Special counsel John Durham is reportedly considering criminal prosecutions of FBI agents and others as he investigates information provided to the FBI in 2016 that spurred on the Trump-Russia investigation, with the federal prosecutor reportedly scrutinizing whether the tipsters knew their claims were false.
Former Attorney General William Barr quietly appointed Durham to be special counsel in October after assigning him the task as a prosecutor in May 2019, and a report from the Wall Street Journal says it has continued, presenting information to a grand jury and looking into possible prosecutions beyond the single guilty plea from ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith.
Durham “has been examining potential criminal charges against several lower-level FBI employees, and people who aren’t in government,” according to the outlet, citing “people familiar with the matter.” Durham prosecutors “have focused on people outside the FBI who provided information that helped to fuel the 2016 investigation.” Durham’s team is reportedly “examining whether those who provided the information knew it was false at the time, and what the FBI subsequently did with it.”
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report in December 2019 that concluded Christopher Steele's Democratic-funded dossier played a “central and essential” role in the FBI's effort to obtain wiretap orders against Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The DOJ watchdog criticized the bureau for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions.”
Robert Mueller’s special counsel report in 2019 concluded the Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
The new report said, “Durham has asked questions about evidence related to allegations that a Trump Organization server was secretly communicating with Russian bank Alfa Bank.”
Horowitz’s report shows Steele pushed the claim Alfa Bank was a secret conduit between Trump and the Kremlin during discussions with State Department DOJ officials in 2016.
Horowitz said, “The FBI investigated whether there were cyber links between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, but had concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links.”
Steele testified in a British court that Democratic lawyer Michael Sussman provided him with claims about Alfa Bank’s purported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a late July meeting. These allegations made their way into a mid-September 2016 memo that became part of Steele’s dossier. Shortly after writing that memo, Steele met with Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, who was the general counsel for Clinton’s campaign and had personally hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS on the campaign’s behalf.
Sussman is reportedly the source for news stories in 2016 about alleged secretive server claims. Former FBI General Counsel James Baker testified in 2018 that Sussman shared the Alfa Bank claims with him during a September 2016 meeting.
Hillary Clinton tweeted on Halloween 2016 that “computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” She shared a statement from her campaign foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, who is now Biden’s national security adviser, who said that “the secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.”
The new report also said, “Durham has focused on other sources of information to the FBI.”
Steele reportedly refused to hand notes over to Durham that the former MI6 agent took during meetings with the FBI in July and October 2016, as the now-special counsel scrutinizes whether the bureau improperly disclosed classified information to the former MI6 agent.
The FBI revealed to Steele that Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was under investigation after a “Friendly Foreign Government,” then-Australian envoy Alexander Downer, relayed a conversation about Papadopoulos being told about alleged Russian dirt on Clinton, and Steele told Fusion GPS. The FBI also told Steele about Page, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Trump campaign adviser Michael Flynn.
Horowitz said Steele's main source, Igor Danchenko, “contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ in” Steele’s dossier. Durham is reportedly scrutinizing Danchenko’s prior work at the Brookings Institution.
Stefan Halper, a Cambridge professor, worked as an FBI informant in 2016 and recorded discussions with at least three Trump 2016 campaign members: Page, Papadopoulos, and campaign co-Chairman Sam Clovis. Collusion denials by the Trump campaign associates were not provided to the FISA court.
William Barnett, the FBI agent who handled Flynn's case in 2016 and 2017, called the Trump-Russia investigation “Collusion Clue” and argued many investigators were out to “get Trump.” The DOJ said Barnett said a claim Halper made about Flynn was not accurate.
The new report also said that “beyond the role of outside tipsters,” Durham has also “examined how the FBI first came to open the investigation.”
Former FBI agent Peter Strzok admitted last year he got a key element about the genesis of the Trump-Russia investigation wrong in his book following a question from the Washington Examiner.
The “opening electronic communication” was authored by Strzok and authorized by FBI counterintelligence official Bill Priestap at the end of July 2016. The investigation looked into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia after Downer informed the United States about the claims from Papadopoulos, whom the FBI didn’t interview until January 2017. It was then that Papadopoulos revealed his April 2016 conversations with mysterious Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, whom he claimed told him the Russians had damaging information on Clinton.
Horowitz found the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation had “sufficient factual predication.” Barr and Durham disagreed, with the special counsel saying “we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
The new report also said Durham scrutinized a “2017 U.S. intelligence report” on Russian election interference, adding Durham “isn’t expected to bring any criminal charges in connection with that intelligence assessment.”
The January 2017 assessment from the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the FBI concluded with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016” and that Russia worked to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate former Secretary of State Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” and “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Adm. Mike Rogers of the NSA diverged from CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey on one key aspect, expressing only “moderate confidence” rather than “high confidence” that Putin “aspired to help” Trump’s election chances by “discrediting” Clinton “and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report in April defending the 2017 assessment, saying it “presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis for the case of unprecedented Russian interference.”
But a report from the Republicans leading the House Intelligence Committee in 2018 concluded that “judgments on Putin's strategic intentions did not … employ proper analytic tradecraft.”
Durham is looking into whether the CIA director took politicized actions to pressure the rest of the intelligence community to match his conclusions about Putin’s motivations.
The new report said Durham “is presenting evidence to a grand jury and preparing a lengthy report expected to be completed in the coming months.” Durham’s report was supposedly supposed to be finished “by the end of this summer, though that target is likely to be pushed back.” The report “is expected to be long and detailed, with few sweeping conclusions.”
The Biden Justice Department said last month it agrees that “in addition to the confidential report” Durham is required to submit to DOJ, he should also submit his final report “in a form that will permit public dissemination.”
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