(CNN) — A long-awaited report by Republican-appointed special counsel John Durham failed to find the “crime of the century” that former President Donald Trump said pointed him at the center of the Russia investigation. But nonetheless, he delivered a potential political payoff.
The 300-page conclusion to a three-year investigation also dealt another blow to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its handling of the 2016 election, which shattered its reputation. Durham said the office’s full-scale investigation into multiple ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians should never have gotten underway, arguing that investigators “willfully discounted or ignored” information that did not support preliminary theories that there was collusion between Trump and Russia. And he asked the Justice Department to appoint an official to oversee politically sensitive evidence.
But while Durham criticized confirmation bias and mistakes at the FBI, he did not disclose any new allegations — undermining Trump’s predictions of a widespread purge of the office — and had no recommendations for further reform at the FBI.
Still, in a passage from the report sure to be singled out by the former Republican president for political purposes, he argued that neither US law enforcement nor the intelligence community appear to have had “any real evidence of conspiracy” before investigating Trump. And the special counsel also criticized the FBI’s use of the Steele dossier, a now largely discredited document that was used by that agency to obtain surveillance warrants against a former Trump campaign adviser.
But not much of what Durham revealed Monday was new, and while it wasn’t the complete flop some left-wing partisan media commentators claimed, it certainly lacked the kind of blockbuster accusations the former president and his family once predicted.
Those debates aside, the polarization of American politics, everything implicating Trump, and the bitter aftermath of the 2016 election mean that the perception of his team’s ties to Russia will depend for many citizens on their ideological perspective and of his opinion of Trump.
That means the main legacy of the Durham report is now sure to be political. He offered an immediate opening for the former commanding officer who has never bothered with nuance. Trump was quick to vindicate his claims that a massive deep state plot was designed to thwart his removal from power seven years ago, despite the fact that the report did not reach as firm a conclusion. And Trump trampled on the scope of Durham’s conclusions to infer that, by extension, the multiple current criminal investigations against him — including two by another special counsel about his attempts to overthrow the 2020 election and his hoarding of classified documents — are politically motivated. . “The American public was ripped off, just as they are being ripped off right now by those who don’t want to see GREATNESS for AMERICA!” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
Another Trump ally, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, argued that the report showed that “the rule of law in America is contingent on political outcomes. This is a very dangerous development and time in American history.” “, he said in a statement. Some might find Graham’s comments ironic, as the same accusation was often leveled at Trump while he was in office, and the former president defied the rule of law in his bid to stay in office in 2020.
But House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Trump’s main allies, said he will use the Durham report to invigorate his investigation into what he says is the government’s “arms drive” against Trump and the Republicans. Jordan’s accusations represent a popular belief among pro-Trump conservatives, but have so far failed to make a convincing leap into mainstream political debates.
Even so, Trump’s original purpose in demanding an investigation into the FBI was to create a political shield over past and future investigations, he won a significant victory Monday. The former president has promised a gutting of the US intelligence and law enforcement agencies that have held him to account if he is elected to a second term in 2024. And his strength in the Republican Party means Republicans who could challenge him for the nomination they should line up.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, lashed out at “armed federal agencies” fabricating a collusion narrative with Russia. “Reminds us of the need to clean house on these agencies as they have never been held accountable for this egregious abuse of power,” DeSantis wrote on Twitter.
The FBI, again under pressure by the investigations on Trump
Skeptics of the investigation have long pointed out that it was launched by former Attorney General William Barr when he was under fierce pressure from the then-president to investigate those investigating his 2016 campaign. a conviction related to the Russia investigation and echoing criticism of the FBI’s conduct in an earlier inspector general’s report showed that the investigation was an expensive waste of money staged to prove a bogus political theory.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who is now CNN’s senior national security analyst, denounced the report Monday as a “political assignment” to retaliate against Trump’s enemies at the FBI.
Despite McCabe’s criticism, however, the Durham report’s findings are likely to make the FBI even more reluctant to launch investigations related to political campaigns during the presidential election. The office has already implemented multiple reforms to address the findings of the previous inspector general’s report that found problems with requests for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Warrants.
The choices that never end
The Durham report also delves into the imbroglio caused by the 2016 election, when the FBI was also accused of influencing the campaign to the detriment of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by publicly reopening an investigation into her handling of classified emails days before the election. electoral journey. He is also now accused by a special prosecutor of improperly investigating the Republican candidate. Even if Democrats are wary of Durham’s motivations. They urge the current special counsel, Jack Smith, in the hope that he will impeach Trump. The choice of one special prosecutor or another will only contribute to increasing mistrust in the rule of law and in the independence of the Department of Justice.
In another politically sensitive part of his report, Durham found that the FBI did not pursue the allegations against Clinton with the same vigor with which it pursued Trump. However, Clinton’s supporters will find that charge laughable, since they blame then-FBI Director James Comey for tipping the election against him with his public statements about his emails. At the same time, Americans had no idea that Trump was also under investigation.
The persistent and toxic drag from the 2016 election does not end there. That fateful presidential run is the trigger for another legal matter that continues to cause political eruptions: Trump’s hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, which ended up making him the first impeached ex-president in history. The resulting allegations of allegedly fraudulent accounting have already ensured that the 2024 election campaign was caught up in Trump’s turbulent first presidential bid seven years ago.
Legal experts criticize Durham
Although Republicans singled out parts of Durham’s report that seemed to validate their own baked-in conclusions about what it would say, some legal experts found it deeply disappointing.
Ryan Goodman, a professor at New York University School of Law, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that Durham’s claim that FBI agents had found compensatory evidence that they ignored to turn a preliminary investigation into Trump into a large-scale research was questionable.
Elliot Williams, a CNN legal analyst, said the report did not live up to Trump’s allegations. In it, Durham did not find the “systemic abuses” that Trump supporters had hoped to see.
And McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI at the time of the Trump investigation, said he “vehemently” disagreed with the report, arguing that it represented a “profound misunderstanding” of what was known at the time. He noted that the investigation into Trump was launched at a time when Russia was attacking the servers of the Democratic National Committee and had used stolen information to attack Clinton. The investigation was only launched after the office received evidence from a friendly foreign government that the Russians had offered help to the Trump campaign. He said the FBI would have investigated Clinton under similar circumstances.
In fact, while Durham criticized the FBI for moving into a full-scale investigation of Trump, he did say the office had reason to open a preliminary review. And while he criticized the fact that a full investigation was instigated, the outcome of that investigation — which developed into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — brought no criminal charges against Trump. Mueller declined to conclude that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 campaign. However, he detailed multiple links between the Trump campaign and the Russians and showed that several high-ranking figures expected to benefit from any intervention in the election. by Moscow. And while he didn’t press charges either, Mueller detailed multiple instances of Trump’s apparent obstruction of justice.
Democrats are also trying to take legal advantage of the report, specifically the lack of indictments for new charges.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois criticized Durham for failing to make “any meaningful recommendations about how the FBI can improve the application of its considerable surveillance authorities in its investigations” that went beyond the report of the inspector general.
Although conservatives criticized the Biden administration for what they say are politically motivated Justice Department investigations, it was notable that Durham thanked Attorney General Merrick Garland for allowing his investigation to proceed without interference.
But all Trump needed from the report was a headline and a general narrative of suspicion against the FBI. He will do the rest.