If the FBI thinks its reputation was restored by John Durham’s latest – and likely last – courtroom defeat as special counsel, its powers of deduction are no better than when it launched a probe into whether ex-President Trump was a Russian asset based on the word of known fibbers and political operatives.
Igor Danchenko’s acquittal Tuesday followed that of Michael Sussmann earlier this year in the two cases Durham took to trial in his quest to find out why the FBI began an investigation that divided the country, ultimately cost upwards of $30 million, and stymied a presidency. Both men were essentially accused of lying to the FBI to “trick” the storied bureau into believing, in Sussmann’s case, that Trump communicated with his handlers at a Russian bank through some sort of bat signal emanating from Trump Tower, and in Danchenko’s case, a host of thoroughly implausible lies memorialized in the so-called “Steele dossier.”
Durham didn’t put the FBI on trial, at least not officially. But both cases revealed that the bureau was not so much duped as it was a willing participant in a vile hoax that began as the dirtiest political trick in American history. Sussmann, a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign operative, was accused of lying when he said his briefing to top FBI officials on Trump’s secret communications was merely the efforts of a concerned citizen. Danchenko was accused of telling former British spy and dossier compiler Christopher Steele about a cryptic call that relayed details about a “conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The call never happened, but no matter.
The FBI used the dossier, which also included lurid and completely false claims about Trump cavorting with urinating hookers in a Moscow hotel, to obtain four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to intercept Trump adviser Carter Page’s telephone and email conversations. The so-called “two-hop” rule meant those warrants basically opened the entire Trump campaign to FBI snooping.
Durham’s one victory to date was a guilty plea and slap on the wrist for former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who concealed the fact that the bureau knew Page had previously worked for the CIA, and thus was not likely to be spying for the Russians.
In the Sussmann and Danchenko cases, the juries had to be persuaded that the defendants’ lies helped drive the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation. Apparently, they were not. But maybe that was due to Durham’s convincing argument that key members of the James Comey FBI used information from Danchenko and Sussmann that they knew was bogus as pretexts to pursue their own motive: Get Donald Trump.
The trial of Danchenko, who the bureau had once investigated for spying on behalf of Russia, included bombshell revelations. So craven was the FBI’s desire to stop Orange Man that, as Steele’s dossier crumbled before its eyes, it offered him $1 million just before the election to prove any of it was true. Steele was unable to collect. And when the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog started snooping, the bureau made Danchenko, who by then it knew had lied, a paid confidential informant, putting him out of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s reach.
Americans who have been paying attention have long suspected that the FBI under Comey was a nest of anti-Trumpers, first bent on keeping him out of office and, when that failed, covering up their efforts and sabotaging a presidency. Durham stopped short of putting any FBI officials on trial, opting instead for the smaller fish. Critics on the Left will insist his failure to win convictions are proof there was never “any there there.” Critics on the Right will wonder if he simply shrank from a strategy that could have sunk the FBI or if he was there to paper over its actions all along.
But the FBI, which went on to collude with social media companies to bury the Hunter Biden laptop story ahead of the 2020 election and is now busy raiding the homes of peaceful pro-life protesters, should not be taking a victory lap. Durham exposed it for what it is, whether he meant to or not.
Aside from a report expected by the end of the year, Durham is likely finished. The FBI should be finished, too.