Special counsel John Durham criticizes FBI Trump-Russia probe, but recommends no wholesale changes

  • Durham report: DOJ, FBI 'failed to uphold their important mission' in 2016 Russia investigation.
  • But the FBI previously overhauled its surveillance program and Durham recommended no 'wholesale changes in guidelines and policies.'

WASHINGTON – Justice Department special counsel John Durham sharply criticized the department and FBI for the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election in his final report released Monday, but said no policy changes were needed after the agencies previously overhauled their counterintelligence surveillance programs.

“Based on the review of Crossfire Hurricane and related intelligence activities, 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 described in this report," the report said.

But Durham found no need for wholesale changes at the current Justice Department and FBI, which have already overhauled their policies. Durham characterized the report as accurately describing what happened and assisting the department in responding to politically charged allegations in the future.

“This report does not recommend any wholesale changes in the guidelines and policies that the Department and FBI now have in place to ensure proper conduct and accountability in how counterintelligence activities are carried out,” the report said.

Durham submitted his report to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday. After reading it over the weekend, Garland sent it to Congress at 2 p.m. Monday "without any additions, redactions, or other modifications."

The report culminates a 48-month inquiry since May 2019, which ran longer than special counsel Robert Mueller’s original 22-month investigation. Durham charged three people, one of whom pleaded guilty and two won acquittals at trial.

Durham spent nearly $6.6 million as special counsel from October 2019 through September 2022, the most recent figures available.

Here is what we know about the report:

John Durham is looking into the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian election interference.

FBI previously overhauled its surveillance program, after criticism of how it handled politically charged cases

The Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, issued a scathing report in December 2019 that found the federal surveillance process was “not used appropriately." He identified 17 inaccuracies in requests to wiretap then-Republican nominee Donald Trump's foreign policy adviser Carter Page in 2016 and 2017.

In the wake of that report, the new FBI director, Christopher Wray, outlined in January 2020 an overhaul of its training program for agents and lawyers to ensure future surveillance applications are complete and properly vetted.

Durham criticized the FBI applications for surveillance for displaying a “serious lack of analytic rigor” and “a cavalier attitude towards accuracy and completeness" in the initial investigation, which was called Crossfire Hurricane.

“Based on the review of Crossfire Hurricane and related intelligence activities, 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 described in this report,” the report said.

The FBI issued a statement Monday saying conduct from 2016 and 2017 was the reason current leadership of the agency had already adopted changes and implemented dozens of corrective actions.

“Had those reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in the report could have been prevented,” the statement said. “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.”

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA - OCTOBER 11: Russian analyst Igor Danchenko (C) arrives at the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse for his trial on October 11, 2022 in Alexandria, Virginia. Danchenko faces five counts of lying to the FBI over his sources as to claims made in the “Christopher Steele Dossier” as part of the investigation of Special Counsel John Durham into the origins of the FBI probe of alleged collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX *** ORG XMIT: 775885589 ORIG FILE ID: 1432543875

Durham: Steele report 'unvetted and unverified'

Durham also blasted how the so-called Steele Dossier figured into the investigation.

Perkins Coie, a law firm acting as counsel to the Clinton campaign, retained investigative firm Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump. Fusion met with a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, who produced a report later passed along to the FBI.

Durham called the Steele Dossier “unvetted and unverified.” In particular, he singled out a provision that described a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation,” which Durham said became the basis for four surveillance applications targeting Page.

Igor Danchenko, one of Steele's sources who was later charged by Durham and acquitted, characterized the information he provided as “rumor and speculation.”

Durham contrasts treatment of Trump and Clinton

Durham contrasted the Russian investigation with how “the FBI moved with considerable caution” in dealing with other proposed investigations of election interference before the 2016 election. Durham said the FBI opened the Crossfire Hurricane based on "unevaluated evidence" at the direction of former deputy director Andrew McCabe and former deputy assistant director for counterintelligence Peter Strzok, who "at a minimum, has pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump."

“Indeed, based on the evidence gathered in multiple exhaustive and costly federal investigations of these matters, including the instant investigation, neither U.S. law enforcement nor the Intelligence Community appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at the commencement of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation," the report said.

Durham contrasted the treatment of possible investigations involving the campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump. In one matter, the FBI provided defensive briefing to Clinton and other candidates who appeared to be targets of foreign interference. But Trump’s campaign wasn’t briefed on the investigation.

“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.”

July 12, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok testifies before the House Committee on the Judiciary and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform joint hearing on 'Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election' on July 12, 2018 in Washington.  Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY ORIG FILE ID:  20180712_ajw_usa_080.jpg

Trump wanted Durham to unearth source of Russia investigation

Trump claimed vindication in a Truth Social post.  

"WOW! After extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes the FBI never should have launched the Trump-Russia Probe!" Trump said. "In other words, the American Public was scammed..."

But a national-security lawyer, Brad Moss, noted there were no additional charges and no changes to agency rules.

"What a massive and utter flop for Trump’s fantasies," Moss said. "It was a 'be more careful next time' report."

Trump, when he was president, long argued the Russia investigation was a hoax whose origins he wanted investigated. Trump harangued Durham along the way, asking about the lack of criminal charges.

“Where’s Durham?” Trump asked in a statement March 6, 2021. “Is he a living, breathing human being? Will there ever be a Durham report?”

More:Trump promised the Durham investigation would prove a vendetta. It has largely fallen short.

Attorney General Bill Barr asked Durham in May 2019 to review the FBI investigation Crossfire Hurricane, which grew into Mueller’s investigation, for any wrongdoing and named him special counsel in October 2019. But Durham never charged any high-level officials.

Former President Donald Trump and Former Attorney General Bill Barr step off Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on September 1, 2020.

What happened wtih Durham's cases?

Durham charged three people during his investigation:

  • Kevin Clinesmith, a former FBI lawyer, pleaded guilty to falsifying an email used to justify the surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser. Clinesmith was given probation. Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, issued a scathing report in December 2019 that criticized how the FBI won court orders to wiretap Page. But Horowitz rejected Trump’s accusations that FBI leaders were trying to sabotage his campaign.

  • Michael Sussmann was acquitted in May 2022 of lying to the FBI. He was charged with misleading James Baker, then FBI general counsel, during a meeting Sept. 19, 2016. Sussmann gave Baker research that allegedly showed a possible back channel between Russia-based Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. Baker accused Sussmann, a lawyer who represented Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, of lying about whether he was providing information for a client. But Sussmann denied he lied.
  • Igor Danchenko was acquitted in October 2022 of five counts of lying to investigators. U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga acquitted him of one count and the jury cleared him of four others. Danchenko was a source of information in former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s dossier of potentially compromising information about Trump. Investigators alleged he misled them about the sources of his information.

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