Prosecutor points to series of mistakes by the FBI and Justice Department in probe over whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia
A long-awaited report found the FBI rushed into its investigation of ties between Russia and Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, and relied too much on raw and unconfirmed intelligence.
The report from special counsel John Durham is the culmination of an investigation that Trump and his allies had claimed would expose massive wrongdoing by law enforcement and intelligence officials.
Instead, Durham's investigation delivered underwhelming results. Prosecutors secured a guilty plea from a little-known FBI employee for altering evidence while applying for permission to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign official, but they lost the only two criminal cases they took to trial.
The report catalogues what Durham says were a series of missteps by the FBI and Justice Department as investigators undertook a politically explosive probe in the heat of the 2016 election into whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia to tip the outcome.
It criticised the FBI for opening a full-fledged investigation based on "raw, unanalysed and uncorroborated intelligence," saying the speed it did so was a departure from the norm. It also said investigators repeatedly relied on “confirmation bias,” ignoring or rationalising away evidence that undercut their premise of a Trump-Russia conspiracy as they pushed the probe forward.
The FBI has since announced dozens of corrective actions, including steps meant to ensure the accuracy of secretive surveillance applications to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists and spies.
“Had those reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in the report could have been prevented,” the FBI said in a statement. It also stressed the report focused on the FBI's prior leadership, before current Director Christopher Wray took the job in 2017.
Still, Durham’s findings are likely to amplify scrutiny of the FBI at a time when Trump is again seeking the White House as well as offer fresh fodder for congressional Republicans who have launched their own investigation into the purported “weaponisation” of the FBI and Justice Department. After the report was released, Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan said he had invited Durham to testify next week.
Trump, on his Truth Social platform, claimed the report showed the “crime of the century” and referred to the Russia investigation as a “Democrat Hoax.”
Durham was appointed in 2019 by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, soon after special counsel Robert Mueller had completed his investigation into whether the 2016 Trump campaign had colluded with Russia to move the outcome of the election in his favour.
The Mueller investigation resulted in roughly three dozen criminal charges, including convictions of a half-dozen Trump associates, and determined Russia intervened on the Trump campaign’s behalf and that the campaign welcomed the help. But Mueller’s team did not find they conspired to sway the election, creating an opening for critics — including Barr himself — to assert it had been launched without a proper basis.
Revelations over the following months laid bare flaws with the investigation, including errors and omissions in Justice Department applications to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, as well as the reliance by the FBI on a dossier of uncorroborated or discredited information compiled by an British ex-spy, Christopher Steele.
Durham’s team delved into those mistakes, finding investigators opened the investigation hastily, without doing key interviews or a significant review of intelligence databases. The report says the FBI, at the time the investigation was opened, had no information any Trump campaign officials had been in touch with any Russian intelligence officials.
The original Russia investigation was opened in July 2016 after the FBI learned from an Australian diplomat a Trump campaign associate named George Papadopoulos had claimed to know of “dirt” that the Russians had on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.
But the report faults the FBI for not having done important legwork before opening the investigation.
It also said the FBI did not corroborate a “single substantive allegation” in the so-called Steele dossier and ignored or rationalised what it asserts was exculpatory information that Trump associates had provided to FBI confidential informants. That includes, the report said, minimising the importance of a conversation in which Papadopoulos denied to the FBI informant he had any knowledge of ties between the campaign and Russia.