Early on, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton smelled a rat. As Tom wrote in his 2020 book, A Republic Under Assault, Judicial Watch had for years been digging deep into the origins of the notorious anti-Trump Steele Dossier—“a thirty-five-page report filled with ludicrous, salacious and completely unfounded allegations”—and the relentless campaign against President Donald Trump. “Let us cast our minds back to April 2016,” Tom wrote. An investigative firm named Fusion GPS was hired to dig up dirt on candidate Trump. Fusion GPS in turn hired former British spy Christopher Steele. Steele produced the dossier, which was leaked to the press and caused a media sensation.
“Please focus on one of the most pertinent facts in this case,” Tom wrote. “Fusion GPS was hired by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.”
Next, Tom wrote, the FBI “used [the] completely fake dossier paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to spy on Donald Trump.”
While the media and official Washington remained transfixed by allegations of Trump depredations for years, Judicial Watch proceeded to uncover key information showing that the Clintons and their allies were behind the smears that trigged a sweeping FBI investigation and special counsel probes that ruined lives and careers and nearly toppled a presidency.
Judicial Watch uncovered the FBI “EC”—the electronic communication that officially launched the “Crossfire Hurricane” counterintelligence investigation of President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The document was written by Peter Strzok, the deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. An avowed anti-Trump partisan, Strzok was fired after an inspector general investigation revealed anti-Trump text messages (including one where Strzok vowed to “stop” Trump) between him and his lover, FBI attorney Lisa Page.
Judicial Watch exposed serious problems with the Crossfire Hurricane, court-approved FBI surveillance of an innocent American citizen, Carter Page, a part-time Trump advisor. In August 2018, in a Judicial Watch case, the Justice Department admitted in a court filing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court held no hearings on the spy warrant applications targeting Page. Judicial Watch litigation also uncovered the secret warrants that confirmed the FBI and Justice Department misled the court in withholding evidence that the Clinton campaign was behind the information used to persuade the court to approve the surveillance warrants targeting Page.
Judicial Watch proved that high-level Justice Department and State Department officials were involved in surreptitiously circulating anti-Trump smears at the highest levels of government and providing information to the 2016 Clinton campaign. Judicial Watch obtained FBI “302” interview reports with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. Ohr told FBI investigators that “reporting on Trump’s ties to Russia were going to the Clinton Campaign” and to “Jon Winer at the U.S. State Department and the FBI.”
Judicial Watch put sunlight on Steele Dossier author Christopher Steele’s close association with the FBI, including payments to Steele by the FBI for work as a confidential source. Documents obtained by Judicial Watch show at least eleven FBI payments to Steele, note that he was admonished by the FBI for unspecified reasons, and that eventually the bureau grew wary of Steele and dropped him as a source.
Tom insisted for years that top Obama Administration officials knew exactly what was going on. “Obama knew. Clinton knew. Biden knew,” Tom tweeted. “Comey knew. Brennan knew. McCabe knew. Strzok knew. Clapper knew. Schiff knew. FBI knew. DOJ knew. CIA knew. State knew. They all knew Trump was innocent but they smeared and spied on him.”
This month, significant new evidence comes to correct the historical record—and prove Tom right. The new evidence comes from the report of Special Counsel John Durham.
Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham in April 2019 to get to the bottom of the Russia mess. Barr told Congress he wanted a review of “the genesis and conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.”
Durham’s prosecution record is a bust—two failed court cases and one low-level plea deal—but his 300-page, highly detailed final report is sensational.
Durham’s central mandate was to investigate the opening and conduct of the Crossfire Hurricane probe into possible Trump collusion with elements of the Russian government, particularly whether “any person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence, or law-enforcement activities directed at the 2016 presidential campaign.”
“Our findings,” the Durham Report notes, “…are sobering.”
Finding: at the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, there was no evidence of collusion.
“Neither U.S. 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 Durham Report noted. [Italics added].
Durham goes into stunning detail. He notes that Crossfire Hurricane “was opened as a full investigation without [the FBI] ever having spoken to the persons who provided the information…without (i) any significant review of its own intelligence databases, (ii) collection and examination of any relevant intelligence from other U.S. intelligence entities, (iii) interviews of witnesses essential to understand the information it had received, (iv) using any of the standard analytical tools typically employed by the FBI in evaluating raw intelligence. Had it done so…the FBI would have learned that their own experienced Russia analysts had no information about Trump being involved with Russian leadership officials, nor were others in sensitive positions at the CIA, the NSA, and the State Department aware of such evidence.”
Finding: Obama and Biden knew about Clinton plans to link Trump to Russia.
Durham reports that top Obama administration officials—including the president, Vice President Biden, the FBI director, the Attorney General and others—were briefed by CIA Director John Brennan on reports of a plan by the Clinton campaign to “vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.”
Elements of the Clinton Plan were disclosed in 2020 when the Director of National Intelligence reported it in a declassified letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Durham adds significant new context—and hints there is more hidden behind the walls of government secrecy. In a classified appendix to the report, Durham notes, there are “specific indications and additional facts that heightened the potential relevance of [the Clinton Plan intelligence] to the Office’s inquiry.”
In an interview with the special counsel, Durham notes, Hillary Clinton dodged questions about “her alleged plan to stir up a scandal between Trump and the Russians. Clinton stated it was ‘really sad,’ but ‘I get it, you have to go down every rabbit hole.’”
Finding: the Steele Dossier was a slanderous Clinton campaign creation devoid of real evidence and used by the FBI to target Carter Page.
Durham devotes more than 150 pages of his report to the Steele Dossier and its devastating ramifications. “Perkins Coie, a law firm acting as counsel to the Clinton campaign…retained Fusion GPS…to conduct opposition research on Trump and his associates.” Fusion GPS hired Steele. From July through December 2016, Durham wrote, “Steele and Fusion GPS prepared a series of reports containing derogatory information about purported ties between Trump and Russia. According to the reports, important connections between Trump and Russia ran through campaign manager Paul Manafort and foreign policy advisor Carter Page.”
Durham details at length how the Steele reports “played an important role in [FBI] applications to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] targeting Page, a U.S. person. The FBI relied substantially on the [Steele] reports to assert probable cause that Page was knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Russia.”
The problem with the FBI’s assertion? Durham notes: “the FBI was not able to corroborate a single substantive allegation contained in the Steele reports, despite protracted efforts to do so.” [Italics added.]
Finding: Clinton good—Trump bad—the FBI repeatedly gave all things Clinton a pass while hitting Trump hard.
In the course of his investigation, Durham learned of three attempts by foreign governments to funnel money to the Clintons or otherwise buy influence. Durham is measured, but it’s easy to read between the lines on the double standard. “The speed and manner in which the FBI opened and investigated Crossfire Hurricane during the presidential election season based on raw, unanalyzed, 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,” Durham noted.
In the eighteen months leading up to the 2016 election, “the FBI was required to deal with a number of proposed [Clinton] investigations that had the potential of affecting the election. In each of those instances, the FBI moved with considerable caution.”
In one instance, the FBI ended the case after its confidential source was found to be funneling money to the Clintons. In a second case, the FBI placed so many restrictions on how matters were to be handled that “essentially no investigative activities occurred for months leading up to the election.” In the third case, the FBI elected to give “defensive briefings” to Clinton and others. No such briefings, Durham notes, were offered at any time to the Trump campaign.
Finding: Investigations into the Clinton Foundation were killed by top Justice Department and FBI officials.
Durham notes that beginning in January 2016, three different FBI field offices—Little Rock, New York, and Washington—“opened investigations into possible criminal activity involving the Clinton Foundation.” Foreign governments were suspected of making, or planning to make, “contributions to the Foundation in exchange for favorable or preferential treatment” from Hillary Clinton.
Top Washington officials opposed the probes, Durham reports. One Justice Department section chief interviewed by Durham recalled the department’s reaction to a Clinton Foundation briefing as “hostile.”
At a February 2016 meeting about possibly closing the Clinton Foundation cases, a participant told Durham that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was “negative” and “annoyed” and “angry,” wanting to close the probes. “Why are we even doing this?” McCabe is reported to have said. Judicial Watch has reported extensively on McCabe and his Democratic Party ties.
FBI field officials prevailed on McCabe at that meeting to keep the investigations open, but six months later the inquiries were dead in the water, Durham reports. The Washington and Little Rock field office probes were folded into the New York investigation. But the New York investigation went nowhere because Justice Department branches in New York declined to issue subpoenas.
Last week, the New York Times added new twists to the Clinton Foundation story, noting that after prosecutors in New York declined to issue subpoenas, the case moved back to Little Rock. Prosecutors in Little Rock closed the case in January 2021 but not without protest from line FBI agents in Arkansas. The “top agent in Little Rock,” the Times reported, “wanted it known that career prosecutors, not FBI officials, were behind the decision” to close the case.
The Times reported that the FBI received an official “declination memo” closing the case in August 2021—effectively making the decision to stop investigating the Clinton Foundation a move by the Biden Administration.
That’s a move worth a closer look. So is the FBI claim, according to the Times, that all of the evidence developed during the investigation “has been returned or otherwise destroyed.”
After all the revelations about misconduct at the highest levels of government in the Trump Russia saga, it’s impossible to take FBI assertions at face value—as John Durham has proved, and as Tom Fitton presciently recognized so long ago.
MAY 31, 2023
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow Micah on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: email@example.com
Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org