The unclassified report released by Special Counsel John H. Durham on the misbehavior of the FBI in the Crossfire Hurricane operation—the investigation into the Trump-Russia collusion hoax—confirms that the FBI had no basis for even opening an investigation.
Agency personnel disregarded the careful protocols that are designed to prevent abusive, meritless investigations, particularly politically biased investigations that could affect the outcome of an election. And they treated claims made against the Clinton campaign much more cautiously and favorably than claims made against the Trump campaign.
As Durham concludes, “confirmation bias”—the tendency of FBI personnel to believe unsubstantiated claims because of “pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump”—at a minimum:
…played a significant role in the FBI’s acceptance of extraordinarily serious allegations derived from uncorroborated information that had not been subjected to the typical exacting analysis employed by the FBI and other members of the Intelligence Community…the FBI discounted or willfully ignored material information that did not support the narrative of a collusive relationship between Trump and Russia…An objective and honest assessment…should have caused the FBI to question not only the predication for Crossfire Hurricane, but also to reflect on whether the FBI was being manipulated for political or other purposes. Unfortunately, it did not.
Durham’s findings confirm the conclusion contained in the FBI’s own report from its Inspection Division, which found that FBI investigators “repeatedly ignored[d] or explain[ed] away evidence contrary to the theory the Trump campaign…had conspired with Russia…It appeared that…there was a pattern of assuming nefarious intent.”
The FBI’s missteps included not even checking with their “own experienced Russian analysts,” who would have informed the investigators that they had no information “about Trump being involved with Russian leadership officials.” They also didn’t check with other intelligence analysts at “the CIA, NSA, and the Department of State.”
The findings in the Durham report about just how extensively the FBI mishandled the Crossfire Hurricane investigation are devastating to its reputation as a law enforcement agency. They come on top of the damaging reports of a series of recent whistleblowers about the bias and unprofessionalism within its ranks and leadership on everything from the Hunter Biden investigation to its possible use of informants inside Catholic Churches.
The consequences of its bungling in Crossfire Hurricane were monumental. The agency ruined the professional careers and personal lives of many innocent individuals like Carter Page and caused a multimillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that, in many respects, crippled the Trump administration during much of his presidency over the dogged and persistent fraudulent claim that his campaign had conspired with the Russians to rig the 2016 presidential election.
Durham engaged in a very “broad and extensive” investigation, which included 480 interviews and the review of more than six million pages of documents. Some of those witnesses only provided information “under a subpoena or grant of immunity,” while others who “had important and relevant information…refused to be interviewed or to otherwise cooperate.” The latter included one of the chief organizers of this miscarriage of justice, Peter Strzok, the former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, who “declined to be interviewed” about his role in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation according to a footnote on page 48 of the report.
It takes Durham 306 pages to describe all of the mistakes, errors, and gaffes committed by FBI personnel. That included:
- Overlooking “a complete lack of information from the Intelligence Community that corroborated the hypothesis upon which the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was predicated”;
- Ignoring “significant exculpatory information provided by” targets of the investigation “during recorded calls”;
- Failing to “pursue investigative leads that were inconsistent with their theory of the case”;
- Ignoring the fact that at “no time” were the FBI investigators ever “able to corroborate a single substantive allegation in the Steele dossier,” which was a major justification for the investigation;
- Completely failing to “even examine—never mind resolve—the serious counterespionage issues surrounding” the primary source for the Steele dossier, Igor Danchenko—a dossier that was instigated and paid for by the Clinton campaign as political disinformation;
- Providing “only partial, and in some instances misleading, information” for the FISA applications and “withholding other highly relevant information” that “cast real doubt on their probable cause assertions” that were the basis for federal judges approving electronic eavesdropping on Trump campaign officials;
- Ignoring information they received about “Charles Dolan, a longtime Democratic operative with ties to the Clintons who also possessed significant ties to Russian government figures who would appear in the Steele reporting,” never even interviewing him; and
- “Essentially disregarding the Clinton Intelligence Plan,” the intelligence information the FBI received at almost the same time as the start of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, that “Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against” Trump “by tying him to Putin and the Russian’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee” as a way of “distracting the public from her use of a private mail server.”
Clinton and other campaign officials deny that such a plan existed, and Durham does not make a definitive determination about whether such a plan existed. But the Durham report does point out that the contemporaneous reports of a Clinton Intelligence Plan were “highly relevant” since the FBI should have considered “whether an aspect or component of that plan was to intentionally provide knowingly false and/or misleading information to the FBI or other agencies” about Trump-Russia collusion.
This intelligence was also “arguable highly relevant and exculpatory” because it would suggest that the materials received by the FBI, such as the Steele dossier, which was created by contractors working for the campaign, “were part of a political effort to smear a political opponent and to use the resources of the federal government’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies in support of a political objective.”
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, “and other senior Administration officials” were all briefed about the “Clinton Intelligence Plan.” Yet this intelligence was “essentially disregarded” by the “FBI leadership.”
Durham contrasts the handling of the Trump investigation with the FBI’s non-investigation of claims about attempted “foreign election influence” of the Clinton campaign and the Clinton Foundation through contributions made by “foreign interests” in “exchange” for the “protection” of a foreign government’s “interests should Clinton become president.” In the first instance, which apparently included an illegal foreign campaign contribution, the FBI’s source was told to stay “completely away” from the situation and the “FBI appears to have made no effort to investigate.”
While preliminary investigative activities were undertaken over the Foundation claims, those were quickly restricted by FBI leadership. A witness told Durham that he received a call telling him that FBI Director James Comey was ordering that his office “cease and desist” from the Foundation investigation due to a never explained “counterintelligence concern.”
Durham said the FBI and the Department of Justice appeared to have “legitimate concerns about the Foundation investigation occurring so close to a presidential election,” but it did “not appear that similar concerns were expressed by the Department or FBI regarding the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.” In fact, says Durham, only a month after the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, a “senior law enforcement official” publicly confirmed the investigation in an article by Michael Isikoff.
And while the FBI gave defensive briefings to the Clinton campaign to let it know it was the possible target of a foreign government, the same courtesy was not extended to the Trump campaign. An FBI official tried to excuse this by saying they didn’t know who in the Trump campaign might be involved, but the FBI had a similar problem with the Clinton campaign. Moreover, “the FBI went forward with defensive briefings [of the Clinton campaign] in that investigation—an investigation predicated on the receipt of corroborated information—but failed to conduct defensive briefings to the Trump campaign, an investigation predicated on less certain information.”
The evidence on which the investigation was based was so lacking that when the agency, during a meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington in the fall of 2016, asked members of British Intelligence for some further assistance, the Brits refused. The FBI’s liaison with the British told Durham’s office that “the Brits finally had enough” and that “there was no [expletive] way in hell they were going to do it.” So, the British government recognized the complete lack of merit in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, but our own government did not.
Given all of this misbehavior or incompetence by law enforcement officials, the public is probably wondering why Durham is not bringing more criminal charges than the handful of cases he has already prosecuted. As he explains, there is a “high burden placed on the government” under our criminal laws and our constitutional protections “to prove every element of a crime ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’” Moreover, a “person’s bad judgment, even horribly bad judgment, standing alone,” is not always a crime.
The law does not “criminalize all unseemly or unethical conduct that political campaigns might undertake for tactical advantage.” Government prosecutors—with only some exceptions—have to prove a “person’s actual criminal intent—not mere negligence or recklessness—before that person’s fellow citizens can lawfully find him or her guilty of a crime.”
It was “adherence to these principles” that explains “in numerous instances, why conduct deserving of censure or disciplinary action did not lead the Office [of the Special Counsel] to seek criminal charges.” Durham is correct about those principles, and it is hard to fault him for making those judgments. But he has written a very thorough, in-depth report that provides the basis for disciplinary actions against the government personnel involved in the mishandling of Crossfire Hurricane who have not already been disciplined or terminated.
Durham only spends one final, brief page on the reforms needed at the FBI. That is a job that Congress needs to undertake with investigations and hearings on what reforms are needed to ensure this type of abuse by the most powerful police agency in the nation does not happen again.
One final note. What is most unfortunate for the country, the body politic, and the election process, is that the Clinton campaign and its law firm, with the willing help of its avid supporters in the media, and the inept or nefarious blundering (however you want to characterize it) of the FBI’s version of the Keystone Cops, got away with one of the dirtiest and most unethical political tricks in our nation’s history.
That is a problem we may not get over for a very long time.
This piece originally appeared in PJ Media