Below is my column in The Messenger, the new digital news platform created by Jimmy Finkelstein (the former owner of The Hill). Finkelstein’s signature has always been balanced publications where all viewpoints are represented and objectivity remains the touchstone for reporters. That puts him at odds with the “advocacy journalism” model sweeping other publications. The start of the new platform is good news for many of us who believe that the media is facing an existential choice in the coming years. I am happy to be able to contribute to the rollout of the site and look forward to working again with Jimmy and my old Hill editors.
Here is the column:
“Raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated.” Those words from the Durham Report summed up one of the most damning investigations in the Justice Department’s history.
In the 305-page report released Monday, special counsel John Durham concluded that the Trump-Russia investigation was launched without a required minimal level of evidence and shattered a host of departmental standards. Let that sink in: The Justice Department — as well as the media that covered it — effectively shut down a duly elected presidency, based on what turned out to be a politically engineered hoax.
That would make anyone angry. Really angry. Trump-level angry.
The fact is, in this instance, Donald Trump was correct when he said he was the target of a political hitjob funded by the Clinton campaign and maintained by virtually every media outlet. There is a word for that: disinformation.
Democrats such as former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California have pushed for censorship by claiming that disinformation is a threat to democracy. Well, this is that threat — the real one. This actually left an administration mired in a faux scandal for years, with high-ranking officials paraded before grand juries and their guilt then proclaimed nightly on cable news shows.
Even after the Mueller investigation found insufficient evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, Rep. Schiff assured the public in March 2018, that “I can certainly say with confidence that there is significant evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia” and he repeatedly promised to reveal it in his committee.
He never did, of course. Instead, he regularly criticized Durham’s investigation and called for it to end, to prevent this report from ever being released.
Others on the intelligence committee, like Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), also insisted there was clear evidence of collusion. No less a figure than Obama’s former national intelligence director James Clapper suggested Trump was a Russian “asset.”
For its part, most of the media portrayed the now-infamous Steele dossier — the original basis for the collusion claims — as true, and the New York Times and Washington Post received Pulitzer Prizes for a story that not only has been debunked but shown to be the product of Hillary’s Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The Durham report is everything that the FBI investigation was not. It is dispassionate, detached and detailed. It exposes the origin of the collusion effort in the Clinton campaign, which hid its funding in legal fees. (The campaign was later fined by the Federal Election Commission for that concealment.) A few reporters did ask about a possible connection to the campaign, but Clinton campaign officials lied and denied it.
There was little need for concealment, however, when there was so little interest in investigating the story, either by key FBI figures or by the media.
American intelligence discredited the Steele dossier early on as likely Russian disinformation; the credibility of specific sources for the dossier was shredded. Yet then-FBI Director James Comey opened the most extensive investigation ever into an American president based on that tawdry, tattered record.
The lack of supporting evidence did not matter.
Instead, Comey clearly relished the dossier’s more salacious details. For example, in a 2018 interview, he declared: “Honestly, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013.”
The “pee tape” story was repeated endlessly by the media and by Comey. Durham, however, eventually showed that the source of the story was a Clinton associate.
For Comey, though, it appeared to be one of those stories that was just too good to fully check. Nor did he appear concerned that, before the Clinton campaign pushed the dossier to the media and the FBI, then-CIA Director John Brennan had briefed President Obama and his national security team on Hillary Clinton’s alleged “plan” to tie candidate Trump to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
According to Durham, Comey — who later wrote and sold a book on “ethical leadership” — led the FBI to use “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence” to effectively tie up a duly elected president for three years.
Durham reports that FBI personnel admitted they disregarded standards for surveillance despite “acknowledging — both then and in hindsight — that they did not genuinely believe there was probable cause to believe that the target was knowingly [working for a foreign power].”
In the end, it is not a crime to be unethical or incompetent, so no charges will be filed as a result of the report. Durham clearly hopes that the belated transparency provided by his report will produce greater future accountability. That may be the only naive aspect of his findings.
Of course, the FBI promptly issued a statement that it has — once more — reformed itself in light of its failures. But who really believes this is unlikely to occur again?
Indeed, the same pattern and figures reemerged in 2020, when another false narrative was created to dismiss the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. Some of the officials involved in the false Russia collusion conspiracy were signatories on the letter by 51 former intelligence officials claiming that the laptop story was likely “Russian disinformation.” And the media again pushed that version before the 2020 election — only to admit, two years later, that the laptop was authentic all along.
Conspicuously missing in the aftermath of Durham’s report is the one thing that would establish a clear commitment to reform: an apology. Clinton, Comey, members of Congress and others could apologize to the American people — and, yes, even to Trump.
That, of course, will never happen. Attorney General Merrick Garland, in releasing a report that concluded this investigation never should have occurred, made no statement whatsoever.
Thus, Durham was left throwing haymakers in an empty political boxing ring — and those who perpetrated this scandal on the nation are left to carry on making money on books, speeches, TV commentary and lectures about political or electoral ethics. The media, meanwhile, is offering little more than a shoulder-shrug and more spin.
So, in the relative silence of media coverage following the report’s release, Durham can contemplate an ultimate Zen-like question: If a 305-page report proves a concerted political hoax but no one is there to read it, does it make a difference?
Jonathan Turley, an attorney, constitutional law scholar and legal analyst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Washington University Law School.
194 thoughts on “Durham Report Condemns the FBI’s Russia Probe — But Don’t Expect It to Make a Difference”
What would 98% of the other countries in the world do if the had a coup? Laugh it off?
It seems to me what Durham uncovered was criminal. It’s pretty cut and dried. Read the statute.
See 18 U.S. Code § 595 – Interference by administrative employees of Federal, State, or Territorial Governments
If top DoJ officials, FBI managers and Clinton Campaign execs want to claim severe mental impairment as a defense, then good luck (providing the venue is not in the vicinity of the US Capitol).
These people need to be taken to court.
I wonder what their defense would be.
Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Seth Rich’s laptop.
Huma Abedin’s laptop.
Jeffrey Epstein’s blackmail tapes.
Jan 6th fake “insurrection.”
Gov Whitmer fake kidnap plot.
That’s how the FBI has subverted America.
Jonathan: We think we know why you followed Jimmy Finkelstein over to his new digital platform “the Messenger”. He will feature your columns. And who is Finkelstein? He was an early backer of Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016. When Trump won Finkelstein was instrumental in getting his wife, Pamela Gross, an “unpaid volunteer” job in the WH advising Melania Trump. Finkelstein fawned over Melania and told his Hill staff not to publish anything critical or unflattering of Melania. The Hill published 20 articles about Melania–all very flattering. Finkelstein denied there was any “conflict of interest” between Pamela’s employment as Melania’s aide and Finkelstein’s editorial policy at The Hill. In fact, many staff at The Hill weren’t even told about Pamela’s work with Melania. The boss only confided in his most senior editors. Nor this important information disclosed to readers. It was a well guarded secret. Why would Finkelstein keep his wife’s employment at the WH secret if there was no “conflict of interest”?
The new editor of “the Messenger” claims “our talented journalists are committed to demystifying the onslaught of misinformation and delivering impartial and objective news”. I think we have some idea what that statement really means. As you say in your opening The Messenger will fight your battle against “advocacy journalism”–your complaint about how the mainstream media continues to point out all of Trump’s lies and legal troubles and did not treat the Durham report seriously. Judging from Finkelstein’s track record I doubt we will see much “impartial and objective news” on his new platform. Fox says it news is “fair and balanced”. That claim crashed and burned in the Dominion defamation lawsuit! I doubt “The Messenger” will be much different than Fox when it comes to reporting the news. Finkelstein has his own version of “advocacy journalism”–pro-Trump and continuing fawning coverage of Melania.
Where’s the negative press for Dr. Jill? Hmmm? Where is it?
Can’t find many negative hit jobs on the “Dr”….and that’s not because there ain’t nothing bad to report about Dr. Jill. There’s plenty of it — all being stifled.