Most media coverage of the Durham report is preposterous, and becomes more so if you read the highly detailed 306-page document. In its initial coverage, for example, The New York Times went out of its way to emphasize that the report relates to failings inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation that had already been exposed and thus contains little that is “new.”
Most coverage failed to relay details and facts from the report, preferring to instead spin the spin. The Washington Post reported that Durham had disappointed “conservative conspiracy theorists,” who had “anticipated [that the report] would expose a ‘deep state’ scheme to undermine then-candidate Donald Trump.” The Associated Press likewise stated that the report fell short of “Trump supporters’ expectations that Durham would reveal a ‘deep state’ plot.”
An obvious retort is to ask: What is a deep-state conspiracy or plot? Would you know it if you saw it? Isn’t the phraseology “deep-state conspiracy” a semantic dodge that simultaneously attempts to smear anyone who would believe that giant intelligence agencies might take an interest in politics, while also keeping the key issues impossibly vague?
Labels aside, Special Counsel John Durham’s “Report on Matters Related to Intelligence Activities and Investigations Arising Out of the 2016 Presidential Campaigns” shows, among other things, that the FBI repeatedly broke its own rules while applying one standard in dealing with the Clinton campaign but an entirely different one in dealing with Team Trump. In at least three investigations of the Clinton campaign, the FBI went easy on the Democratic nominee. But with Trump the bureau was aggressive, to put it mildly.
The investigations related to the Clinton campaign were handled at the level of FBI field offices, as is the norm. But the markedly hostile investigation against Trump “was managed from FBI Headquarters.” When dealing with Clinton, the bureau followed the rules with care, moved slowly, and considered all angles. When dealing with Trump, the FBI assumed the worst, rushed into action, cut corners, and bent rules to speed its probe.
A glaring example of this double standard began
in late 2014, before Clinton formally declared her presidential candidacy, [when] the FBI learned from a well-placed [confidential human source] that a foreign government [identified in the Durham report as Foreign Government-2] was planning to send an individual … to contribute to Clinton’s anticipated presidential campaign, as a way to gain influence with Clinton should she win the presidency.
The FBI field office involved quickly “attempted to obtain expedited approval for” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act-authorized interception of electronic communications between the representative of Foreign Government-2 and the Clinton campaign. A certified copy of this application was sent to “FBI Headquarters for final approval.” Strangely, the FISA application remained “‘in limbo’ for approximately four months,” according to an agent from the field office involved. Another FBI agent is quoted as saying the FISA application lingered because everyone was “super more careful” [sic] and “scared with the big name.” The FBI was allegedly “‘tippy-toeing’ around [Clinton] because there was a chance she would be the next president.”
Part of the concern, per Durham, was that the FBI didn’t want to eavesdrop on the Clinton campaign for fear of catching the candidate on tape, possibly talking to the wrong kind of people. Ultimately, the FISA warrant to monitor the foreign would-be contributor to the campaign was granted, but on the condition that Hillary Clinton receive a so-called defensive briefing.
The FBI gives defensive briefings when agents “obtain information indicating a foreign adversary is trying or will try to influence a specific US person and when there is no indication that that specific US person could be working with the adversary.” For the Intelligence Community, the downside of a defensive briefing is that it likely undermines any further counterintelligence investigation into the foreign influence operation.
The FBI’s handling of potential foreign influence upon the Clinton campaign contrasts markedly with how the bureau treated similar allegations about the Trump campaign.
On July 28, 2016, the FBI received information from the Australian government that one of its senior diplomats, Alexander Downer, had conversed with an unpaid foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign named George Papadopoulos at a bar a few months earlier; and that Papadopoulos described how “the Trump campaign was involved in a conspiracy or collaborative relationship with officials of the Russian government.” However, Durham tells us, later investigation revealed that neither the Australian diplomat nor Papadopoulos came away from the conversation with that conclusion.
A seemingly distorted report of the Papadopoulos conversation was handed to Peter Strzok, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, and a man with “pronounced” and well-documented “hostile feelings toward Trump.”
In now-public text messages dating from before and after opening the investigation of the Trump campaign, Strzok and another FBI agent, Lisa Page, with whom he was having an extramarital affair, referred to both Trump and Bernie Sanders as “idiot[s].” In texts going back to 2015, Strzok and his girlfriend Page bantered about Trump being “loathsome,” “awful,” a “douche,” an “utter idiot,” a “disaster.”
The FBI made no effort to corroborate the allegations relayed from the Australians. Nor did the FBI, and the Intelligence Community in general, have other verified information linking Trump to the Russian government. Neither did the bureau offer the Trump campaign a defensive briefing. Instead, Strzok, at the direction of his boss, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, launched a full-scale investigation into the Trump campaign called Crossfire Hurricane.
Two weeks later when Page texted her worries that Trump might really become president, Strzok reassured her: “No. No, he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
Crossfire Hurricane’s first targets were Trump campaign associates: Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone. As the probe grew, its agents applied for and received four FISA warrants. Two of these would later be found to have been improperly obtained, and an FBI attorney named Kevin Clinesmith would be found guilty of altering an email that was later used in one of the FISA warrant applications.
Around the same time that Strzok launched Crossfire Hurricane, the Clinton campaign contracted the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS to produce the infamous Steele dossier. This was part of what the FBI referred to as the Clinton Plan, an effort to smear Trump as being a Russian agent. Strzok and the other agents in Crossfire Hurricane didn’t learn of the Steele dossier until September, but then quickly folded its unproven allegations into their campaign against Trump.
Ultimately Crossfire Hurricane found no evidence of Russian collusion. Strzok, Page, and McCabe were all, for various reasons, fired from the FBI.
Of course, none of this matters. We have entered an age of hallucinatory politics in which conclusions precede evidence. No amount of documentation showing an FBI campaign against Trump will break the spell of Trump Derangement Syndrome.
One wonders why Strzok harbored such hostility toward Trump. Part of it no doubt is that by the time Crossfire Hurricane was launched, Trump had been speaking to ever-larger crowds about his desire to dismantle and upend the American-centered world order that had been erected upon the political rubble of World War II. McCabe and Strzok were just being themselves, conservative leaders of the establishment.
As a man of the left, I appreciate Trump’s chaotic anti-imperialist foreign policy and have explained as much in these pages. I don’t agree with most of his economic, environmental, or immigration policies. Regardless, none of that makes me support FBI election-tampering. Leftists should remember that Strzok and Page expressed just as much antipathy for Sanders as they reserved for Trump. If election subversion against Trump is tolerated, it will be practiced against left-wing candidates, as well. Election interference by intelligence agencies threatens the end of democracy. It must not be tolerated.
Yet much of the left is lost to Trump Derangement Syndrome and can’t see this. Leftists criticize the Democrats at dinner parties and feel themselves to be in opposition. But in reality, they practice total fealty to the Democrats for fear that every new election “could be the last.” Most of the left has some commitment to democratic procedure, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and a more pacific foreign policy. Yet as soon as Trump is paraded out, progressives run to the imagined shelter of the Democratic Party that then proceeds to betray them.
With each cycle of Trump Derangement Syndrome, the left becomes more disoriented. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on MSNBC, addressing Trump’s recent CNN town hall, didn’t attack the former president as an ultra-rich tax-dodger with a record of ripping off workers. Instead, she went after the “platforming of atrocious disinformation” based on “a series of extremely irresponsible decisions that put a sexual-abuse victim at risk.”
Deep is the trouble in what Trump has called “our poor, poor country.”