WASHINGTON (AP) — A special prosecutor has ended his four-year investigation into possible FBI misconduct in its probe of ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign with withering criticism of the bureau but a meager court record that fell far short of the former president’s prediction he would uncover the “crime of the century.”
The report Monday from special counsel John Durham represents the long-awaited culmination of an investigation that Trump and allies had claimed would expose massive wrongdoing by law enforcement and intelligence officials. Instead, Durham’s investigation delivered underwhelming results, with prosecutors securing a guilty plea from a little-known FBI employee but losing the only two criminal cases they took to trial.
The roughly 300-page report catalogs what Durham says were a series of missteps by the FBI and Justice Department as investigators undertook a politically explosive probe in the heat of the 2016 election into whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia to tip the outcome. It criticized the FBI for opening a full-fledged investigation based on “raw, unanalyzed and uncorroborated intelligence,” saying the speed at which it did so was a departure from the norm. And it said investigators repeatedly relied on “confirmation bias,” ignoring or rationalizing away evidence that undercut their premise of a Trump-Russia conspiracy as they pushed the probe forward.
“Again, the FBI’s failure to critically analyze information that ran counter to the narrative of a Trump/Russia collusive relationship exhibited throughout Crossfire Hurricane is extremely troublesome,” the report said. “Crossfire Hurricane” was the FBI code name for its investigation.
The impact of Durham’s report, though harshly critical of the FBI, is likely blunted by Durham’s spotty prosecution record and by the fact that many of the seven-year-old episodes it cites were already examined in depth by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The FBI has also long since announced dozens of corrective actions. Still, Durham’s findings are likely to amplify scrutiny of the FBI at a time when Trump is again seeking the White House as well as offer fresh fodder for congressional Republicans who have launched their own investigation into the purported “weaponization” of the FBI and Justice Department.
The FBI released a letter to Durham outlining changes it has made, including steps to ensure the accuracy of secretive surveillance applications to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists and spies. It also stressed that the report focused on prior leadership.
“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,” the FBI said in a statement.
Durham, the former U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, was appointed in 2019 by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, soon after special counsel Robert Mueller had completed his investigation into whether the 2016 Trump campaign had colluded with Russia to move the outcome of the election in his favor.
The Mueller investigation resulted in roughly three dozen criminal charges, including convictions of a half-dozen Trump associates, and concluded that Russia intervened on the Trump campaign’s behalf and that the campaign welcomed the help. But Mueller’s team did not find that they actually conspired to sway the election, creating an opening for critics of the probe — including Barr himself — to complain that it had been launched without a proper basis.
The original Russia investigation was opened in July 2016 after the FBI learned from an Australian diplomat that a Trump campaign associate named George Papadopoulos had claimed to know of “dirt” that the Russians had on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked emails.
But revelations over the following months laid bare flaws with the investigation, including errors and omissions in Justice Department applications to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, as well as the reliance by the FBI on a dossier of uncorroborated or discredited information compiled by an British ex-spy, Christopher Steele.
Durham’s team delved deep into those mistakes, finding that investigators did not corroborate a “single substantive allegation” in the so-called Steele dossier and ignored or rationalized what it asserts was exculpatory information that Trump associates had provided to FBI confidential informants.