findings:

  • No basis for investigation. The FBI lacked “any actual evidence of collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia when it violated its standards and jumped over several steps to initiate a full investigation, including probes into four members of the Trump campaign.

The pretext for the probe—a random conversation between unpaid Trump adviser George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat—was so flimsy that FBI agents complained it was “thin” and British intelligence was incredulous. The FBI opened the probe without doing interviews, using any “standard analytical tools,” or conducting intelligence reviews—which would have shown that not a single U.S. agency had evidence of collusion.

  • Bias. The Durham report makes clear that partisan hostility played a role in the probe. The report cites a “clear predisposition” to investigate based on a “prejudice against Trump” and “pronounced hostile feelings” by key investigators, including former agent Peter Strzok, and former FBI attorneys Lisa Page and Kevin Clinesmith.
  • Double standards. The report lays out several instances in which the FBI was concerned that agents of foreign governments were seeking influence by donating to the Clinton campaign or the Clinton Foundation. Yet in one case in 2014 the FBI dawdled over obtaining a warrant from the secret FISA court because—according to an agent—“[T]hey were pretty ‘tippy-toeing’ around HRC because there was a chance she would be the next President” and the FBI was concerned about interfering with a coming presidential campaign.

The FBI gave a Clinton representative a “defensive briefing” about the risks of foreign actors. Mr. Trump received no such briefing.

  • Willful ignorance. The report lays out numerous examples of the FBI ignoring evidence that it was being used by the Clinton campaign to execute a political dirty trick. This included intelligence the government received in July 2016 alleging that Mrs. Clinton had approved “a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.”

Former CIA director John Brennan briefed this material to President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Mr. Comey, yet the FBI ignored it. It did the same when it learned that collusion dossier author Christopher Steele was working for the Clinton campaign and that Mr. Steele and oppo-research team Fusion GPS were spreading disinformation to the press. And it ignored exculpatory statements made by Messrs. Page and Papadopoulos in secret FBI recordings.

  • Russian disinformation. The report says that two members of Russia’s intelligence service “were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early July 2016”—when the former spook first contacted the FBI with his dossier—and that as a result his sources may have been “compromised.” This means the FBI probe that disrupted American politics for three years may have begun as a Russian intelligence operation.

All of , whose director reports to the Attorney General. Where were Ms. Lynch and her deputy, Sally Yates? The report notes that Deputy Assistant AG Stuart Evans raised concerns with the investigation, but the Comey FBI snubbed him, and higher-ups at the Justice Department ducked their duty.

The press corps was also an all-too-willing accomplice to the collusion con, yet there has been little to no outrage or even self-reflection at having been played for dupes. Most coverage largely dismisses the Durham report because no one new was indicted. The press performance in the collusion story has done untold damage to its credibility, and it’s a major reason that much of the country believes nothing it reads or hears about Donald Trump.

The Durham team deserves credit for not engaging in leaks, innuendo or politicized actions—precisely the FBI behavior it is criticizing. The report notes that if the findings “leave some with the impression that injustices or misconduct have gone unaddressed, it is not because the Office concluded that no such injustices or misconduct occurred,” but rather that “the law does not always make a person’s bad judgment, even horribly bad judgement” a crime.

The FBI responded to the report by claiming it has already “implemented dozens of corrective actions” that, if in place in 2016, would have “prevented” this mess. Mr. Durham appears to have predicted this shabby evasion, and his report provides a powerful retort. Its conclusion notes that it isn’t recommending “wholesale changes” in guidelines or policies, because the FBI ability to fulfill its responsibilities “comes down to the integrity of the people who take an oath . . . As such, the answer is not the creation of new rules but a renewed fidelity to the old,” namely the FBI’s guiding principles of “Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity.”

The Russia collusion fabrication and deceptive sale to the public is a travesty that shouldn’t be forgotten. That Washington’s establishment refuses to acknowledge its role in this deceit is one reason so many Americans don’t trust public institutions. It will take years for honest public servants to undo the damage, but the Durham accounting is a start.

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Appeared in the May 17, 2023, print edition as 'Why the Durham Report Matters'.                                                          

P.S.:  This is not meant to be a partisan diatribe. Our national institutions and icons -- especially the FBI -- are losing our faith in their ability, let alone their desire, to remain apolitical. Further erosion in our "trusted institutions" from the police to the FOMC to the Supreme Court could lead to chaos in the streets. I fear the consequences of our complacency and the precedents we create. Our youth should not be accepting of January 6th or the extremes of Black Lives Matter; they need to become discerning readers and educated consumers of "The News" and aware that they, like us, have the responsibility to be open but skeptical. Our democratic institutions from Congress to the IRS rely on our faith in their incorruptibility and our inherent honesty. At present, we seem more like a "Banana Republic" than the land of our forefathers.