Below is my column in the New York Post, which turned out to be the theme for the cover. Despite impressive efforts at spinning the findings by the media, the Durham Report highlighted two scandals. First, there was a comprehensive effort of the political and media establishments to perpetrate one of the great hoaxes in history — a political hit job that ultimately derailed an American presidency. Second, there was no real accountability for that effort for the main players from Clinton to Comey to Congress. It was much like The Murder on the Orient Express. The question is not “whodunit” but who didn’t do it. Spoiler alert: they all did it so no one was punished.
Here is the column:
In Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” detective Hercule Poirot observes, “The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
That may be the best summary of the findings of special prosecutor John Durham in his 305-page report issued yesterday.
Not only did the impossible happen, but they all did it: the Clinton campaign, the FBI, and the media.
In hindsight, it would appear impossible.
A political campaign hatches a plot to create a false claim of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Making this even more implausible is that the CIA and FBI knew about the plan.
As detailed in the report, President Barack Obama and his national security team were briefed on how “a trusted foreign source” revealed “a Clinton campaign plan to vilify Trump by tying him to Vladimir Putin so as to divert attention from her own concerns relating to her use of a private email server.”
It then happened a few days later.
It was a plot that required everyone to take a hand in derailing a duly elected president and effectively shutting down his administration for three years of investigation and prosecutions.
In this conspiracy, there were dozens of key participants in the campaign, the government, and the media. Here are a few of the characters implicated in this report.
The report details how the Russian collusion conspiracy was invented by Clinton operatives and put into the now-infamous Steele dossier, funded by the Clinton campaign.
The funding was hidden as legal expenses by then-Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias. (The Clinton campaign was later sanctioned by the FEC over its hiding of the funding.)
When Vogel tried to report the story, he said Elias “pushed back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.’” Times reporter Maggie Haberman declared, “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.”
It was not just reporters who asked the Clinton campaign about its role in the Steele dossier. John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, was questioned by Congress and denied categorically any contractual agreement with Fusion GPS. Sitting beside him was Elias, who reportedly said nothing to correct the misleading information given to Congress.
Durham details how Elias played an active role in tracking the media campaign to push the false allegations. (Elias was recently severed by the Democratic National Committee from further representation and has been previously sanctioned in the federal courts in other litigation.)
The report details how false claims like the existence of a “pee tape” showing Trump engaging in disgusting acts with prostitutes in Moscow came from a Clinton operative, Chuck Dolan, with no known basis in fact.
Likewise, now-national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Clinton personally pushed an absurd campaign-created conspiracy theory about a secret communication line between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin through a Russian bank.
The Clinton campaign later admitted that it had indeed funded the dossier, but Clinton continued to claim that the election was stolen from her by the Russians.
Of course, this conspiracy could not occur without the assistance of the FBI, which Durham found played an eager role due to a “predisposition” of key players against Trump.
Special counsel John Durham completed a four-year review of the FBI’s investigation of allegations Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia
Durham found the FBI’s probe was “seriously flawed” and had no basis in evidence, according to a 306-page report released Monday.
The special prosecutor found that FBI officials “discounted or willfully ignored material information that did not support the narrative of a collusive relationship between Trump and Russia.”
Durham also found investigators put too much faith in information provided by Trump’s political opponents and carried out surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without genuinely believing there was probable cause to do so.
Despite the scathing findings, Durham did not recommend criminal prosecutions or widespread FBI reforms, writing that “the answer is not the creation of new rules but a renewed fidelity to the old.”
Durham’s investigation lasted more than four years, longer than the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe itself.
The dossier was discredited early by American intelligence, which learned that it might itself be Russian disinformation.
There never was support for the allegations, but the FBI launched and maintained a massive investigation anyway.
Durham noted that the FBI showed a completely different approach to allegations involving the Clinton campaign.
The Trump investigation was a “noticeable departure from how it approached prior matters involving possible attempted foreign election interference plans aimed at the Clinton campaign.”
Nevertheless, former FBI Director James Comey would continue to reference the entirely unsupported “pee tape” in interviews.
Even though investigators found no support for the campaign-created story, in a 2018 interview, Comey delighted viewers by saying: “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 FBI was assisted in this effort by members of Congress on the House Intelligence Committee.
Even when the false narrative was played out and the lack of support was becoming obvious, former House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) assured the public, on March 13, 2018, that “I can certainly say with confidence that there is significant evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia.”
He never produced the promised evidence.
The most essential player in this conspiracy was the media, which pumped up the dossier as gospel. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow assured her viewers that “no major thing from the dossier has been conclusively disproven.”
On CNN, one of the guests insisted, “I think we actually have to stop calling it the ‘infamous dossier’ and increasingly calling it ‘accurate dossier,’ the ‘damning dossier.’”
CNN host Alisyn Camerota attacked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and said the dossier “hasn’t been discredited, in fact, it has been opposite, it has been corroborated.”
Durham has laid out how the most cited claims were not supported, let alone corroborated.
Indeed, he found there was no basis for this investigation to have been launched in the first place.
Yet, like in “Murder on the Orient Express,” all of the culprits were then let go.
Comey went on to make millions selling books and giving speeches on “ethical leadership.”
Former FBI special agent Peter Strzok was given a job by CNN.
Clinton general counsel Marc Elias is advising people on election ethics and running a group to “defend democracy.”
After all, this was a collective effort. In Washington, the more people involved in a conspiracy, the less culpable it becomes.
They all did it, so no one did.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School.