Moral of the Durham trials: Jurors won't convict sources if the FBI wanted their bait
News Analysis: With two acquittals, DC-area juries refuse to referee whether informants or FBI were more to blame for Russia collusion ruse. Is a Church Committee-like probe next?
Special Counsel John Durham made a calculated decision to transform his only criminal trials — of Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann and Steele dossier source Igor Danchenko — into forums for telling the story of the FBI's pursuit of the unsubstantiated Russia collusion narrative.
From pretrial motions and brutal cross-examinations of FBI witnesses to his parting words at the Danchenko trial, Durham telegraphed his disdain for the FBI's behavior to jurors in the courts of both law and public opinion.
The jury might very well conclude the FBI mishandled the Russia case, the veteran prosecutor declared Monday in his closing argument. "The government is not here to defend the FBI's performance in these matters," he added. Such comments gave license to jurors to acquit, as they did in the end.
Before it was over, Durham dropped bombshell after bombshell, with most landing on the FBI rather than the defendants:
- Hillary Clinton personally approved sharing the Russia collusion narrative against Trump in fall 2016 even though her campaign wasn't sure it was true, former campaign manager Robby Mook testified.
- The FBI offered Christopher Steele a whopping $1 million if he could prove the sensational allegations in his dossier, but he didn't, FBI witnesses testified.
- The FBI included allegations from the Steele dossier in its FISA application to spy on the Trump campaign even though it hadn't verified a single element of the dossier, an FBI analyst testified.
- Danchenko was hired as a confidential human source and recommended for hundreds of thousands of dollars even though the FBI had concerns he was tied to Russian intelligence and had lied to the bureau.
- A Clinton-friendly PR executive, Charles Dolan, testified he lied to Danchenko, who then passed that lie on to Steele's dossier and then lied about Dolan being a source of the allegation.
- The FBI ignored the warnings of its own analyst that the allegations of collusion might be disinformation inserted by Russian intelligence.
The tales of deceit, duplicity and disinformation, in the end, were too much for jurors to hold the two informers to the FBI — Sussmann and Danchenko — to account.
The forewoman for the Sussmann trial said prosecutors may have shown Sussmann lied but the jury felt it was a waste of their time to hold a trial. A juror for the Danchenko trial said jurors were mostly unanimous in acquitting Danchenko.
The moral of the story of the Durham trials is simple: jurors won't convict an FBI informer for providing the bureau a story that the bureau seemed to want even in the face of contradictory evidence.
Durham gave conservatives part of what they wanted, an airing of the FBI's stunning failures and misconduct in the politically tinged probe. But in the end Durham did not deliver a guilty verdict or the sort of accountability conservatives wanted, just the narrative.
And Washington is left with the continuing divide about what to make of Russiagate: conservatives are more convinced than ever that it was a deep state plot to get Donald Trump, while liberals see some smoke from the evidence but without the fire of convictions.
The next step, many experts have told Just the News, is to wait for Durham's final report, assuming he is finished with prosecutions.
And then Republicans in Congress — should they win control of one or more chambers in the November midterms — will need to put together a solution for restoring trust in the FBI that has been diminished by the Russia case, the Hunter Biden probe, the Jan. 6 case and the allegations from some 20 whistleblowers who have come forward to allege an unhealthy politicization of the bureau in recent years.
That solution, according to experts as diverse as former House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes and retired FBI intelligence chief Kevin Brock, may start with the formation of a blue-ribbon independent commission much like the 1970s Church Committee in the Senate did to expose abuses of the J. Edgar Hoover era at the FBI and CIA.
"I just don't know if we have the congressional will, maybe we will come after November, to stand up such a committee because it's going to take leadership to put it together to implement it, and then to put brave individuals on it who aren't going to care about their political careers," former House Intelligence Committee investigative counsel Kash Patel said.