Legal experts on Monday widely panned the final report from John Durham, the special counsel appointed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the FBI’s probe of former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia.
Durham, after nearly four years, on Monday released a 306-page report that criticized the FBI but contained little new information. Durham during the probe brought just two criminal cases but both ended in acquittal.
The report argues that the FBI’s handling of “important aspects” of the Trump campaign probe was “seriously deficient” and clouded by “confirmation bias” toward finding election interference. The report argued that the FBI was less cautious on the Trump probe than investigations into attempts by foreign governments to influence Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. The report also alleged that the FBI “discounted or willfully ignored material information” that countered the narrative of potential collusion between Trump and Russia.
Much of the criticism of the FBI in Durham’s report was already noted in a December 2019 report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Horowitz concluded that the flaws in the investigation were not politically motivated or intentional and that the FBI had sufficient evidence to launch the probe.
But Durham argued that while “there is no question that the FBI had an affirmative obligation to closely examine,” the FBI should have launched a preliminary investigation rather than a full one.
Durham said he was not recommending any “wholesale changes” to FBI rules, which have already been tightened, but recommended that the Justice Department consider assigning an official to internally challenge steps in politically sensitive cases.
The FBI said in a statement that it had already addressed the flaws noted in Durham’s report.
“The conduct in 2016 and 2017 that Special Counsel Durham examined was the reason that current FBI leadership already implemented dozens of corrective actions, which have now been in place for some time. Had those reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in the report could have been prevented,” a bureau spokesperson said. “This report reinforces the importance of ensuring the FBI continues to do its work with the rigor, objectivity, and professionalism the American people deserve and rightly expect.”
Despite the lack of new information or any criminal convictions, Republicans touted the report on Monday.
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said on Twitter that he would invite Durham to testify next week.
“The Durham Report confirmed what we already knew: weaponized federal agencies manufactured a false conspiracy theory about Trump-Russia collusion,” tweeted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“The Durham Report spells out in great detail the Democrat Hoax that was perpetrated upon me and the American people,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “This totally illegal act had a huge impact on the Election. With an honest Media, we are looking at the Crime of the Century!”
“Congratulations to John Durham on a Report that is being praised for its quality, importance, and professionalism, by friend and foe alike!” he added.
But legal experts largely trashed the document.
“This is it? This is the grand summary? It’s Horowitz with some extra commentary,” tweeted national security attorney Bradley Moss. “They’ve got nothing. No grand conspiracy. No effort to take down Trump. It’s ‘you messed up surveilling Page’ and ‘be more careful next time with political-affiliated sources.’ What a flop.”
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said that Durham’s report is “full of ‘observations’ but does not present evidence of uncharged crimes, as Mueller did.”
“It reads more like Durham’s spin on the OIG report than a prosecutorial document,” he wrote. “Combined with his lack of success in the courtroom, this investigation was a flop.”
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Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman said there “really is no precedent for the Durham report.”
“Mueller’s long report explained precisely his reasons for his prosecutorial decisions. Durham just recycles old cavils about the launching of the Russia investigation that have zero connection to any alleged crime. It’s bogus,” he tweeted.
“The justification for going WAY outside of the regulatory mandate to explain prosecutorial decisions is the Oct 2020 directive from Barr. This is a corruption of the special counsel process to deliver a political broadside by a prosecutor whose work added up to next to nothing,” Litman added.
Former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi noted in an appearance on MSNBC that Durham was “once a highly respected, hard-nosed prosecutor.”
He “has twisted himself into a pretzel in an attempt to deliver what he could not deliver,” he said. “The goal was to rack up many, many indictments… he’s failed miserably.”
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on Mueller’s team, called Durham’s report a “big fat nothing.”
“You wanna talk about a witch hunt or sort of, real, wasted resources,” he told MSNBC. “If John Durham was really just doing an investigation to talk about, what are better policies and practices that the FBI could have and was depoliticizing it, I would’ve been all for that and said, ‘Great. There’s no agency that can’t use greater scrutiny.’ But this was trying to say that there’s a big there, there when there’s no, there, there.”
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