Let's Fix This Country

Durham Report Trashes the FBI, Fortifies the Right’s Mythology

Four years and $6.5 million has brought us the long-awaited Durham Report, a withering critique of how the FBI went about its investigation into the Trump campaign's extensive contacts with Russian sources, and the Clinton campaign's efforts to sow suspicion of collusion. At least, that was its intention.

Right-wing media exploded in euphoria, warping the report's conclusions behind recognition. The first words on the lead-off primetime show on Fox that night had host Will Cain saying, "It's confirmed that the FBI worked to rig the outcome of an American presidential election". Truth has not won out at Fox after the Dominion debacle.

The left pretended a yawn with its hosts saying there is "nothing new" in 306 pages article illustration
Special Counsel John Durham

never seen before and repeating the vacuous "there's no there, there".

Durham's report is devoted to criticizing the FBI. Other than storytelling, it deals with little else. This plays perfectly into the Republican narrative that the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation have been "weaponized" against the Right. On his Fox show when the report was released, Sean Hannity's first words were, "The Left's Russia hysteria has officially come to an end". Durham's narrow focus on the FBI has given the Right the false ability to claim that is all there was in 2016. We can expect them to cite the report reflexively from this moment forward, especially in response to every indictment of Donald Trump, as proof of a corrupt "deep state", even though the report says nothing of the sort.


John Durham, the U.S. attorney for the district of Connecticut, was tapped by Attorney General William Barr to look for criminality in the 2016 campaign, election, and beyond. Barr believes in a "unitary" theory of

an all-powerful presidency effectively above the law. Accordingly, it was an outrage that the Trump campaign was investigated. To make that conclusive, he had created this second investigation just a month after stiffing former FBI Director Robert Mueller's report. He equipped Durham with everything he would need to root out who should be prosecuted, even giving Durham access to CIA intelligence.

Durham contends in his report that the FBI opened its probe, code-named "Crossfire Hurricane", entirely too rapidly, in violation of its own procedures, and on the basis of thin information.

The story in brief: On May 10th of 2016, Trump aide Gorge Papadopoulos had told Australian diplomats over drinks in London that Russia had offered to assist the Trump team with information that would damage Hillary Clinton. Not until July 26th did the Australians pass this on to our embassy in the UK which immediately reported it to the FBI.

That caused the FBI on July 31, 2016, to cast aside its normal procedures, skipping "assessment" and "preliminary" steps, and going to a full investigation, undoubtedly influenced by nine days earlier WikiLeaks having dropped thousands of emails that had been hacked from the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) servers. It certainly looked like what Mr. Papadopoulos foretold was real. Not to investigate would be unthinkable.

For Mr. Durham, though, the FBI acted on "raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence" that was "a noticeable departure" from how it had responded to "foreign election interference plans aimed at the Clinton campaign". He quotes from FBI's prerequisite for launching a full investigation — "an articulable factual basis for the investigation that reasonably indicates that ... [a]n activity constituting a federal crime or a threat to the national security ... is or may be occurring" — and so on, but neither Durham, nor anyone in the media inveighing against the FBI on reading the report this week, all these years later, shows any sense of the moment. There was about to be an election for the presidency of the United States. It is the very end of July with a bare three months and a few days remaining. Suddenly, with Russian interference already evident, Trump's public statements about Russia, media reporting on possible ties between Trump and Russian businessmen, and now the Papadopoulos leak of a Trump campaign possibly accepting Russian assistance that ties into the WikiLeaks DNC hack. There is no time to go through the ponderous three-step process. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe decrees that Crossfire Hurricane investigation be "opened immediately".

coming up short

Durham's mere scolding wasn't what Bill Barr had hoped for. To engineer the desired result, Barr had even joined Durham on a trip to Italy looking for evidence and frequently invited him for drinks evenings, flouting the special counsel purpose of hands-off separation.

But just as he had claimed "exoneration" after Bill Barr's adulteration corruption of the Mueller Report, Donald Trump posted to Truth Social,

“WOW! After extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes the FBI never should have launched the Trump-Russia Probe!”

No, he didn't. Durham never says the FBI investigation shouldn't have happened. That aligns with the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz's inquiry into the FBI investigation. He effectively kneecapped Durham by getting there first. His 18-month review found many errors of process — 17 violations in the FISA Carter Page application alone. Despite the many faults in the FBI's conduct, despite the stunning anti-Trump exchanges between Peter Strzok, who led Crossfire Hurricane, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, Horowitz found that the FBI's inquiry was validly predicated. So did the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Marco Rubio.

The FBI had already adopted a number of Horowitz's recommended changes, leaving Durham with largely redundant complaints and pot shards to sweep up. The FBI has even admitted its mistakes in a contrite statement. Durham has only one proposal: a kind of "devil’s advocate role within the FBI to challenge investigators’ assumptions in politically sensitive investigations" as The Washington Post sees it.

is that all there is?

The report deals only with (i) the predicate or its lack for opening the investigation, as we've seen (ii) the Steele dossier and its use with the Carter Page FISA application, and (iii) the Alfa Bank episode, recounted below. That's it. There is no mention of the bewildering Russia contacts and incidents that filled the daily media that year, the Pulitzer award winning work which uncovered so much questionable conduct matching what the Mueller investigation would later confirm.

The Steele Dossier

The Durham Report of course goes through the disastrous history of British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and the so-called dossier he put together that led to the FBI's worst mistakes and indefensible conduct. The saga also exposed that the Hillary Clinton campaign had not only commissioned Steele to come up with what proved to be salacious "oppo" (opposition) research, but had the campaign's law firm pay for the job in an attempt to hide their involvement.

The fraudulent scheme was then compounded by the FBI using the uncorroborated dossier as purported evidence in a FISA court application for surveillance of Trump sometime-adviser Carter Page.

Steele turned in his first report — the dossier would eventually run to 35 pages — at a meeting in London with an FBI agent from the Rome office on July 5, 2016. The agent's reaction was disbelief, reports Durham.

The Right has tried to make that submission the root cause of the FBI investigation in its effort to turn the Steele dossier into the entirety of Russiagate so as to make all the Trump campaign contacts with Russians — the Mueller Report tallied over 100 — disappear. However, FBI headquarters didn't receive the first six Steele reports until September 19th, fifty days after Crossfire Hurricane had begun. The Durham "Office endeavored to account for the nearly 75 days" without success; it seemed that Rome didn't know what to do with Steele's first memorandum. Durham's timeline proves the dossier could not have prompted the FBI's investigation, but the lie persists. There was Sean Hannity, right after the Durham Report's release, saying about the dossier, "It was the very basis of Crossfire Hurricane".

Without any verification, four of Steele's reports were quickly put to work in a application submitted to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court as evidence Carter Page should be placed under surveillance.

Durham relates that neither the supervisory special agent "nor his investigators believed that Page was a threat to national security or a witting agent of the Russian government". None knew that the man they were surveilling had served as a source for the CIA; when an agent learned Page had assisted the intelligence agency, he "felt like a fool". So delinquent was the FBI in their verification that they told Steele that they "might be willing to pay…in excess of $1,000,000 if he could provide corroborating evidence".

But Crossfire Hurricane investigators "did not and could not corroborate" any of the allegations in the dossier, nor could Steele, nor could his source, a Russian transplant living in the U.S., Igor Danchenko. And yet, without any further review, the surveillance application was submitted every 90 days by rule to the FISA court and renewed three times.

biased treatment

Two of Mr. Durham's sternest criticisms — quoted widely in the media — held that

"FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor towards the information that they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons and entities."

and there is a

"need for the FBI and the Department to recognize that lack of analytical rigor, apparent confirmation bias, and an over-willingness to rely on information from individuals connected to political opponents".

Both are conclusions in the Executive Summary and both oddly reference what would seem a minor matter — months of consternation by the Bureau whether to intervene and give the Clinton campaign a heads up about a probably illegal campaign contribution from a foreign entity. Durham's complaint is that, whereas the agents did give a "defensive briefing" to Clinton's people, they did not do the same with the Trump camp over a similar incident.

Durham similarly cites the Bureau's handling of the Clinton Foundation. Three field offices had opened investigations into possible criminal activity involving large contributions made to the non-profit while Ms. Clinton was secretary of state, and now a candidate for the presidency, and whether the donations were "in exchange for favorable government action and/or influence". But Deputy Director Andrew McCabe directed the field offices to close their cases, and was "negative," "annoyed," and "angry" at the Durham Office's questioning. Durham is again peeved that this was a properly opened full investigation unlike the hasty Crossfire Hurricane, and "Once again, the investigative actions taken by FBI Headquarters in the Foundation matters contrast with those taken in Crossfire Hurricane."

Durham then brings up at some length the minor figure, Charles Dolan. Danchenko had a relationship with Dolan, a public relations specialist who had worked for the DNC and had developed a number of Kremlin connections. They traveled to Moscow together. A Dolan contact had provided material to Danchenko that was passed on to Steele. And so forth. The thrust of over 30 pages in the report about Dolan is to fault the FBI for never having interviewed him.

Hillary's vilification campaign

The Durham Report also reluctantly deflates a story that has been popular on the Right, which blames Hillary Clinton as the one who created suspicion of Russian influence on Trump and his campaign.

To quote Durham, Russian intelligence had picked up purported…

"approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016, of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services."

The motive, Durham says, was "to divert attention from her own concerns relating to her use of a private email server".

But by this point, suspicious activity was already in the wind: Trump had asked the Russians to find Hillary's missing e-mail; the Russia-connected Paul Manafort had surprisingly been hired as Trump's campaign manager; Carter Page had visited Moscow; WikiLeaks had download DNC e-mail. Weren't events doing the kompromat job, and didn't Clinton already have a vilifying campaign in the works — the Steele dossier?

Besides, the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, had written on September 29, 2020, to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham about the vilify plot that, "The [intelligence community] does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication." Wasn't this more likely Russian disinformation and election interference?

Durham had to admit in the report that he could not determine “the accuracy of this allegation”. Once again, Durham is left with complaining only of FBI process. He believes the uncorroborated intelligence should have at least made the FBI question whether the Clinton campaign was up to nefarious skulduggery. The FBI had opened a full investigation of the Trump campaign on raw, uncorroborated information, but in the case of the "Clinton plan intelligence",

"the FBI never opened any type of inquiry, issued any taskings, employed any analytical personnel, or produced any analytical products in connection with the information.

One media article believes that Durham spent one of the four years on this. It came to nothing but right-wing commentators will have none of that. Paying no attention to Durham's reporting, "Fox News Tonight" said:

"Hillary Clinton personally approved a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers…U.S. intelligence agencies knew in fact what Hillary Clinton was trying to do."

ALFA bank's pinging

Just before the 2016 election, in a story titled "Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia", The New York Times reported that the FBI knew of what cyber experts said appeared to be a mysterious back channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank", a major Russian financial institution with ties to the Kremlin. The article was circumspect, though, noting that the FBI had not found "any conclusive or direct link" but that "Hillary Clinton's supporters ... pushed for these investigations."

Indeed they did. Durham goes on to quote Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan that the allegations in the articles…

"could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow[,] that "[t]his secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump's ties to Russia[,]" and that "[w]e can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia's meddling in our elections."

The story: A tech operator working for a company contracted to manage and monitor dedicated White House computer servers had picked up traffic between the Trump Organization and Alfa. A Trump server intermittently received short bursts of activity from Alfa and would then fall silent. The only other activity on the idle server was from a healthcare providing company. The tech operator turned this anomalous activity over to Michael Sussmann, a lawyer at the law firm engaged by the Clinton campaign, who took it to the FBI. One can assume the intent was to scandalize Trump with the insinuation that he was still dealing in Russia. Sussman was indicted by Durham for lying to the FBI — he had said he wasn't representing Clinton.

Hannity once again: "[T]he biggest election and presidential spying scandal in the history of this great country. This is far worse than Watergate".

The FBI is a domestic terror organization said Sean Davis, CEO of The Federalst "and I have a hard time looking at this and coming to any other conclusion than that the FBI has to be defunded".

The story of the mysterious Alfa Bank transmissions was never conclusively solved, but was ultimately thought only to be advertising campaign messages from the bank which had the Trump server in its promotional address list, a surmise that would explain the healthcare outfit's communications as well.

In a report devoted to criticizing the FBI, Mr. Durham here again says, "The FBI thus failed to act on what should have been … a clear warning sign that the FBI might then be the target of an effort to manipulate or influence the law enforcement process for political purposes."


The Left characterizes Durham's work as a total failure. Apart from e-mail tampering mentioned above, there were only two other prosecutions: Danchenko and Sussman. Both were indicted not for any criminal activity but for lying to the FBI. Both trials ended in acquittal.

Mueller's work, which the Right tries to dismiss as a failure, resulted in the indictments of thirty-four individuals and three companies. Eight pleaded guilty or were convicted of felonies, including five Trump associates and campaign officials. Thirteen Russians were indicted for election interference, one of them Yevgeny Prigozhin who now runs the Wagner Group, the free-lance Russian militia fighting in Ukraine. None will likely face trial but at least they run a risk if they choose to travel to much of the world.

Of the eight indicted, lying to the FBI or Congress was one of the charges. If there was nothing to hide about Russian connections, why were they all lying?

The conservative reaction brought a bit of comedy. “Where’s the accountability for this? Who’s going to be held accountable? These are the questions we’re going to continue to ask,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. “Who should go to jail for this?” asked Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. “Someone needs to be going to jail,” said Representative Andy Biggs.

These figures seemed not to know that John Durham, an experienced prosecutor, had every legal tool at his disposal to prosecute, indict, and convict and the hysterics were making fools of themselves. From "Lock her up" forward, it is these complainers who want to weaponize the justice system, demanding imprisonment in the absence of any crime.

Durham had to beg off, writing,

"If this report and the outcome of the Special Counsel’s investigation 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. It is, rather, because not every injustice or transgression amounts to a criminal offense, and criminal prosecutors are tasked exclusively with investigating and prosecuting violations of U.S. criminal laws."

In her interview with Durham’s investigators probing her supposed "vilify" campaign, Hillary Clinton called Durham’s quest “really sad,” adding “I get it, you have to go down every rabbit hole.”

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