Democratic and Republican lawmakers are drawing opposing conclusions from special counsel John Durham’s review of the FBI’s decision to investigate Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for alleged collusion with the Russian government.
Durham, who spent four years reviewing the actions of the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, published his conclusions last month in a 306-page report (pdf). According to Durham, the FBI rushed to open the initial investigation based on unvetted intelligence, and FBI personnel showed “at best, a cavalier attitude towards accuracy and completeness.”
At a Wednesday hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Durham fielded questions about his report’s conclusions. Republicans largely pointed to Durham’s conclusions as proof that the FBI and DOJ had undermined Trump’s candidacy and early presidency and that the government institutions were in need of reform.
Democrats, by contrast, saw the relative lack of successful prosecutions by Durham as a sign he could not back up his conclusion that the FBI and DOJ had improperly investigated the Trump campaign.
Over the course of his investigation, Durham secured a guilty plea from FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted to falsifying information in order to extend a surveillance warrant against Carter Page, then a member of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.
Though he secured Clinesmith’s guilty plea before going to trial, Durham was less successful before a trial jury when he prosecuted Michael Sussman and Igor Danchenko as part of his special counsel investigation. Sussmann was acquitted by a jury last May in a D.C. federal court and Danchenko was acquitted five months later by a jury in the U.S. federal court for Virginia’s eastern district.
“Durham—after six and a half million dollars—prosecuted two people and it took the jury two hours and six hours respectively to acquit them,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told NTD on Wednesday.
Nadler, who is the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, added “[Durham] has no credibility whatsoever.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also pointed to the lack of successful prosecutions by Durham.
“He had two cases that I mentioned that he brought to trial. In both cases, the jury did not convict. So he really had nothing to show for that report. So we’re wasting a lot of time on a report that really gave us nothing,” Jayapal told NTD.
Durham charged Sussmann, an attorney with the law firm Perkins Coie, with lying to the FBI. Sussmann had presented the FBI with claims of a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and a Russia-based bank called Alfa Bank. Durham alleged Sussmann lied to the FBI at the time by claiming he was not working on behalf of a particular client. Perkins Coie represented the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election.
Durham charged Danchenko, a Russian foreign policy analyst, with lying to the FBI about sources he relied upon when helping create an opposition research dossier commissioned by the campaign of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 political rival. Aspects of this opposition research document formed the basis for parts of the FBI’s investigation, including the surveillance warrant on Page.
While Democrats pointed to the lack of criminal convictions as evidence undermining Durham’s investigative efforts, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) argued that securing a conviction in the Sussmann and Danchenko cases was always going to be difficult.
“It’s very difficult to actually get convictions for false statements,” Issa said. The California Republican said Durham had provided good details to back up his assertions but “you can do something wrong that is not easily indictable or easily convictable.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) took a different perspective on the lack of successful criminal prosecutions, arguing that Durham had engaged in a cover-up rather than an exhaustive look into potential charges. Gaetz argued during the hearing that Durham should have charged former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Gaetz also argued that Durham should have investigated allegations that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team wiped data off of their phones during their investigation into Trump-Russia collusion allegations.
Durham claimed he wasn’t tasked with investigating the allegation that Mueller’s team wiping their phones and he wasn’t even aware of the claim.
Durham claimed in his report that his office had obtained enough evidence in certain cases to assert government actors negligently violated civil rights but did not do so intentionally.
“In almost all cases, the government is required 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,” Durham’s report states. “The Office’s adherence to these principles explains, in numerous instances, why conduct deserving of censure or disciplinary action did not lead the Office to seek criminal charges.”
Durham’s report also states that FBI officials involved in the 2016 Trump investigation, such as former agent Peter Strzok, had “pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump.”
While he couldn’t point to a lengthy list of convictions, Durham said during the Wednesday congressional hearing that current and former FBI officials had apologized to him about the bureau’s Trump-Russian investigation.
“I have had any number of FBI agents who I’ve worked with over the years, some are retired, some are still in place, who have come to me and apologized for the manner in which that investigation was undertaken,” Durham said.
Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) argued that the FBI’s investigation into claims of collusion between Trump and the Russian government cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency.
“Durham has uncovered some serious issues in the entire origin of the investigation, and what’s even more problematic to me is that he states that that was part of what led to the Mueller investigation,” Kiley told NTD. “Now, of course, the Mueller investigation ended up finding there was no evidence of collusion, but it was this cloud that hung over the entire administration for years. In fact, we conducted a midterm election with that cloud hanging over the administration.”
Debate Over Reforms
Republican lawmakers have signaled increasing support for reforms at the FBI and DOJ amid allegations that those government institutions have been weaponized against conservatives. There is some talk within Republican circles of reducing FBI and DOJ funding.
“The American people have lost confidence in the FBI. They think the FBI has been politicized and weaponized,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) told NTD on Wednesday.
Comer, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, said one reform he would favor would be to require FBI agents to record their investigative interviews.
“I think one of the reforms the FBI needs is to record conversations, just like law enforcement are required to do, if they use that as testimony in a trial,” Comer explained. “Because a jury is not going to believe what the FBI says in a lot of America. And that’s unfortunate because I think the majority of FBI agents do a tremendous job.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) appeared to suggest reforms at the FBI would be worthwhile but that there truly were concerning links between Trump’s campaign and Russia, such as a 2016 meeting between Trump’s son and a Russian lawyer.
“We should always look to do better, but I don’t think there’s anything or anyone who believes, going back in time, we should have let Donald Trump and his campaign do this.”
The FBI said it has taken steps to improve its practices in the years since it launched its Trump-Russia collusion investigation. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said he would have to see whether those reforms are actually working.
“I think that we have to evaluate whether those have been sufficient or not,” Buck told NTD.
From NTD News