Durham: FBI Should Not Have Launched Full Investigation Into Trump Campaign

Durham: FBI Should Not Have Launched Full Investigation Into Trump Campaign
Special Counsel John Durham testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on June 21, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The FBI should not have launched a full investigation into then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign based on unverified intelligence, special counsel John Durham said on June 21.

Within three days of receiving word from Australian officials in July 2016 that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos said Trump’s team had received a suggestion from Russia that it could help release information damaging to Democrats, the FBI opted to open a full investigation, rather than take a smaller step.

“Based on our investigation, it is not a legitimate basis to open a full investigation,” Durham said on Wednesday, speaking for the first time publicly about a report his team compiled.

The FBI made the move despite not checking its own databases or the databases of other intelligence agencies or carrying out other actions that are typical before launching a full investigation. Agents also did not interview the Australian diplomats.

Had the FBI done so, it “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,” Durham said in his report.

“They just immediately went to a full investigation,” Durham told members of Congress during a hearing on Capitol Hill.

The bureau did not respond to a request for comment. It has said that it implemented reforms in recent years that will prevent the “missteps” identified in the report.

Durham found that the FBI had an obligation to assess the information conveyed from Australia but said the bureau should have taken the smaller step of opening a preliminary investigation or starting an assessment.

FBI rules allow the opening of an assessment to examine claims while a preliminary investigation can be opened on information that a federal crime or threat to national security “may be” occurring. Only after a preliminary investigation is undertaken can a full investigation be opened, provided there is “an articulable factual basis for the investigation” that indicates the crime or threat may be occurring and that an investigation “may obtain information relating to the activity.”

FBI agent Peter Strzok during testimony before Congress in Washington, on July 12, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

On July 31, 2016, just three days after receiving the information from Australia, then-FBI official Peter Strzok opened a full investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane into Papadopoulos and three other Trump campaign officials. Strzok has said that then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, later fired for lying, directed him to open the probe. Strzok has expressed animus against Trump on multiple occasions, including saying in a text message that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president.

Crossfire Hurricane was opened to see whether people associated with the campaign were “witting of and/or coordinating activities with the government of Russia.”

FBI officials have defended quickly opening the full probe by pointing to how Russia was possibly connected to materials made public by WikiLeaks and Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 election, as well as Trump saying during a campaign event that he hoped Russia was able to find missing emails.

Durham’s office obtained evidence showing McCabe and other officials at the FBI headquarters in Washington unanimously supported opening the probe and that there was no sign they considered opening an assessment or preliminary investigation.

Opening a full investigation makes available certain tools, including the ability to spy on Americans. The FBI soon tried to get spy warrants for Papadopoulos and Carter Page, another campaign worker. They failed to get permission to spy on Papadopoulos. They succeeded with Page after including allegations from Christopher Steele’s dossier, funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in the application.

Durham told Congress that the FBI “was too willing to accept and use politically funded and coordinated opposition research, such as the Steele dossier” and that the bureau relied on the dossier despite knowing there was likely material supported by Trump’s political opponent, even after then-President Barack Obama and others were briefed on intelligence that the Clinton campaign was working to “stir up a scandal tying Trump to Russia.”

Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice’s inspector general, said in 2019 that the FBI was justified in opening a full investigation.

Then-Attorney General William Barr, who later appointed Durham, disagreed.

“The inspector general’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said at the time.

Unlike several similar cases involving Clinton, the FBI chose not to give Trump’s team a briefing before opening the investigation. William Priestap, who approved the opening of the case, said that the briefing would have risked “if someone on the campaign was engaged with the Russians, he/she would very likely change his/her tactics and/or otherwise seek to cover-up his/her activities, thereby preventing us from finding the truth.”

From The Epoch Times

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