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US & World

The Trump-Russia Scandal Was A Witch Hunt … Now What?

Digesting what the Durham report does – and doesn’t – mean.

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As I have often pointed out, it is important to separate former U.S. president Donald Trump from the subject matter of the stories swirling around him. The problem? It is almost impossible to separate Trump from those stories … especially considering he is the instigator and/ or the central focus of so many of them.

If possible, though, delineating what one thinks of Trump from one’s assessment of a particular issue or scandal is important. Why? Because the gravitational weight of the confirmation bias that exists among Trump sycophants (and Trump haters) is enough to tilt the planet – meaning it will easily tilt your view of something you ought to be approaching with unbiased eyes.

Still, I find it hard to take my own advice on this point … and I consider myself to be a rare agnostic when it comes to America’s forty-fifth president.

Last year, one of the first columns I penned upon my return from summer vacation was a preview of Trump’s larger-than-life positioning in the context of the impending ‘First in the South’ 2024 presidential primary election. Which is expanding, incidentally. In reminding readers of his many fiscal failures (a.k.a. why I didn’t endorse him in 2020), I also pointed out that “the people demonizing Trump are far more frightening to me than those who worship him – and far more dangerous to the future of the American Republic than his MAGA minions, in my estimation.”

We received a glimpse of that earlier this month with the release of the much-anticipated Durham Report, a document compiled by U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) special counsel John H. Durham.

(Click to View)

John H. Durham (Getty)

Clocking in at 306 pages, the report (.pdf) documented “matters related to intelligence activities and investigations arising out of the 2016 presidential campaigns” and was submitted to the office of attorney general Merrick Garland on May 12, 2023. It was publicly released shortly thereafter.

The Durham Report rewinds the clock to 2016, when Trump was accused of colluding with Russian interests during his first presidential campaign – prompting the launch of a full-scale federal investigation dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane.” Trump has called this investigation “the greatest witch hunt in history.”

“They spied on my campaign, and bribed people all over the place, and then go after ME,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

Is he right?

Four years ago, former DOJ special counsel Robert Mueller published a report acknowledging there was no evidence indicating “members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

“The special counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated with (Russia) in its efforts,” U.S. attorney general Bill Barr concluded.

But what about those investigating Trump? Did they break the law? Was the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in fact “weaponized” to go after Trump – while at the same time ignoring more serious allegations against his 2016 rivals?

“Thanks to the (Durham) report, the public finally has a clear and reliable accounting of possibly the most complicated scandal in American history,” Mark Hemingway wrote for The Washington Examiner last week, referring to the document as “devastating to the credibility of the FBI and those who championed the collusion investigation into Trump.”

That much certainly seems accurate.

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Among the most troubling revelations contained in the report dealt with the origins of a disproven dossier which accused Trump of engaging in “perverted sexual acts” with multiple prostitutes years ago at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow. These acts – alleged to have included “golden showers” (or urination for sexual gratification) – were all part of an “arranged/monitored” Russian intelligence operation which the dossier insisted was exploiting “Trump’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion.”

The alleged “kompromat” – or compromising information – said to have been obtained during this intelligence operation was allegedly being leveraged for the purpose of “cultivating, supporting, and assisting” Trump as an asset to disrupt the “western alliance.”

Regular members of our audience know this false report was prepared by British spy Christopher Steele at the behest of #NeverTrump “Republican” operatives and, later, for the presidential campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. It eventually wound up in the hands of U.S. Senator John McCain – and was used by the FBI to obtain warrants from the Foreign International Surveillance Act (FISA) court to spy on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Where did the information in the Steele dossier come from, though?

According to the report, its original source was Igor Danchenko, a Russian spy. When Danchecko’s information was revealed to be false – fabricated, even – rather than discrediting Danchenko the FBI placed him on its payroll to keep him from talking. All while warrants for wiretaps on the Trump campaign continued to be issued.

“The FBI bought his silence,” Hemingway noted. “If Danchenko were forced to answer questions publicly about the dossier, it would be humiliating for the FBI. As long as Danchenko was on the FBI payroll, he was not subject to congressional oversight due to policies preserving the secrecy of FBI investigation ‘sources and methods.’”

While Danchenko was being silenced in secret, Democrats were continuing to ramp up the Trump-Russia claims publicly. Hell, years after the dossier was proven to be false U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn was still touting its veracity and calling for additional investigations to “get to the bottom of what is causing this president to act so irrationally.”

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Entrance to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Getty)

Every bit as concerning as the extent to which this misinformation was amplified was the double standard employed by the FBI.

“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,” the report noted.

Also, Clinton’s team received briefings on the alleged interference targeting its campaign. Trump’s campaign? It got wiretapped without warning. That is the truly frightening conclusion for me. As I noted at the time, my news outlet “never subscribed to the notion that Trump colluded with Russia to rig the 2016 presidential election.” 

“The real rigged election in 2016 was the one that resulted Clinton becoming the Democratic presidential nominee – not Trump winning the White House,” I wrote.

Durham was antiseptic in assessing the DOJ and FBI’s politically motivated failure, stating “the (justice) department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law” and that “senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor towards the information that they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons and entities.”

Digging deeper into the report (yes, I actually read the whole thing over the weekend), Durham called the FBI’s handling of the case “seriously deficient” and noted the agency’s “compartmentation” and “unusual structure … may have limited the amount of oversight that it received.”

He also extensively discussed … wait for it … confirmation bias.

“Throughout the duration of Crossfire Hurricane, facts and circumstances that were inconsistent with the premise that Trump and/ or persons associated with the Trump campaign were involved in a collusive or conspiratorial relationship with the Russian government were ignored or simply assessed away,” Durham noted, adding that “the FBI’s failure to critically analyze information that ran counter to the narrative of a Trump/Russia collusive relationship exhibited throughout Crossfire Hurricane is extremely troublesome.”

The agency “badly underperformed and failed, not only in its duties to the public, but also in preventing the severe reputational harm that has befallen the FBI as a consequence,” the special counsel concluded.

Such conclusions aren’t going to land anybody in prison, obviously, nor are they going to slake the thirst of hardcore MAGA adherents for revenge against corrupt deep state actors. But they do expose how our government institutions – not unlike our tech platforms – are willing to press their thumbs on the scale based on partisan or ideological biases. Whether you love Trump, hate Trump or are, like me, indifferent to the man – that’s frightening.

America can – and must – do better than this.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

    Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

    Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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    10 comments

    stephen henry Top fan May 22, 2023 at 1:54 pm

    You are too smart a man to believe that the Russia-Trump investigation was a witch hunt.

    Reply
    Homer Simpson Smarts May 23, 2023 at 9:14 am

    This is the guy who praises Alexander Prioleau, who are you kidding?

    Reply
    PGT Beauregard III Top fan May 22, 2023 at 3:15 pm

    This is hilarious, but a fiction. The IG’s report handed Durham his only crime, and demonstrated, along with the Republican lead US Senate investigation, that Russia intervened on the side of the Trump campaign in a full-fledged cyber and humint espionage campaign, the Trump campaign solicited the help, and were desirous of the illegal intervention into the U.S. election. Durham took out all the paper from his personnel file, and used it as toilet paper in service to his Dear Leader Barr.

    Reply
    Say what? May 22, 2023 at 5:25 pm

    Republicans think everyone is as stupid as they and their base are. FitsNews being the bastion.

    The only witch hunt was the Durham Report itself. It failed on every level to find any criminal wrong doing by the FBI or any Federal Law Enforcement. And pointed out how many ties Trump still has the Putin.

    Why the heck is a trump STILL praising Putin any and every chance he gets? That is all the proof you need as to Trump’s allege CS to Russia.

    You would have been wise to ignore

    Reply
    Your Average Republican May 23, 2023 at 9:13 am

    Oh, so NOW you’re going to believe what Donald Trump says.

    Don’t you know by now, we only pay attention to what he says based on our feelings? Our feelings that Trump is our God-King and Daddy can do no wrong?

    Reply
    Nanker Phelge May 22, 2023 at 10:43 pm

    Will, your continued claims of being “agnostic” and “indifferent” to Trump are constantly refuted by the other actual words you write.

    Saying something doesn’t make it so, Skippy.

    Reply
    Mind the Wood May 23, 2023 at 9:11 am

    Dude, Will has been shining Trump’s shoes with his tongue since he was invited on the plane.

    Reply
    rpinck Top fan May 23, 2023 at 8:26 am

    JFK, RFK, MLK? FBI has always been “weaponized.”

    Reply
    CongareeCatfish Top fan May 23, 2023 at 9:50 am

    I don’t know that “witchhunt” is the right word to describe Crossfire Hurricane and the related Mueller investigation. That term, relating back to the Salem witch trials, is really meant more to connotate wild, dogged, irrational, ignorant persecutions….but the people engaging in it really do believe that they are on the side of righteousness. Now there were surely some involved at mid to lower levels of those investigations who were not in the “know” of the inner circle who held that kind of fervor and bias, but when you get to the top eschelons, I don’t think you can place them in the “witchhunt” category. They were in the “hoax” category – they had plenty of evidence and knowledge before them that the whole thing was pretty much manufactured whole cloth, and intentionally pushed it anyway – starting when the CIA got wind of the machinations of the Clinton campaign back in August of 2016 and directly told the White House that Team Clinton was ginning up/manufacturing a fake scandal, and later when British intelligence told the FBI and CIA that they had no corroborating evidence wanted no part in Steele’s work product. The list of additional evidence showing that the top tier knew this investigation had no meaningful predicate and support is really long. We need a Church Committee II to rein in the FBI and push out the rot. Outside of the armed services, the FBI was probably the most respected federal agency or institution in the eyes of the people going back decades (in spite of the MLK stuff). It has fallen so, so far.

    Reply
    Yawn May 23, 2023 at 6:27 pm

    This blog post is no surprise.

    Fits”News” has been posting Russian propaganda fur years.

    Few idiots are as useful as Will Folks.

    Reply

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