Durham Report Denounces Trump-Russia Investigation

John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel who for four years has pursued a politically fraught investigation into the Russia inquiry, accused the F.B.I. of having “discounted or willfully ignored material information” that countered the narrative of collusion between Donald J. Trump and Russia in a final report made public on Monday.

Mr. Durham’s 306-page report revealed little substantial new information about the inquiry, known as Crossfire Hurricane, and it failed to produce the kinds of blockbuster revelations accusing the bureau of politically motivated misconduct that former President Donald J. Trump and his allies suggested Mr. Durham would uncover.

Instead, the report — released without substantive comment or any redactions by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland — largely recounted previously exposed flaws in the inquiry, while concluding that the F.B.I. suffered from confirmation bias and a “lack of analytical rigor” as it pursued leads about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia.

“An objective and honest assessment of these strands of information should have caused the F.B.I. to question not only the predication for Crossfire Hurricane, but also to reflect on whether the F.B.I. was being manipulated for political or other purposes,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it did not.”

Mr. Durham said he was not recommending any “wholesale changes” to F.B.I. rules for politically sensitive investigations and for national-security wiretaps, which have already been tightened in recent years. He did recommend that the Justice Department consider assigning an official to internally challenge steps taken in politically sensitive investigations.

The report amounted, in part, to a defense and justification of a lengthy investigation that developed only two criminal cases, both of which ended in acquittal.

Mr. Durham repeated his own insinuations, presented in court filings, that information developed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign had helped fuel the Russia investigation, which shadowed nearly two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency and was eventually overseen by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

He also repeated criticisms made in 2019 by an inspector general who uncovered how the F.B.I. botched wiretap applications used in the inquiry.

In a statement, the F.B.I. emphasized its numerous overhauls since the 2019 report.

“The conduct in 2016 and 2017 that Special Counsel Durham examined was the reason that current F.B.I. leadership already implemented dozens of corrective actions, which have now been in place for some time,” it said.

Mr. Durham went beyond criticizing the wiretap applications, writing: “Our investigation also revealed that senior F.B.I. personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor toward the information that they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons and entities. This information in part triggered and sustained Crossfire Hurricane and contributed to the subsequent need for Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.”

But in using the word “triggered,” Mr. Durham’s report echoed a conspiracy theory pushed by supporters of Mr. Trump that the F.B.I. opened the investigation in July 2016 based on the so-called Steele dossier, opposition research indirectly funded by the Clinton campaign that was later discredited.

In fact, as Mr. Durham acknowledged elsewhere in the report, the dossier did not reach those investigators until mid-September. The F.B.I. instead opened the investigation based on a tip from an Australian diplomat, after WikiLeaks published hacked Democratic emails, that a Trump campaign aide seemed to have advance knowledge that Russia would release information damaging to the Clinton campaign.

The special prosecutor’s findings were sent to Mr. Garland on Friday, a department spokeswoman said.

Mr. Durham’s team submitted a draft report to the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. in March so those agencies could flag classified and other sensitive information, according to people familiar with the matter. A career Justice Department employee also inspected the draft for information that could raise privacy issues for government employees.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a close Trump ally, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said on Twitter that he would invite Mr. Durham to testify next week.

Other Republicans seized on the report as confirmation that the Russia investigation had been tainted by partisanship, suggesting that Mr. Durham’s report would continue to fuel accusations that the Justice Department had been deployed against the former president.

“The Durham Report confirmed what we already knew: weaponized federal agencies manufactured a false conspiracy theory about Trump-Russia collusion,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Twitter.

Mr. Durham’s investigation traces back to early 2019, when Mr. Mueller delivered a final report that detailed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.” It established how Moscow had worked to help Mr. Trump win and how his campaign had expected to benefit from the foreign interference, but Mr. Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge any Trump campaign associate with a criminal conspiracy with Russia.

Seizing on the findings, Mr. Trump portrayed that report as vindication that the Russia investigation was based on a hoax, as he had insisted.

The next month, Attorney General William P. Barr assigned Mr. Durham, then the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to scour the Russia investigation for any wrongdoing. Mr. Barr later bestowed special counsel status on Mr. Durham, allowing him to stay in place after Mr. Trump left office.

The Durham report has been long awaited by supporters of Mr. Trump, who once hoped that the special counsel would prove Mr. Trump’s theory that the Russia investigation had been a “deep state” conspiracy to sabotage him for political reasons. Mr. Trump would put high-level political or national security officials in prison, they insisted.

But over an investigation that lasted about four years — far longer than the Russia investigation — Mr. Durham never fulfilled those expectations.

Critics have argued his investigation was superfluous: An inspector general for the Justice Department, Michael E. Horowitz, was already scrutinizing the Russia investigation for evidence of misconduct or bias, and he released a report on the matter in December 2019.

Mr. Horowitz did not find evidence that the F.B.I. had taken any investigative steps based on improper political reasons. And he concluded that the investigation’s basis — the Australian diplomat’s tip — had been sufficient to lawfully open the full counterintelligence inquiry.

In his report, Mr. Durham also criticized the F.B.I. for relying on the Australian diplomat’s tip without asking more questions about the credibility of what the Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, had said. But Mr. Durham also acknowledged there was “no question the F.B.I. had an affirmative obligation to closely examine” what the Australians had provided, striking a contradictory tone.

Aitan Goelman, a lawyer for Peter Strzok, the former F.B.I. agent who opened the Russia investigation and interviewed the Australians, defended the inquiry and noted that the inspector general had said it was properly predicated.

“When the F.B.I. received credible information from a senior official of a close American ally that the government of Russia was interfering in the upcoming presidential election on behalf of the Trump campaign, the bureau could not ignore that information,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Durham also broached the Steele dossier, building on extensive findings by Mr. Horowitz.

In his December 2019 report, Mr. Horowitz pointed to multiple ways in which the F.B.I. had botched wiretap applications used to target a former Trump campaign adviser with links to Russia, Carter Page. That included relying on allegations in the dossier in renewal applications after the F.B.I. had reason to doubt its credibility.

Mr. Horowitz also developed a criminal referral against an F.B.I. lawyer who had doctored an email used in preparation for a renewal application.

Picking up that referral, Mr. Durham negotiated a guilty plea with that lawyer, which resulted in no prison time. The only two cases Mr. Durham himself developed, both cases of false statements against people involved in outside efforts that raised suspicions over Mr. Trump’s possible ties to Russia, ended in acquittal.

Some Trump supporters grew disillusioned as Mr. Durham did not indict high-level officials leading up to the 2020 election. In March 2021, Mr. Trump issued a sarcastic statement, asking: “Where’s Durham? Is he a living, breathing human being? Will there ever be a Durham report?”

After Mr. Durham had spent a year fruitlessly hunting for evidence to support Mr. Barr’s theory that intelligence abuses lurked in the origins of the Russia inquiry, he and his prosecutors shifted gears to look for a basis to blame Mrs. Clinton’s campaign for the fact that Mr. Trump came under suspicion of colluding with Russia.

The two cases Mr. Durham brought were against Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with Democratic ties who had passed on a tip to the F.B.I. about odd internet data linking servers for the Trump Organization and a Russian bank, and Igor Danchenko, a primary researcher for the Steele dossier.

Mr. Durham’s court filings in both cases extensively implied that the Clinton campaign had essentially set out to frame Mr. Trump for collusion. Although he charged no conspiracy, his insinuation that there might have been one provided fodder to right-wing media.

Mr. Durham returned to a Clinton theme in his report.

The F.B.I.’s “apparent confirmation bias, and an overwillingness to rely on information from individuals connected to political opponents caused investigators to fail to adequately consider alternative hypotheses and to act without appropriate objectivity or restraint in pursuing allegations of collusion or conspiracy between a U.S. political campaign a foreign power,” Mr. Durham wrote.

Mr. Durham also compared the F.B.I.’s aggression in investigating potential links between Mr. Trump and Russia with what he described as its greater caution toward several investigations involving allegations related to Mrs. Clinton.

Still, Mr. Durham’s report added a new detail about the F.B.I.’s investigation of a foreign donor who apparently sought to buy influence with the Clinton campaign.

In January 2016, Mr. Durham revealed, a confidential informant attended a Clinton fund-raiser with the F.B.I.’s approval. The F.B.I. later told the informant to stay away from Clinton campaign events.

The F.B.I. eventually gave Mrs. Clinton’s campaign a so-called defensive briefing about the effort. Mr. Durham criticized the F.B.I. for giving Mrs. Clinton’s campaign the briefing but not supplying one to Mr. Trump about the Russia suspicions, and for not following up on a suggestion that the informant may have been illegally reimbursed by the foreign donor for a $2,700 donation to the Clinton campaign.

In January, a report by The New York Times, based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials, showed how Mr. Durham’s inquiry became roiled by internal dissent over prosecutorial ethics, leading two prosecutors on his staff to resign in protest.

The article also described how Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the liberal philanthropist who is a target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham shifted to using grand jury powers to obtain the information after a judge twice rejected his request for an order as legally insufficient.

The article also revealed that in the fall of 2019, Italian officials unexpectedly gave Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham a tip about suspected financial crimes linked to Mr. Trump. While the tip was unrelated to the Russia investigation, Mr. Barr had Mr. Durham investigate the matter rather than referring it to another prosecutor. Mr. Durham brought no charges.

Mr. Durham’s report did not mention any of those matters.

Maggie Astor contributed reporting.

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