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Opinion | John Durham’s investigation proved Trump wrong, not right



At what might be the end of his tenure as Justice Department special counsel, John Durham has failed to fulfill former president Donald Trump’s prediction that he would unveil “the crime of the century” in his investigation into the FBI’s 2016 Russia probe. Instead, the lawyer mostly confirmed, as others had already concluded, that there was no crime of the century at all.

Then-Attorney General William P. Barr tapped Mr. Durham 3½ years ago to look into the Justice Department’s hunt for links between Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government. Since then, $5.8 million taxpayer dollars have fueled a fruitless search for evidence of a hoax or witch hunt that did not exist. Two indictments, both flimsy, have ended in not-guilty verdicts. And what has emerged more or less matches what Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz already revealed in his own 2019 report: There remains no reason to believe that the FBI’s 2016 probe was improperly predicated.

The FBI does not look faultless. Most notably, the agency’s treatment of 2016 Trump adviser Carter Page was scandalous: The FBI provided false information and withheld material detrimental to its case in multiple court applications to surveil the aide. These lapses, already documented in Mr. Horowitz’s report, are cause for continued reform. A senior FBI official testified this month that the agency offered retired British spy Christopher Steele “up to $1 million” to prove the allegations in a scurrilous dossier he compiled on Mr. Trump, which is also bad.

But these isolated failings evidenced nothing like the dark plot to take down Mr. Trump that the former president and his allies imagined Mr. Durham would uncover. The grand denouement that the special counsel teased in filings throughout his investigation never unfolded, because there was nothing to unfold.

Meanwhile, former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 2019 report on Russia’s interference efforts, the Trump team’s determination to benefit from those efforts, and connections between the two, still shows that there was ample reason for the FBI to investigate the 2016 Trump campaign, despite Trump allies’ persistent claims to the contrary.

Now that Mr. Durham has failed to secure a guilty verdict in the second of two trials, and now that the grand jury that he used to hear evidence is expiring, it looks as though the special counsel will likely write a report and end his work. This is for the best. The evidence stubbornly shows that the FBI’s inquiry wasn’t politically motivated, even after Mr. Durham spent so much money and so many months trying to show otherwise.

The same can’t be said for Mr. Durham’s investigation, which, from the start, was a prime example of Trump-era Justice Department politicization. Mr. Barr launched the Durham investigation as Mr. Trump pressured the department on the Russia probe. By making Mr. Durham a special counsel, Mr. Barr made it more difficult for any future attorney general to end the inquest. As long as the Durham proceedings persisted, Trump allies could predict that an anti-Trump deep state conspiracy would soon be revealed, no matter how unfounded the accusations.

The only good news is that, however many others have proved Mr. Trump wrong, now so has the very man he said would prove him right.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Deputy Editorial Page Editor Karen Tumulty; Deputy Editorial Page Editor Ruth Marcus; Associate Editorial Page Editor Jo-Ann Armao (education, D.C. affairs); Jonathan Capehart (national politics); Lee Hockstader (immigration; issues affecting Virginia and Maryland); David E. Hoffman (global public health); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Molly Roberts (technology and society); and Stephen Stromberg (elections, the White House, Congress, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care).


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