Both parties hear what they want to hear during rare Durham public hearing

Special counsel John Durham was both lionized and scrutinized by lawmakers as he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to discuss his probe into the FBI’s 2016 investigation into the Trump campaign. 

Durham provided little new information in his May report but confirmed a series of FBI missteps previously documented by the news media, including that the FBI failed to provide a full picture of the evidence when seeking a wiretap of Trump campaign aide Carter Page.  

In a rare public appearance Wednesday, Durham called his findings “sobering.” 

“The problems identified in the report are not susceptible to overnight fixes. … They cannot be addressed solely by enhancing training or additional policy requirements. Rather, what is required is accountability, both in terms of the standards to which our law enforcement personnel hold themselves and in the consequences they face for violation of laws and policies of relevance,” he said. 

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Over more than five hours of questioning, Republicans and Democrats zeroed in on the parts of the report most favorable to their positions.  

To Republicans, Durham’s scathing 305-page report supports their arguments about a Department of Justice and FBI that has been weaponized against former President Trump.  

Democrats argued the report backed the FBI’s initial decision to open a probe into the Trump campaign, something they view as significant, since Trump called for Durham's appointment with high expectations that he’d find damaging material on the FBI.  

Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a chief Trump defender who has cast the FBI as “rotted to the core,” said the report served as an example that the bureau requires serious reform, as “any one of us could be next.”  

“There is [a double standard at the Department of Justice]. That has got to change, and I don't think more training, more rules is going to do it. I think we have to fundamentally change the FISA process, and we have to use the appropriations process to limit how American tax dollars are spent at the Department of Justice,” he added, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has the power to authorize a wiretap. 

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It was a tip from an Australian diplomat that ignited the FBI’s interest. The diplomat had spoken with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who told him that Russia had damaging emails from then-competitor Hillary Clinton. It was that tip, not the later debunked Steele Dossier, that led the FBI to initiate the investigation. 

“We have many areas of disagreement across the aisle, but I am relieved that we have no disagreement about one of the fundamental conclusions of your report: that it was incumbent upon the FBI to open some form of investigation when presented with evidence that a presidential candidate and his associates are either coordinating campaign efforts with a hostile nation or being manipulated by such a hostile nation,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). 

Several Democrats attacked Durham’s work, criticizing the report for not offering any recommendations for the FBI and calling attention to its failure to lead to criminal convictions. 

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) noted that five Trump campaign associates were convicted of various crimes following the Mueller investigation.  

“In contrast to multiple Trump associates who were convicted, you brought two cases to a jury trial based on this investigation, and you lost both. So I don't actually know what we're doing here, because the author of the Durham report concedes that the FBI had enough information to investigate,” he said. 

“And thank goodness the FBI did, because vulnerable Trump associates who committed crimes were held accountable. And the best way to summarize what happened is: Thank you to the brave men and women of the FBI for doing their jobs.” 

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) addresses reporters after a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

Republicans pivoted between complaints over the Justice Department and the treatment of Trump to possible FISA reforms that would limit law enforcement authority for spying both in the U.S. and abroad.  

“You detail how FBI personnel working on FISA applications violated protocols. They were cavalier at best, as you said, in your own words, towards accuracy and completeness. Senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor towards information that they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons or entities and … a significant reliance on investigative and leads provided or funded by Trump's political opponents were relied upon here,” Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) said. 

Johnson went on to lament the involvement of Peter Strzok, previously deputy assistant director the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, who made negative comments about Trump in texts. 

“He said horrible things about President Trump, and all of his supporters by the way, how could we say he did not have political bias?” 

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.)

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) leaves a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla.) criticized the FISA application that allowed the FBI to wiretap Page. 

“A FISA application was pursued without disclosing some relevant information to prosecutors or the court, without following standard procedural rules, utilizing investigative techniques that were the most intrusive without first exhausting other techniques, and instead pursuing the most invasive method possible from the outset against Mr. Page,” she said. 

Durham was also at times berated for his work, including by those who said he did not do enough to probe FBI misdeeds after Trump said Durham’s report would reveal the “crime of the century.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was also gifted time by other members to question the course of the investigation.

Schiff critiqued Durham’s decision to issue a statement about an inspector general’s report on the same topic and repeatedly asked why one of the top prosecutors on the investigation resigned, a question Durham refused to answer.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said Durham’s investigative trip to Italy was just “looking for authentic pasta” as he griped that the special counsel’s work was insufficient.

“It seems like more than disappointment. It seems like you weren't really trying to expose the true core of the corruption,” Gaetz said. 

“It's not what's in your report that is telling, it's the omission, it's the lack of work you did. ... You let the country down.”