Probe of FBI’s handling of Trump-Russia investigation ends

US special prosecutor criticises FBI approach to politically charged investigation but does not issue new charges.

Special Counsel John Durham leaves federal court in Washington, DC, the US, May 16, 2022.
Special Counsel John Durham, the prosecutor appointed to investigate potential government wrongdoing in the early days of the Trump-Russia probe, leaves federal court in Washington, DC, the US [File: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

A special United States probe into the conduct of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has found that the agency lacked “actual evidence” to investigate possible collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

Monday’s release of Special Counsel John Durham’s report — totalling more than 300 pages — marked the end of a four-year investigation deeply steeped in politics.

Trump had promised the probe would uncover the “crime of the century” and prove he had been the repeated subject of political “witch hunts”, with supporters regularly touting that the special counsel’s work would vindicate the former US president.

But critics have said Attorney General Bill Barr, who appointed Durham to lead the probe in 2019, launched the investigation to muddy the political waters surrounding Trump.

The report released on Monday detailed several missteps by the FBI, including that federal investigators relied too heavily on tips provided by Trump’s political opponents to drive their probe.

It further accused the FBI of treating the 2016 Trump probe differently than other politically sensitive investigations, including several involving Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

“The Department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities described in this report,” Durham wrote. “Senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor towards the information that they received, especially information from politically affiliated persons and entities.”

Still, the effect of the special counsel investigation has been muted.

Last year, two separate juries acquitted two of the defendants Durham tried to prosecute in relation to the investigation. And the report released on Monday offered no new charges.

In one case brought by Durham, a jury in Washington, DC, acquitted Clinton’s former campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann on charges he lied to the FBI when he met with the bureau in September 2016 to share a tip about possible communications between Trump’s business and a Russian bank.

Durham’s investigation was dealt another major setback just a few months later when a jury in Virginia acquitted Russian researcher Igor Danchenko of charges that he lied to the FBI.

The allegations related to statements Danchenko made about the sources of information he provided as part of a collection of potentially harmful information against Trump known as the “Steele dossier”.

Durham did secure a successful guilty plea against former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who was singled out for altering an email that was used to justify a government wiretap application.

Many of the details in Durham’s probe had previously been revealed in a 2019 inspector general report.

For its part, the FBI investigation into Trump, which was later handed over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, concluded in March 2019 that there were “numerous links” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

It also said that Russia worked to support Trump and harm Clinton, but that there was no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the former Republican president’s 2016 campaign and Moscow.

The FBI has also long since announced dozens of corrective actions. The bureau outlined those changes in a letter to Durham on Monday, 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. 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,” the FBI said in a statement.

It also stressed that 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 new fodder for Republican legislators 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, who is facing a series of legal issues, also claimed on his Truth Social platform on Monday that the report showed the US public had been “scammed”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies