If you listen to one side, John Durham’s investigation vindicates Donald Trump and reveals the FBI to be an utterly biased agency that launched its Russiagate probe on a very thin prextet.
If you listen to the other side, his four-year probe was a “dud,” as an MSNBC headline put it, disclosing little that hadn’t already been reported and putting precisely no one in jail.
It’s a parallel universe situation, a rerun of the media debate over Trump and Russia that was rekindled when Bill Barr, in 2019, named Durham special counsel to investigate the investigators.
And the media have so much invested in their version of the narrative that some outlets were just playing defense.
Politically, Durham’s report is a win for Trump, because most people don’t have time to delve into the details and are reacting to headlines that the Justice Department blew it. And whatever the pluses and minuses of Bob Mueller’s investigation, he never found evidence that the former president colluded with the Russians.
The New York Times was in knockdown mode, and by yesterday morning the story had vanished from its home page:
“Durham’s 306-page report appeared to show little substantial new information about the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane, and it failed to produce the kinds of blockbuster revelations impugning the bureau that former President Donald J. Trump and his allies had once suggested that Mr. Durham would find.”
The Washington Post was more balanced, but noted: “His probe produced paltry results in court. Two people he charged with crimes were found not guilty, while a former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to altering an email used to help a colleague prepare a court application for surveillance of a Trump adviser.”
Other news outlets say much of the same information was included in a report by a Senate committee, chaired by Marco Rubio, that included criticisms but said the FBI investigation was warranted. A critical IG’s report from 2019 also backed the investigation.
But Republican lawmakers and candidates blanketed the airwaves yesterday, praising Durham and denouncing the FBI.
The Durham filing catapulted us back to a time when minor figures, such as Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, briefly became household names, at least among those following the coverage.
Durham said in his report that the FBI investigation was based on “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence” and “seriously flawed information,” causing the bureau “severe reputational harm.” It says the bureau was unable to corroborate “a single substantive allegation” from the widely discredited Steele Dossier, assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele. But the Crossfire Hurricane probe began before the FBI received the document.
The bureau said in a statement that what happened in 2016 and 2017 “was the reason that current FBI leadership already implemented dozens of corrective actions.”
At times the report reads like a routine government audit, with Durham faulting the FBI for “a lack of analytical rigor.”
Trump is calling the findings the “CRIME OF THE CENTURY,” as he predicted when Durham was named. “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.”
Of course there was some bias at the FBI. Agent Peter Strzok, put in charge of the probe, and his girlfriend, fellow agent Lisa Page, traded texts.
Trump’s “not going to become president, right? Right?” Page said.
“No. No, he’s not,” Strzok replied. “We’ll stop it.”
But we’ve known about that for years.
Durham was also highly critical of the way the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton as opposed to Trump. The Clinton campaign helped finance the Steele Dossier, which is outrageous, but again that news is years old.
The report also notes that former CIA Director John Brennan’s handwritten notes show he briefed President Obama and others on the “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016, of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.” But that was first reported in 2020.
My expectation is that the media move on after a couple of days and conservative outlets pound away at this for weeks. But here’s the big takeaway.
Trump is by far the leading candidate for the Republican nomination. Any time he’s asked about Russia in a debate or other forum – or even if he’s not asked – he’ll say the investigation was utterly discredited by John Durham. For him and his supporters, that’s case closed.