Special Counsel John Durham has finally released his report looking at the origins of the Trump-Russian collusion hoax. If you believe there was, or is, a “deep state” of bureaucrats, Washington insiders and power brokers who operate outside the law and do pretty much whatever they want, in this case you were right. Chalk up one for the conspiracy theorists.
While Durham’s report has lots of criticism to go around, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is one of his major concerns. Unfortunately, there are two other recent developments that amplify concerns about the FBI.
It should be said at the outset that I have known only a few FBI agents. Those agents were dedicated professionals and great individuals. And I continue to believe the same could be said of the vast majority of rank-and-file agents. But clearly something has gone amiss, at least at the top echelons of the agency.
Let’s start with the Durham report, since it’s the most thorough and public.
Recall that the Mueller report, from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, looked into whether there were Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including if there were any coordinated efforts with members of the Trump campaign. Mueller found no such evidence.
The Durham report looked into how the Russian collusion hoax gained traction. One key factor was the failure of the FBI. According to the report’s executive summary: “The matter [i.e., Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s name for the Trump investigation] was opened as a full investigation without ever having spoken to the persons who provided the information.”
That was a major failure, but far from the only one. The report continues: “Further, the FBI did so without (i) any significant review of its own intelligence databases, (ii) collection and examination of any relevant intelligence from other U.S. intelligence entities, (iii) interviews of witnesses essential to understand the raw information it had received or (iv) using any of the standard analytical tools typically employed by the FBI in evaluating raw intelligence.”
So, the FBI agents in charge of Crossfire Hurricane pretty much ignored all of their standard procedures for this type of investigation. Those procedures were put in place to protect the public and the privacy of U.S. citizens, and to prevent the agency from spending resources and taxpayer money on wild goose chases. Like, it turns out, Crossfire Hurricane.
“Had it done so [i.e., followed normal procedures], again as set out in Sections IV.A.3.b and c, the FBI would have learned that their own experienced Russia analysts had no information about Trump being involved with Russian leadership officials, nor were others in sensitive positions at the CIA, the NSA, and the Department of State aware of such evidence concerning the subject,” the report reads.
Of course, one reason FBI agents ignored the normal process was that some of them had it out for Donald Trump. “Counterintelligence Peter Strzok opened Crossfire Hurricane immediately. Strzok, at a minimum, had pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump.”
As did his FBI girlfriend, Lisa Page.
Another agent, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court. Those lies led to a year-long wiretapping of a U.S. citizen, even though the FBI never found any illegal activity. Clinesmith could have received up to five years in prison for his actions; he received 12 months’ probation, plus 400 hours of community service.
Much of this we already knew, but the report reminds us again of the problems plaguing the top levels of the FBI. And not because of a lack of rules and regulations that are supposed to govern agents’ actions. The problem was a lack of integrity. As Durham writes, “Ultimately, of course, meeting those responsibilities comes down to the integrity of the people who take an oath to follow the guidelines and policies currently in place, guidelines that date from the time of Attorney General Levi and that are designed to ensure the rule of law is upheld. As such, the answer is not the creation of new rules but a renewed fidelity to the old.”
But there’s more. On Friday, the FISA Court released a heavily redacted, damning opinion from 2022. As The Hill reporter Jared Gans writes, “The FBI repeatedly misused a surveillance tool in searching for foreign intelligence to use in cases pertaining to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and 2020 racial justice protests, according to an April 2022 court order publicly released Friday.” We don’t know all of the details, but it’s one more black mark against FBI agents’ adherence to the law and the rules intended to guide their actions.
But we’re not done yet. Last week, three FBI agents testified before the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government as whistleblowers against some of the agency’s actions. The agents claim their superiors retaliated against them for raising concerns about FBI improprieties by revoking their security clearances and other actions.
It will take time for these accusations to play out in the courts. But again, it puts the FBI in a very bad light.
At that hearing, the ranking Democrat claimed Republicans were using the select committee as a “clearing house for testing conspiracy theories.” Ironically, it was the Democrats who pressed the false Russian-Trump collusion conspiracy theory for years. Durham and the FISA Court have demonstrated that a FBI conspiracy was real.