WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was based on flimsy evidence and seriously flawed, an independent United States (US) prosecutor said in a report published on Monday.
Special Counsel John Durham was appointed in 2019 by then-president Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr to address allegations – made most prominently by Trump himself – that the Russia investigation was a political “witch hunt”.
Durham’s more than 300-page report follows a four-year investigation that continued under Barr’s successor, Attorney General Merrick Garland, an appointee of Democratic President Joe Biden.
The long-awaited report was highly critical of the origins of “Crossfire Hurricane”, the FBI’s probe into allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“Neither US law enforcement nor the Intelligence Community appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at the commencement of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the report said.
Durham, a former federal prosecutor, also said the FBI and Justice Department had displayed a double standard in the manner in which they investigated Trump and his 2016 rival for the White House, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“The speed and manner in which the FBI opened and investigated Crossfire Hurricane during the presidential election season based on raw, unanalysed, and uncorroborated intelligence also reflected a noticeable departure from how it approached prior matters involving possible attempted foreign election interference plans aimed at the Clinton campaign,” the report said.
Durham said that “senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigour towards the information that they received, especially information received from politically-affiliated persons and entities”.
This led investigators to “act without appropriate objectivity or restraint in pursuing allegations of collusion or conspiracy between a US political campaign and a foreign power”, he said.
Trump, who is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, welcomed the Durham report in a post on his Truth Social platform.
“Wow! After extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes the FBI never should have launched the Trump-Russia probe!” Trump said.
“In other words, the American public was scammed, just as it is being scammed right now by those who don’t want to see greatness for America!” he added, apparently referring to the multiple ongoing criminal investigations targetting him.
In a statement, the FBI said the current leadership of the bureau has implemented dozens of corrective actions.
“Had those reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in the report could have been prevented,” the FBI said in a statement.
Durham’s task, according to an order by then-attorney general Barr, was to look into the origins of Crossfire Hurricane, which was launched in July 2016, as well as special counsel Robert Mueller’s subsequent investigation initiated in May 2017.
Both homed in on Russian hacking and social media manipulation in favour of Trump in 2016, and multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.
The Mueller probe expanded that to cover alleged acts of obstruction by Trump.
In the end Mueller gained convictions of six members of the Trump campaign, and issued indictments of 25 Russians.
But Mueller found no evidence of criminal cooperation with Russia by the Trump campaign, and his evidence of alleged obstruction by Trump was rejected by Barr.