In a long-awaited report released Monday, special counsel John Durham slammed the FBI for actions agents took during the 2016 probe scrutinizing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and its alleged ties to Russia.
Durham's final report examining the origins of the Russia investigation brings to a close a four-year probe that failed to produce any major convictions despite the expectations pushed by Trump and his allies.
The Justice Department and FBI "failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law," Durham concluded in the 306-page report.
Durham was tasked in late 2020 by then-Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" probe of the Trump campaign that was launched in July 2016. Durham's appointment came just weeks before Trump was defeated by Joe Biden, effectively ensuring that his work would continue even after Biden took office.
Some of the FBI's most controversial actions were largely based on since-debunked allegations provided by former British spy Christopher Steele.
"Our investigation ... revealed that senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor toward the information that they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons and entities," Durham wrote in his report. "In particular, there was significant reliance on investigative leads provided or funded (directly or indirectly) by Trump's political opponents. The Department did not adequately examine or question these materials and the motivations of those providing them before opening a full-scale investigation."
In his final report, Durham alleges that the investigation into Trump in its early days was handled differently from how the FBI approached prior matters, including allegations of "foreign election interference plans" purportedly aimed at Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, which Durham's team also examined.
"In short, it is the Office's assessment that the FBI discounted or willfully ignored material information that did not support the narrative of a collusive relationship between Trump and Russia," the report says. "An objective and honest assessment of these strands of information should have caused the FBI to question not only the predication for Crossfire Hurricane, but also to reflect on whether the FBI was being manipulated for political or other purposes. Unfortunately, it did not."
While Durham does not appear to say outright that the FBI's Russia investigation should not have been launched, he strongly suggests that is the case -- while using sharp language to admonish former FBI leadership and agents and describing his findings as "sobering."
In a statement issued in response to the report, FBI officials said, "The conduct in 2016 and 2017 that Special Counsel Durham examined was the reason that current FBI leadership already implemented dozens of corrective actions, which have now been in place for some time. 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."
In his report, however, Durham seemed to reject the idea that the FBI should add new rules or training to remediate any potential future wrongdoing, which he describes as a "fruitless exercise."
The report was transmitted to Congress Monday afternoon, sources told ABC News. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, said on Twitter that his committee has asked the Department of Justice to have Durham testify next week.
A major report by the Justice Department's inspector general released in late 2019 found that the FBI was not impacted by political bias when it opened the investigation -- though it outlined what it called "serious performance failures" on the part of agents as they vetted information from sources and sought surveillance warrants against a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
At the time of the release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report, both Barr and Durham -- citing the ongoing nature of Durham's own investigation -- issued statements distancing themselves from the conclusion that the Russia probe was opened properly.
In the years since, Durham only secured one conviction in the course of the probe: a mid-level FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to altering an e-mail used in one of the FISA applications used to authorize surveillance against Page.
Last year, the only two other criminal cases brought by Durham ended in acquittals at trial. Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer tied to Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, was found not guilty by a jury last May after Durham accused him of making a false statement to the FBI when Sussmann told a former top lawyer for the bureau that he was not acting on behalf of any client when he detailed allegations of ties between a computer server linked to Trump and a Moscow bank.
Several months later, in October, a jury acquitted intelligence analyst Igor Danchenko on charges of lying to federal investigators about information he collected for the infamous Steele Dossier that included many scandalous and unproven allegations about Trump's ties to Russia.
Some legal experts expressed concerns about the cases brought by Durham, arguing that they would discourage future potential FBI sources from bringing information forward for fear they could be targeted for prosecution.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has for the most part declined to comment on any substantive issues surrounding Durham's investigation, other than offering assurances to Congress that Durham has been given the full resources to complete his work.
For years, Trump and other conservatives have pointed to Durham's ongoing investigation with speculation that he would secure indictments against high-level former FBI officials or individuals close to former President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, or otherwise unearth damning information supporting their accusation that the FBI "deep state" improperly targeted Trump.
Trump fumed in the months leading up the 2020 election publicly pressured Barr to demand Durham move faster to release preliminary findings or announce high-level arrests.
In filings and other court appearances over the course of his probe, Durham at times put forward allegations and supplementary information that suggested he, too, believed the investigation into Trump was politically tainted -- though he never ultimately charged any criminal conspiracy stemming from those assertions.
The conclusion of Durham's four-year investigation stands in contrast to former special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, which resulted in indictments against 34 individuals and three Russian businesses on charges ranging from conspiracy to hacking to lying to the FBI and financial crimes. The indictments led to seven guilty pleas and five people sentenced to prison.
While Mueller's final report determined there was not sufficient evidence to charge a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, he detailed dozens of instances of contacts between people close to Trump and his campaign and Russian nationals, and found the Russian government believed it would have benefitted from Trump's presidency and that it "worked to secure that outcome," with actions often welcomed by Trump's campaign.