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US Special Counsel Lambasts FBI for Its Handling of 2016 Trump-Russia Probe

Victor Westerkamp
Victor resides in the Netherlands and writes about freedom and governmental and social changes to the democratic form of nations.
Published: May 17, 2023
Special Counsel John Durham departs the U.S. Federal Courthouse after opening arguments in the trial of Attorney Michael Sussmann, where Durham is prosecuting Sussmann on charges that Sussmann lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) while providing information about later discredited allegations of communications between the 2016 presidential campaign of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia, in Washington, U.S. May 17, 2022. (Image: JULIA NIKHINSON/Reuters)

The U.S. Special Counsel concluded the FBI lacked “actual evidence” to investigate Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as it relied too much on tips from political opponents to justify the investigation. 

U.S. Special Counsel John Durham came to this judgment in a report released on May 15 without redactions after being delivered to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday, May 12. 

The report represents four-year of protracted investigations that began in May 2019 when then-Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham to investigate possible FBI missteps in the so-called “Crossfire Hurricane” query into potential contacts between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

“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 they received, especially information from politically affiliated persons and entities.”


The Crossfire Hurricane investigation concluded in March 2019, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that there was no evidence of criminal collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

In his new 306-page report, Durham concluded that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement did not have “well-founded evidence” of such collusion.

He also accused the agency of measuring the 2016 Trump investigation by a different standard than other politically sensitive investigations, including those involving Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. 

He said, for example, that Clinton and other officials received defensive briefings about possibly being targeted for foreign interference. In contrast, Trump received no such briefing and instead had four members of his campaign face investigations by the FBI.

Political ammunition

House Judiciary Committee Republican Chair Jim Jordan said on Twitter he had invited Durham to testify about his report next week.

Durham’s findings will likely become political ammunition for Trump, who hoped the announcement would occur before the 2020 election. In this scenario, it would be a blow to President Joe Biden’s campaign.

However, he would have to wait until next year’s presidential election, when Trump will likely run for president again. Nevertheless, Trump said Monday on social media that he was pleased with the results of the Durham report.

Meanwhile, the former president is facing criminal charges in New York and two federal investigations by Special Counsel Jack Smith seeking evidence of Trump’s retention of classified files and the allegations he made about the falsified official results of the 2020 presidential election.

Limited impact

Durham secured a successful guilty plea against former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who was singled out in the inspector general’s report for altering an email to justify a government wiretap application for Page.

Apart from that minor success, Durham’s investigation has largely failed to produce a meaningful impact, as was illustrated in two cases where separate juries acquitted both defendants Durham subpoenaed in 2022.

When he met with the FBI in September 2016 to share a tip about potential communications between a Trump company and a Russian bank, former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann was accused of lying to the Bureau. However, the Washington, D.C., jury found him not guilty of the charges that Durham brought.

A few months later, a Virginia jury exonerated Russian investigator Igor Danchenko of charges that he misled the FBI about the sources of information he provided that was included in the “Steele dossier,” thus dealing another blow to the Durham investigation.

That document, written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, included salacious and often unfounded claims, as well as allegations about connections between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.

Reuters contributed to this report.