Clinton Collusion, Russian Spies, And More: Eight Surprises from the Durham Report

May 17, 2023

Special Counsel John Durham’s report largely confirmed what Republicans have said for years about the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. Durham found the FBI opened the probe, known as Crossfire Hurricane, with flimsy evidence, and detailed the FBI’s mishandling of the infamous Steele dossier, which falsely claimed the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Durham laid out in painstaking detail the FBI’s misstatements to a federal surveillance court to obtain warrants to surveil Trump campaign aide Carter Page and the Clinton campaign’s hand in spreading false information to smear former president Donald Trump as a Kremlin stooge. Much of that has been laid out in previous investigations and through reports by conservative media outlets.

But there are some surprises in the 320-page report. Here are eight of Durham's most illuminating discoveries:


FBI Ignored "Clinton Plan" Intelligence

In late July 2016, CIA director John Brennan received an intelligence report that Hillary Clinton personally approved a plan on July 26, 2016, to link Trump to Russia in order to distract from the controversy surrounding her emails. Brennan shared the intelligence with then-president Barack Obama, FBI director James Comey, and other government officials.

According to Durham, the FBI should have seen the intelligence report as a "clear warning sign" that the Clinton campaign may try to "manipulate or influence" the 2016 election. Instead, the FBI failed to factor the plan into its decision making for Crossfire Hurricane, the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.

Indeed, the Clinton campaign was behind two schemes to publicly portray Trump as in bed with Russia. The campaign funded the discredited Steele dossier and fed reporters with a false claim that Trump’s companies had secret communications with Russia’s Alfa Bank. The FBI investigated both threads. The information was also fed to establishment news outlets, fueling years of conspiracy theories that Trump conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Durham blasted the FBI for its "startling and inexplicable failure" to take the "Clinton plan" into account.


Bureau Brass Killed Clinton Foundation Investigations

Director Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe ordered three FBI field offices to close their preliminary investigations into whether foreign governments and businesses donated to the Clinton family charity in order to influence Hillary Clinton.

According to Durham, McCabe ordered the field offices to close their investigations during a Feb. 22, 2016, meeting at FBI headquarters. Attendees said McCabe asserted that "there’s nothing here" and asked "why are we even doing this?" FBI agents left the meeting frustrated with McCabe’s decision. In May 2016, Comey ordered the New York field office to "cease and desist" from its Clinton Foundation investigation because of an undisclosed counterintelligence issue.

Durham highlighted Comey and McCabe’s intervention in the Clinton Foundation probe to contrast the FBI leaders’ aggressive approach to Crossfire, which the bureau opened based on a single unverified tip from an Australian diplomat regarding a conversation he had in London in May 2016 with Trump aide George Papadopoulos.

"Once again, the investigative actions taken by FBI Headquarters in the Foundation matters contrast with those taken in Crossfire Hurricane," Durham said.


Mueller Team Investigators Worried About Political Influence

Democrats repeatedly defended Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe against allegations of anti-Trump bias. Never mind that one of Mueller’s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, attended Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated victory party on Election Night 2016.

According to Durham, two members of the Mueller team expressed concern that an investigation into the Steele dossier was shut down for political reasons.

A special agent and analyst on the Mueller team told Durham’s office that they were prevented from investigating Charles Dolan, a Democratic operative who was a source for the dossier. The Mueller staffers believed Dolan would help settle lingering questions about the dossier, but leaders of the Mueller team blocked the idea. Dolan also had extensive ties to the Kremlin, which might prove embarrassing for investigators focused on Republican ties to Russia.

According to Durham, the Mueller team analyst speculated "that the decision not to open on Dolan was politically motivated." The analyst said that information about Dolan "ran counter to the narrative that the Mueller Special Counsel investigators were cultivating given that Dolan was a former Democratic political operative." Dolan had advised Clinton’s 2008 campaign and was a volunteer for her 2016 venture.

The Mueller special agent "discussed whether the decision not to open on Dolan was politically motivated, given Dolan's extensive connections to the Democratic Party." The agent said that while she did not believe the decision was political, "she did worry about the optics of the decision, given that Dolan was a prominent Democrat."

The Mueller investigators also expressed concern to Durham that senior Mueller prosecutor Jeannie Rhee ordered them to shut down their investigation of the Steele dossier because it was "not within the scope" of Mueller’s investigation. This puzzled the Mueller team members because investigators had that same month interviewed dossier author Christopher Steele, the report says. Rhee contributed $5,400 to Clinton’s 2016 campaign.


The FBI Thought a Steele Dossier Source Was a Russian Spy. They Paid Him $220K Anyway.

The FBI investigated Igor Danchenko, the primary source for the discredited Steele dossier, as a possible Russian spy in 2010. That has previously been disclosed, but Durham’s report sheds new light on what information the FBI had about Danchenko’s alleged Russian ties.

Danchenko’s classmates at Georgetown University told Durham’s team that Danchenko claimed that he had served in the Russian military and had worked on "special" projects. Danchenko told a classmate that his Russian passport listed him as a member of the GRU, Russia’s military spy service. In 2008, Danchenko allegedly told a colleague at the Brookings Institution, where he was an analyst, that he missed work "because he had been in South Ossetia fighting Georgians." And Danchenko bragged to the colleague "about vandalizing the Georgian embassy in Belarus."

The Durham report lays out a litany of evidence that links Danchenko to Russian spies. The FBI learned that Danchenko informed a Russian intelligence officer in 2006 that he was interested in entering Russian diplomatic service. Danchenko provided documents to the Russian intelligence officer that were to be placed in the Russian embassy’s "diplomatic mail pouch."

The FBI’s Trump team investigators were aware of this when they interviewed Danchenko in 2017 about his role in the Steele dossier. But still, FBI agents recruited Danchenko as a confidential human source (CHS) and paid him $220,000 through October 2020.

Durham said the arrangement was problematic because the FBI was unable to assess whether the information that Danchenko gave to Steele "was, in whole or in part, Russian disinformation."


FBI Killed Its Danchenko Probe Because It ‘Mistakenly’ Thought He Left The Country

Investigators obtained a foreign surveillance warrant on Danchenko in 2010 but shut it down the next year after they "mistakenly" believed Danchenko left the country. In reality, Danchenko and his wife purchased a one-way ticket to London but never boarded the flight. They remained in the Washington, D.C., area.

The FBI did not reopen its investigation into Danchenko even after an FBI analyst figured out that he was in the United States.

Durham raises major concerns that a top analyst on Crossfire Hurricane, Brian Auten, was involved in the initial Danchenko investigation but did not notify others on the Crossfire Hurricane team that the dossier source was a suspected Russian spy.


Top Crossfire Hurricane Investigator Had Early Doubts About Probe

Peter Strzok, the former deputy chief of FBI counterintelligence, opened the probe into the Trump campaign on July 28, 2016, after receiving the tip from Australian diplomats about Papadopoulos. Strzok would oversee Crossfire Hurricane and later serve on the Mueller team before being fired because of his anti-Trump text messages.

But Strzok expressed early reservations about the basis for the investigation.

During a trip to London in early August 2016 to interview the Australian diplomats, Strzok told an FBI colleague on Aug. 3, 2016, that "there's nothing to this, but we have to run it to ground."

Durham provides other evidence that FBI employees and British diplomats thought the evidence to open Crossfire Hurricane was flimsy. An FBI employee said the FBI’s evidence to launch the probe "was thin." The employee said his counterparts in British intelligence "could not believe" that the FBI did not have more evidence to open the probe.

Despite those concerns, Strzok would direct the major investigative steps in Crossfire Hurricane, including oversight of analysis of the Steele dossier.


Major FBI Informant Fed Handlers Lies About Trump Aide

Stefan Halper, a longtime confidential FBI source, gave his FBI handlers false information about Trump aide Carter Page, according to Durham.

Halper secretly recorded conversations with three Trump campaign aides at the behest of the FBI: Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Sam Clovis. The FBI extensively cited the conversations in applications for warrants to surveil Page, a volunteer foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

Durham describes an incident on Dec. 15, 2016, in which Halper falsely claimed to his FBI handler that Page admitted he met with Russian official Igor Sechin during a trip to Moscow. If true, the admission would have validated a crucial Steele dossier detail about Trump-Russia collusion.

But according to Durham, a transcript of Halper’s conversation with Page showed that Page actually denied meeting with Sechin.

Durham said he "examined" whether Halper made a false statement, but that prosecutors were "unable to establish" whether Halper intentionally lied.


Comey Drove Trump Campaign Surveillance

The Durham report shows that Comey pushed aggressively for the faulty Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Page.

Comey repeatedly asked his deputy, Andrew McCabe, "Where is the FISA, where is the FISA?"

Going after Page was "a top priority" for Comey, an intelligence agent told Durham. An attorney who wrote one of the FISA applications on Page said they were "being constantly pressured" to move forward by FBI management.

The Justice Department inspector general found that the FBI under Comey’s watch made 17 significant omissions in the surveillance warrants, including failures to disclose major inconsistencies in the Steele dossier.


BONUS: Here Are All the Witnesses Who Refused to Meet with Durham

Key players in the Durham investigation refused interviews with the special counsel. The list includes:

• James Comey

• Andrew McCabe

• Peter Strzok

• Former FBI counterintelligence chief Bill Priestap

• Marc Elias, Clinton campaign attorney who funded the Steele dossier

• Glenn Simpson, cofounder of Fusion GPS, the firm behind the Steele dossier

• Rodney Joffe, a tech executive who pushed the Alfa Bank allegations

• An unnamed "senior FBI national security agent"