Trump-Era Special Counsel Blasts FBI Conduct in Russia Probe

(Bloomberg) -- US Special Counsel John Durham faulted the FBI and Justice Department’s probe into whether Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election but failed to issue any new charges or recommend significant changes to investigative procedures.

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Durham, the longest serving special counsel, concluded his four-year probe with a report made public Monday that found the federal government’s investigation failed to rigorously meet investigative standards both in opening the investigation in 2016 and in conducting the probe.

“We conclude that the department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities” investigated by Durham, according to the 306-page final report.

The announcement ends a highly anticipated investigation that fell far short of Trump’s claims that Durham’s probe would reveal a conspiracy to spy on him and undercut his presidency.

The report was submitted to Attorney General Merrick Garland last week.

Trump responded on his social media site Truth Social, writing: “WOW! After extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes the FBI never should have launched the Trump-Russia Probe! In other words, the American Public was scammed.”

Durham was tapped in April 2019 by Garland’s predecessor, William Barr, to determine whether FBI or intelligence officials committed crimes in conducting the so-called Crossfire Hurricane investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign. Durham was then named a special counsel by Barr in October 2020, a move that allowed his inquiry to continue into the Biden administration.

Durham also concluded FBI and Justice officials treated Trump and his campaign differently than they did the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, who was his rival in 2016.

“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,” according to the report.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said he plans to have Durham testify publicly next week.

The FBI issued a statement Monday saying that reforms have been made since the time that Durham investigated.

“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,” the FBI said in the statement. “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.”

Trump and his conservative allies made repeated and unsubstantiated claims that a cabal of “deep state” figures illegally spied on his 2016 campaign and took actions to sabotage his administration after he was elected. They were counting on Durham to uncover scandals to back up their assertions.

In the end, though, Durham’s investigation only led to charges against three low-level figures, two of whom were acquitted by a jury.

Igor Danchenko, a business analyst, was found not guilty in October 2022 of charges that he lied to the FBI. Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, was found not guilty in May 2022 of lying to the FBI.

Durham secured a guilty plea from a former FBI lawyer who acknowledged falsifying an email when seeking to renew a secret warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide. The lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, admitted he changed the email to incorrectly say that Page hadn’t been a CIA source and pleaded guilty in August 2020 to falsifying a document.

Durham described his investigation as a sprawling global probe, saying his office did more than 480 interviews, reviewed more than 6 million pages of evidence, served more than 190 grand jury subpoenas, and obtained information through search warrants and one request for assistance to a foreign government. His public expense reports showed that as of September, the office’s investigation had cost more than $6.5 million.

Durham’s work has gone on longer than the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the original Russia interference probe in May 2017 and concluded it in March 2019.

By comparison, the Mueller investigation resulted in 34 indictments, the conviction of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort for unrelated financial crimes and a guilty plea from Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. Trump pardoned Manafort and Flynn before leaving office.

Most of the individuals indicted by Mueller were Russian officials who have never been apprehended by the US to be prosecuted.

Mueller also documented almost a dozen examples of possible obstruction of justice by Trump, and his investigation exposed a massive criminal conspiracy by Russian operatives to interfere in the 2016 election.

Notwithstanding the intense partisan political climate that has surrounded Durham’s work for years, he concluded his letter to Garland by thanking the Biden appointee “for permitting our inquiry to proceed independently and without interference.”

--With assistance from Mark Niquette and Zoe Tillman.

(Updates with statement from Trump spokesman in the 15th paragraph.)

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