US special counsel criticizes 2016 Trump-Russia probe

STORY: A special counsel appointed under then-U.S. President Donald Trump issued a report on Monday concluding that FBI agents lacked "actual evidence" when they opened a probe into whether members of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign conspired with Russia to win the White House.

The release of the 306 page report by Special Counsel John Durham marks the end of a four-year investigation into potential missteps by the FBI.

In the midst of the 2016 campaign, the FBI received a tip that a Trump campaign official had bragged to an Australian diplomat that Russia had offered to help the Republican candidate by releasing damaging information about his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

That tip blossomed into a full-fledged counterintelligence probe, dubbed "Crossfire Hurricane," involving government requests to surveil members of Trump's campaign. That probe was later taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump raged against Mueller, castigating the probe as a witch hunt.

Trump (March 2019): "It's just the continuation of the same witch hunt, they know it and behind closed doors they laugh at it. It's just the continuation of the same nonsense...."

After securing indictments or pleas from 34 individuals, Mueller in 2019 concluded that despite an array of contacts between Trump and individuals linked to the Russian government, he lacked sufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy.

That same year, Attorney General William Barr tapped John Durham to investigate the investigators.

In lieu of convictions, Durham instead castigated U.S. intelligence and law enforcement, accusing them of treating the 2016 Trump probe differently from other politically sensitive investigations.

For instance, he said Clinton and other officials received defensive briefings about being the possible targets of foreign interference, whereas Trump received no such briefing before the FBI opened probes into four members of his campaign.

Durham added (quote):

"The Department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities described in this report."

In response to the report, the FBI said it has already implemented dozens of corrective actions that have been in place for some time.

Durham's findings are likely to become political fodder for Trump, who is currently running for re-election in 2024 despite facing criminal charges in New York and two federal investigations by Special Counsel Jack Smith that are looking both at Trump's retention of classified records and his role in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump said on social media Monday that he was pleased with the results of Durham's report.