Durham Report On Trump-Russia Investigation Key Takeaways

Special Counsel John Durham investigated the origins of the FBI’s investigation into contacts between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign for four years.

His final report, which totaled more than 300 pages, was made public on Monday. Here are several key points.

Durham On Defense

Durham appears to reply in the report’s preface to some Republicans’ displeasure that he failed to win significant criminal charges linked to suspected FBI malfeasance in the Trump-Russia investigation. “[N]ot every injustice or transgression amounts to a criminal offense,” he wrote.

Only three people were charged with a crime in Durham. He was defeated in both trials that got to trial. In a third case, Kevin Clinesmith, an ex-FBI lawyer, pled guilty to changing an email that was used to support a surveillance application. Clinesmith was not sentenced to incarceration.

The law “does not always make a person’s bad judgment, even bad judgment, standing alone, a crime,” Durham wrote.

He said that the law does not bar “all unsavory or unethical conduct that political campaigns may engage in for tactical advantage,” and that prosecutors must prove criminal intent to achieve convictions.

That last phrase appears to refer to the numerous claims brought by Republicans against Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and her outside backers.

Durham also appeared to discount the notion that the speedy acquittals of two of the three individuals his office pursued indicated that his team’s efforts were misdirected. Convictions in politically sensitive cases are especially difficult to obtain, according to the veteran federal prosecutor.

Durham’s Wilderness

Durham’s report concludes with something unusual for a criminal investigation conducted under the Justice Department’s special counsel regulations: several recommendations on how the DOJ and the FBI should reform how they do business.

Durham states early on that he is not advocating “any wholesale changes” to FBI or DOJ rules. “The answer is not the creation of new rules, but a renewed fidelity to the old,” Durham argues.

Nonetheless, the report concludes with a 17-page discussion of how politically sensitive investigations should or may be conducted differently in the future, including designating a career official to oppose FBI surveillance applications in such circumstances and not leaving critical information in footnotes.

Durham Report On Trump-Russia Investigation Key Takeaways

The report frequently sounds more like an inspector general investigation looking for waste, fraud, and abuse that may or may not be criminal in nature.

However, it lacks some of the checks commonly used in that process, such as the ability for persons and agencies named to give factual corrections and rebuttals.

Durham’s report also suggests that his prosecutors strayed far from the central question of whether those engaged in launching or overseeing the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation should face prosecution.

He investigated the intelligence community’s handling of the Trump-Russia charges and largely unrelated allegations of foreign-influence attempts aimed at Clinton.

Durham wanted to determine whether Clinton-related and Trump-related charges were being treated with similar rigor and zeal.

The special prosecutor noted, “Comparing the respective investigative activity was significant to the investigation because it could support or undermine allegations of institutional bias against either candidate.”

However, he recognized that analyzing the facts involved in the numerous complaints is “undoubtedly an imperfect method” for determining whether such bias existed.

Durham’s final report’s vast scope may originate from how his probe began in 2019: as a comprehensive study of the beginnings of the Trump-Russia investigation.

At first, it appeared that Attorney General Bill Barr had asked Durham to re-examine DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s decision not to declare that political prejudice influenced early judgments and errors in what would eventually become the Robert Mueller investigation.

However, Durham’s investigation quickly turned into a criminal investigation. Its dual role as a criminal probe and an after-action report lasted to the conclusion.

Fallout For a Critical Surveillance Authority

A fundamental fear for law enforcement and the intelligence community lurks in the report and the FBI’s response to it: that Durham’s harsh conclusions about the bureau’s handling of the Trump-Russia investigation would inspire Congress to repeal a crucial surveillance authority when it expires in December.

Durham does not expressly address Section 702 authority. Still, he does state that he is not advocating anything “that would limit the scope of reach of FISA or the FBI’s investigative activities… in a time of aggressive and hostile terrorist groups and foreign powers.”

Applications to surveil former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page were not issued under 702.

However, widespread Republican concern over the politicization of the FBI’s intelligence work has cast doubt on the extension of that authority, prompting several GOP senators to demand reforms far beyond the expiring provision.

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The FBI responded to the Durham report by saying it shares those concerns and emphasizing in a footnote that the bureau is under new administration.

“All senior executives overseeing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation have left the FBI due to termination, resignation, or retirement,” FBI General Counsel Jason Jones wrote, referring to the Trump-Russia inquiry’s codename.

Who Played For Durham And Who Didn’t?

Durham’s assignment has been politically tricky from the start, with many Democrats and current and former intelligence-agency personnel dubious of his investigation.

Some publicly questioned his ability to discern intelligence personnel’s assessments of Russian and other foreign governments’ objectives.

The list of people who elected to participate in Durham’s investigation and those who chose to ignore him indicates the probe’s perceived reliability.

According to the report, Durham’s team spoke with former CIA Director John Brennan in August 2020, Clinton campaign foreign policy adviser and Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan in November 2021, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta in January 2022, and Clinton herself in May 2022.

Former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a senior FBI agent for national security matters, William Priestap, private investigator Glenn Simpson, internet executive Rodney Joffe, and Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias were among those who turned Durham down (though Elias did testify as a witness for Durham during Michael Sussmann’s trial).

Peter Strzok, a senior FBI agent suing the bureau over his firing, consented to discuss one facet of the Trump-Russia investigation but denied a more extended interview.

According to the report, Durham’s team spoke with John Brennan, a former director of the CIA, in August 2020; Jake Sullivan, a foreign policy consultant to the Clinton campaign and a national security adviser to Biden; John Podesta; and Hillary Clinton herself in May 2022.

Former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Senior FBI Agent William Priestap, Private Investigator Glenn Simpson, Internet Executive Rodney Joffe, and Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias were among those who declined to work with Durham (although Elias did testify as a witness for Durham during the Michael Sussmann trial).

Senior FBI agent Peter Strzok, who is suing the agency for firing him, consented to talk about one area of the Trump-Russia investigation but declined to give a more extended interview.

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An Emotionally Charged FBI Agent

In one of Durham’s interviews, a dramatic incident is described in the report. The U.S. intelligence community was made aware of Russian intelligence assessments during the 2016 campaign, which claimed that Clinton’s campaign intended to create controversy around Trump’s ties to Russia to divert attention away from her email server issues.

The unproven Russian accusation has previously been made public, and Democrats have mocked it as inflammatory misinformation from an enemy nation attempting to influence the election. 2016 saw then-President Barack Obama receiving a briefing from the CIA’s John Brennan.

Durham claimed that most of the Crossfire Hurricane team members he spoke with about it hadn’t seen it, including the investigation’s original supervising special agent.

James Baker, the FBI’s former general counsel, also said he first learned of the intelligence from Durham’s team. He said that if he had known about it during the probe, he would have been much more skeptical about Christopher Steele’s reports and allegations of a secret channel between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank.

Durham said other FBI agents would have been more skeptical about Trump/Russia allegations had they seen the intelligence. This would have “reduced the risk of reputational damage to the targets of the investigation and, ultimately, to the FBI.”

Durham’s team asked Clinton herself about this intelligence. She called it “really sad.” “I get it; you have to go down every rabbit hole,” she added, saying it looked like Russian disinformation.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) later called it “unverified Russian rumint,” or rumor intelligence. Durham stressed that his team also hadn’t verified it.

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