'Sobering': Durham Report Finds FBI Had Insufficient Basis to Open Trump-Russia Probe

Special Counsel John Durham concludes FBI applied different standards to Trump and Clinton campaigns

May 15, 2023

Special Counsel John Durham found the FBI did not have a sufficient basis to open an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in July 2016, according to a long-awaited report the investigator called "sobering," which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

In a 320-page report delivered to House and Senate leaders on Monday, Durham cast doubt on the FBI’s justification for opening the Crossfire Hurricane probe, the name given to the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. The FBI’s standard for opening a full investigation "arguably had not been met," Durham writes, adding that "the matter was opened as a full investigation without [agents] ever having spoken to the persons who provided the information."

Durham also notes that the FBI’s behavior towards the Trump campaign stands in stark contrast to the way its agents treated tips and information it received about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign—in this case, about the Clinton campaign’s attempts to paint Trump as a Russian agent.

"Unlike the FBI’s opening of a full investigation of unknown members of the Trump campaign based on raw, uncorroborated information," Durham writes, "in this separate matter involving a purported Clinton campaign plan, the FBI never opened any type of inquiry, issued any taskings, employed any analytical personnel, or produced any analytical products in connection with the information."

Durham’s findings contradict the assessment of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who said in a report in 2019 that the FBI had solid ground to open the Trump-Russia probe. The bureau opened the investigation on July 28, 2016, after Australian diplomat Alexander Downer provided a memo about a conversation he had with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in London two months earlier. Downer claimed that Papadopoulos mentioned that Russia may have hacked Clinton campaign emails.

The FBI quickly opened a full counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign and four of its advisers: Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn.

But according to Durham, an FBI supervisory special agent involved in the investigation told Durham’s team that the basis for the investigation was "thin."

Durham said the FBI should have focused on Papadopoulos instead of the entire Trump campaign. Durham also said the investigation could have been opened as an "assessment" or a "preliminary investigation" rather than a full investigation. Preliminary investigations include "time limits and a narrower range of authorized techniques to mitigate risk and avoid unnecessary intrusion."

None of the prosecutors who have looked into Trump-Russia claims have found evidence of collusion.

The report offers a scathing assessment of the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier, which falsely alleged a "well-developed conspiracy of coordination" between the Trump campaign and Russia. FBI investigators failed to verify the dossier before citing it in applications to surveil Trump campaign aide Carter Page. And investigators failed to inform a federal court of information that contradicted the dossier, which was written by a former British spy on the Clinton campaign’s payroll.

Durham also reveals that the FBI paid $220,000 to the primary source for the dossier, Igor Danchenko, from 2017 to 2020. Durham said the payments were of concern because of the inaccuracies in the dossier, and because of a previous FBI investigation into Danchenko. The bureau in 2010 investigated whether Danchenko, a former Brookings Institution analyst, was spying for Russia.

Durham reports that a confidential FBI source for Crossfire Hurricane gave misleading information about Carter Page, the Trump aide. According to Durham, the source, previously identified as Stefan Halper, falsely claimed that Page told him he met with Russian official Igor Sechin in mid-2016. If true, the information would have validated a major allegation made about Page in the Steele dossier. According to Durham, Halper’s claim was wrong, though the special counsel was unable to determine whether the FBI source intentionally lied.

This is a developing story and will be updated to include additional information.