In the spring of 2019—two impeachments and one pandemic ago—Bill Barr, then the Attorney General, tapped John Durham, a longtime federal prosecutor who was then the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, to investigate the origins of Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s investigation into Trump/Russia. Why Durham took the job is unclear. Why Barr assigned it is obvious: the corrupt AG wanted to cast doubt on the ties—as numerous as they are shady—between Moscow and the FPOTUS’s associates.
The Durham investigation was one last cover-up from the Cover-Up General, the sequel to Barr’s cockblocking of the Mueller Report, a gaslighting magnum opus. A few weeks before the 2020 election, to inoculate Durham from a potential Biden Administration, the AG elevated John Durham to Special Counsel. The mustachioed lawman was free to investigate to his heart’s content. And investigate he did.
Eleven days ago—four full years after his initial recruitment—Durham finally submitted his report. There is enough red meat for the political base across those 314 pages to give rightwing pundits plenty to yammer about. The report is hypercritical of Crossfire Hurricane, in the same unconvincing way that joyless film critics skewer a new Christopher Nolan film. But make no mistake: the Durham Report is a one-star-out-of-five stinker. There’s no there there. It is the Al Capone’s Vault of Special Counsel Reports.
This was Durham’s order from Bill Barr:
The Special Counsel is authorized to investigate whether any federal official, employee, or any other person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence, or law-enforcement activities directed at the 2016 presidential campaigns, individuals associated with those campaigns, and individuals associated with the administration of President Donald J. Trump, including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III.
And did they ever investigate! My goodness! Durham boasts about his hard work in the introduction. Six and a half million dollars spent! Six million pages of documents! Almost 500 interviews! Almost 200 subpoenas! Seven search warrants! Five orders for communications records under 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d)! One request to a foreign government under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty! And a partridge in a pear tree! Also, like, I graduated from college in less time than it took the guy to produce this turd. We can safely assume that no stone was left unturned (except, perhaps, for the rock Bill Barr crawled out from under).
Durham’s mandate was to determine if individuals broke the law. Only three people were indicted. Two were acquitted. The one who wasn’t, Kevin Clinesmith, was convicted for adding the phrase “and not a source” to a statement by a CIA liaison involving the Putin-loving Trump associate Carter Page.
Say it ain’t so!
Not only that, but Durham’s criticisms of the FBI were previously addressed by Michael Horowitz, the DOJ Inspector General, in December of 2019, and have since been addressed at the Bureau.
While I’m sure we all sleep better at night knowing that menace of an FBI lawyer is no longer on the loose, adding stray phrases to CIA officer statements, after four years and $6.5 million, Clinesmith’s conviction is all that Durham managed to produce with regard to the actual objective of his investigation.
So why do the 314 pages exist? To sow doubt and discord on the fact that Donald Trump and his associates had a lot of dealings with Russians before the 2016 election, during the transition, and after his took the White House. Durham does this while acknowledging those ties, as the Executive Summary proper makes clear:
The public record contains a substantial body of information relating to former President Trump’s and the Trump Organization’s relationships with Russian businesses, Russian business people, and Russian officials, as well as separate evidence of Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. These and related subjects are well-documented in the careful examinations undertaken by (i) the Department's Office of the Inspector General of issues related to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation and its use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) authorities, (ii) former FBI Director Robert Mueller as detailed in his report entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” issued in March 2019, and (iii) the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence entitled, “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 US. Election.” The scope of these earlier inquiries, the amount of important information gathered, and the contributions they have made to our understanding of Russian election interference efforts are a tribute to the diligent work and dedication of those charged with the responsibility of conducting them.
In other words, Durham acknowledges, up front, the connections between the Trump campaign and Moscow—ties that were so obvious that this writer, at the time a novelist and editor of an arts and culture website, was able to write an entire fucking book laying them all out, using mainstream media stories, in May of 2018, a full year before the Mueller Report.
Such a “substantial body of information relating to former President Trump’s and the Trump Organization’s relationships with Russian businesses, Russian business people, and Russian officials, as well as separate evidence of Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election” indicates—duh—that a potential national security crisis was brewing in that annus horribilis. We were all at risk. Alarm bells were going off. The threat was as clear as the terrible goatee on Durham’s face.
And yet the Special Counsel ignored all of that, focusing instead on [checks notes] whether, under these insanely fraught circumstances, with the threat of the Oval Office being taken by Putin’s puppet (as Hillary Clinton put it), the FBI was too hasty making the investigation full rather than preliminary. Most of the 300+ pages of the Durham Report fixates on this hair-splitting:
Our review and investigation, in turn[,] has focused on separate but related questions, including the following:
Was there adequate predication for the FBI to open the Crossfire Hurricane investigation from its inception on July 31, 2016 as a full counterintelligence and Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) investigation given the requirements of The Attorney General’s Guidelines for FBI Domestic Operations and FBI policies relating to the use of the least intrusive investigative tools necessary?
Was the opening of Crossfire Hurricane as a full investigation on July 31, 2016 consistent with how the FBI handled other intelligence it had received prior to July 31, 2016 concerning attempts by foreign interests to influence the Clinton and other campaigns?
Shorter Durham: “The Russians were actively trying to install their preferred candidate, longtime Russian money-launderer Donald Trump, in the White House. Trump and his people were willing and eager to accept Moscow’s help. But fuck all that. The real culprits here are the FBI executives who fast-tracked the investigation into Trump/Russia!”
Aliens from outer space are attempting an invasion of earth. We can all see the fleet of UFOs from our front porch. How dare the Space Force brass try to respond as quickly as possible.
Next is a paragraph that appears to be copy-and-pasted from some conspiracy nut’s Reddit post:
Similarly, did the FBI properly consider other highly significant intelligence it received at virtually the same time as that used to predicate Crossfire Hurricane, but which related not to the Trump campaign, but rather to a purported Clinton campaign plan “to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services,” which might have shed light on some of the Russia information the FBI was receiving from third parties, including the Steele Dossier, the Alfa Bank allegations and confidential human source (“CHS”) reporting? If not, were any provable federal crimes committed in failing to do so?
This is a Deep State fever dream. Durham is stirring flies into the ointment, so that he can later blame the ointment’s deficiencies on insect contamination. The Steele Dossier was not a factor in opening the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. But Durham is desperate to convince us that it was. Indeed, that seems to be the point of the whole exercise. “Our findings and conclusions regarding these and related questions,” Durham writes, “are sobering.” Sobering? Does that mean he was drinking on the job?
State of Intelligence Community Information Regarding Trump and Russia Prior to the Opening of Crossfire Hurricane
[B]efore the initial receipt by FBI Headquarters of information from Australia on July 28, 2016 concerning comments reportedly made in a tavern on May 6, 2016 by George Papadopoulos, an unpaid foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, the government possessed no verified intelligence reflecting that Trump or the Trump campaign was involved in a conspiracy or collaborative relationship with officials of the Russian government. Indeed, based on the evidence gathered in the 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.
Because the two meetings in May 2016 between the Australian diplomat and Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos were the formal impetus for opening Crossfire Hurricane, Durham tries to downplay their importance. In that paragraph, he mentions one meeting, not two, and fails to take into account that one of the diplomats at the second meeting was Alexander Downer, who’d been Australia’s foreign minister for over a decade—it would be like an advisor from another country having drinks with Madeleine Albright or John Kerry.
Durham also stresses that Papadopoulos was “unpaid,” as if that matters. Paul Manafort was unpaid, too, and he wound up passing sensitive election information to a Russian intelligence officer who was his pal.
Then the guy who kept an investigation open for four years with next to nothing to show for it has the temerity to complain that the Trump/Russia investigations were “costly.”
Finally, Durham trots out that buzzword whose technical legal meaning has no application here: collusion.
The Opening of Crossfire Hurricane
[T]he record in this matter reflects that upon receipt of unevaluated intelligence information from Australia, the FBI swiftly opened the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. In particular, at the direction of Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Deputy Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Peter Strzok opened Crossfire Hurricane immediately. Strzok, at a minimum, had pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump. The matter was opened as a full investigation without ever having spoken to the persons who provided the information. Further, the FBI did so without (i) any significant review of its own intelligence databases, (ii) collection and examination of any relevant intelligence from other U.S. intelligence entities, (iii) interviews of witnesses essential to understand the raw information it had received or (iv) using any of the standard analytical tools typically employed by the FBI in evaluating raw intelligence. Had it done so, again as set out in Sections IV.A.3.b and c, the FBI would have learned that their own experienced Russia analysts had no information about Trump being involved with Russian leadership officials, nor were others in sensitive positions at the CIA, the NSA, and the Department of State aware of such evidence concerning the subject. In addition, FBI records prepared by Strzok in February and March 2017 show that at the time of the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI had no information in its holdings indicating that at any time during the campaign anyone in the Trump campaign had been in contact with any Russian intelligence officials.
First of all, if Strzok had “pronounced hostile feelings towards Trump,” he did so in the same way Batman has pronounced hostile feelings towards the Joker. By July of 2016, Trump’s relationship to organized crime was well known among investigative journalists and researchers: Wayne Barrett, Craig Unger, and Luke Harding, to name a few. It is inconceivable that the FBI did not have a massive file on Trump, and that the executives running the FBI did not think to look through it. Furthermore: how could Strzok have known in July of 2016 if anyone in the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian officials before opening an investigation into whether anyone in the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian officials? Isn’t the purpose of an investigation to investigate?
Let’s jump ahead to the section in the report that details the opening of Crossfire Hurricane. Here, Durham goes full schoolmarm, pooh-poohing what the FBI chose to do:
The information from Papadopoulos was clearly raw and unevaluated. It was not the product of normal Intelligence Community collection and analysis, and it lacked the standard caveats accompanying uncorroborated information from an individual whose information was being seen for the first time. The information—involving an ongoing presidential campaign—was precisely the kind of unevaluated information that required rigorous analysis in order to assess its relevance and value. Nevertheless, the FBI predicated Crossfire Hurricane and its subsequent investigative activities, including the use of CHSs, undercover operations and FISA coverage, on the statements attributed to Papadopoulos.
Just spit-balling here, but maybe the way to apply “rigorous analysis” to the Papadopoulos intel is to, like, I don’t know, open a full investigation into the whole thing?
Thus, at the time of opening Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI had (i) publicly available information concerning Papadopoulos's role in the campaign as a volunteer foreign policy adviser, (ii) information obtained from Papadopoulos by the Australian diplomats, (iii) information about Russia’s likely election interference activities, (iv) Trump's public statements about Russia, and (v) unvetted media reporting on possible ties between Trump and Russian businessmen. Significantly, beyond this, the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and its Crossfire Hurricane investigators did not possess any intelligence or other vetted, corroborated information regarding Trump or his campaign staff colluding with the Russian government.
Okay, enough of the Durham bull. He’s trying to make the point that, first, the tip from Australia on Georgie P. running his mouth was not enough to open the investigation; second, that the Steele Dossier played a major role in the FBI’s calculus, even though Strzok and his team were unaware of its existence until two months after the investigation was opened; and, third, before the investigation, investigators did not find anyone in Trump’s orbit “colluding” with Russia—in the same way you don’t find groceries until you walk into the grocery store. This is gaslighting, simple and plain.
Here is a timeline of events in 2016 that were known to the FBI investigators at the time that Crossfire Hurricane was opened:
George Papadopoulos meets with the Australian diplomat.
George Papadopoulos meets again with the Australian diplomat, as well as former foreign minister Alexander Downer.
The DNC announces the hack.
Julian Assange’s Wikileaks releases the hacked DNC emails, which immediately cause a controversy because Democratic Party members seemed to prefer the candidate who was a Democrat (Hillary Clinton) over one who was not (Bernie Sanders).
Democrats allege that Russia is to blame for the hacked DNC emails. Nancy Pelosi, then the House Democratic leader, explicitly tells reporters: “I do know this: that the Russians did the D.N.C. hack.” (The Times story adds this interesting sentence: “She said she had learned of Russian involvement not through intelligence briefings, but through other means.”)
In the wake of the DNC hack that seemed to give credence to Papadopoulos’s boasts, one section of an Australian diplomatic cable—Durham calls it “Paragraph Five,” as if it’s the subtitle of the new Mission: Impossible movie—informs the U.S. of the now-suspicious Papadopoulos meetings.
Also on this day, multiple U.S. intelligence agencies communicate to the White House that they have “high confidence” that Moscow was to blame for the DNC hack. “High confidence” is spy-speak for “we know they fucking did it.”
Candidate Trump publicly asks Moscow for help. “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Strzok opens Crossfire Hurricane.
(Note: In late July of 2016, we didn’t yet know about the many meetings between Trump insiders and Russians, including the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9.)
So: Russia hacked the DNC, had its cutout dump the emails expressly to hurt Hillary Clinton, and was subsequently lobbied for more help on national TV by Trump himself—and this op was apparently bragged about by a tipsy Trump advisor before it happened. I know it’s not as big a deal as Clinesmith adding four words to an email, but if those circumstances don’t call for the urgent opening of a full federal investigation, I don’t know what does. When there is clear and present danger that the White House will be captured by a criminal in league with a hostile foreign power, in what universe is it not proper for the FBI to do something to thwart the plan?
The sad irony in all of this is that the Bureau didn’t prevent the Trump presidency from happening. On the contrary, by disclosing the investigation into Hillary, but not the investigation into Trump, Director James Comey helped deliver the White House to Donald Trump. In the alternate universe where Trump loses in 2016, John Durham isn’t a laughingstock.
Photo credit: DOJ.
What a perfect headline. I had to comment before I even finished reading. (As Barr squirms) Hahaha, Hohoho. Bravo, Greg!
My goodness. This is maybe my favorite Prevail piece. I felt insane going thru all of that right along with you. You, LB, Craig Unger along with other profoundly brave Journalists, Citizen Journalists and one profoundly brave "I'm just a housewife" person... Became a life line for me.. ... I am inadequate to the task of Thanking you properly..but I still feel so much gratitude. I know I was terrified of posting simple S"** on Ben Carson let alone the massive information you all found and subsequently posted. Just, thank you. Love you 🤟, Stacy O 💕