The Department of Justice and the FBI did not have “any actual evidence of collusion” between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and began their Crossfire Hurricane probe of Trump’s campaign based on “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence,” according to a report released on Monday by special prosecutor John Durham.
Durham scolded federal law enforcement and counter-intelligence officials for failing to “uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law” as part of their investigation.
He wrote that at least one FBI agent criminally fabricated language in an email that was used to obtain a FISA surveillance order. And he accused FBI leaders of displaying a “serious lack of analytical rigor” and relying significantly on “investigative leads provided or funded (directly or indirectly) by Trump’s political opponents,” referring to staffers and allies of Hillary Clinton, then the Democratic presidential nominee, whose campaign funded the Steele dossier through its law firm Perkins Coie.
Compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, the dossier is an unverified collection of opposition research accusing then-candidate Trump and his campaign aides of collaborating with Kremlin officials. The FBI used the dossier to secure a FISA warrant to surveil Trump campaign aide Carter Page, though its central claims were subsequently disproven by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The report notes that the FBI was quick to investigate Trump, while it proceeded cautiously with allegations against Clinton.
The 316-page report sent to Congress was nearly four years in the making. It concluded that neither federal law enforcement nor intelligence officials “appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at the commencement of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” which the FBI “swiftly opened.”
The report accuses federal officials of acting “without appropriate objectivity or restraint.” Peter Strzok, then the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterintelligence, opened the investigation “immediately” at the direction of Andrew McCabe, then the FBI’s deputy director. “Strzok, at a minimum, had pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump,” the report states.
It states that former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith “committed a criminal offense by fabricating language in an email that was material to the FBI obtaining a FISA surveillance order.”
Durham wrote that FBI officials continued to seek FISA surveillance while acknowledging that “they did not genuinely believe there was probable cause to believe that the target was knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of foreign power, or knowingly helping another person in such activities. And certain personnel disregarded significant exculpatory information that should have prompted investigative restraint and re-examination.”
“Based on the review of Crossfire Hurricane and related intelligence activities, we conclude that the Department and the FBI failed to uphold their mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities described in this report,” Durham wrote.
While the FBI moved swiftly to investigate Trump, the agency “moved with considerable caution” in regard to a number of proposed investigations into Clinton. In one case, FBI officials “required defensive briefings to be provided to Clinton and other officials or candidates who appeared to be the targets of foreign interference.”
The release of Durham’s report comes nearly four years after then-attorney general Bill Barr first assigned the longtime federal prosecutor to probe the origins of the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Barr shared Trump’s belief that what became known as Russiagate stemmed from a deep-state plot to frame Trump as a Russian agent, and to tie him to Russia’s 2016 election interference.
Barr secretly appointed Durham as a special prosecutor in October 2020, giving him additional protections from being fired regardless of the results of the election the following month.
While Trump predicted that Durham would uncover “the crime of the century,” the investigation never found that level of abuse. Durham’s efforts to prosecute Igor Danchenko, a primary source of the debunked anti-Trump Steele dossier, and Michael Sussman, Democratic lawyer accused of making a false statement to a federal agent, both ended in acquittal. His investigation was also marred by infighting, ethical questions, and allegations that Durham had torpedoed his own reputation and had become a Trump lackey.
But while mainstream media outlets have generally painted Durham’s investigation as a long, winding dead-end, his efforts have not been fruitless. He established collaboration between Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the government’s law-enforcement-and-intelligence apparatus to frame Trump as a Russian agent.
In the Danchenko trial, Durham established that the FBI knowingly submitted sworn applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that falsely claimed that information obtained from Cristopher Steele, a former British spy, had been verified. The FBI was also aware that Steele compiled the dossier as opposition research for the Clinton campaign, and improperly briefed him on the Trump-Russia investigation.
Durham also provided evidence that the FBI knew Sussman was representing the Democratic National Committee when he provided the bureau with skewed data that he claimed showed Trump had established a communication backchannel with the Kremlin; Sussman had claimed that he wasn’t representing anyone when he provided the data. Durham also showed that FBI leaders had concealed from agents that Sussman was the source of the data.
The long-awaited report suggests possible reforms to the bureau that Durham believes will prevent future abuses. One such reform would involve the appointment of a special official whose sole task would be to challenge “the steps taken” in high-profile political investigations that “pose partisan risk” to ensure all relevant procedures are followed.
Before he was appointed to probe the Russia investigation, had served more than 30 years as a Justice Department lawyer, investigating alleged governmental corruption and wrongdoing. In 2017, Trump nominated Durham to serve as the United States attorney in Connecticut.