ANALYSIS: The Biggest Revelation From the Durham Report

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News Analysis

Even as the dust is starting to settle over last week’s Durham Report revelations, it will take weeks, months, and perhaps even years to fully take in every aspect of the FBI’s scheme against President Donald Trump. However, there is little doubt that the report’s most crucial finding concerns the tip that led the FBI to open its investigation into the Trump campaign.

Until last week, the official story was that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, got drunk in a London bar and told an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, about a secret plot between Russia and the Trump campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race by anonymously releasing her emails. According to the official narrative, Downer took Papadopoulos’s information to the U.S. embassy in London, which then informed the FBI.

That tale about a drunken encounter at a London bar quickly became an unquestioned truism by sheer force of repetition in the media. It even became the central plot point in “The Comey Rules” TV mini-series, which depicted the official narrative of the alleged Trump–Russia collusion plot.

While Papadopoulos has always denied the story, the first official hint that something was amiss came when Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his December 2019 report into the FBI’s handling of its investigation of the Trump campaign.

At the time, Attorney General Barr and then-federal prosecutor John Durham both issued statements that disagreed with Horowitz on the issue of predication of the investigation into then-candidate Trump and his campaign.

Horowitz determined that the FBI had properly opened the investigation, claiming that “we concluded that the FFG information [Australian diplomat’s tip] … describing a first-hand account from an FFG employee of a conversation with Papadopoulos, was sufficient to predicate the investigation.”

Barr issued a statement saying that the grounds for opening the investigation “were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”

Durham also disagreed, saying that “he had advised Inspector General Horowitz that he did not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”

However, while it was clear that the disagreement centered on whether what the Australian diplomat said was sufficient to open a full investigation, neither Barr nor Durham provided any details.

But now, after a 3 1/2-year wait, special counsel Durham’s report finally sheds light on the details of the dispute.

In what is arguably the most important sentence of the entire 308-page report, Durham states that “According to [Alexander] Downer, Papadopoulos made no mention of Clinton emails, dirt or any specific approach by the Russian government to the Trump campaign team with an offer or suggestion of providing assistance.”

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo Special counsel John Durham arrives at federal court in Washington on May 18, 2022. (Teng Chen for The Epoch Times)

In one sentence, Durham crushed the FBI’s justification for the bureau’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation. There was no mention of Clinton’s emails, no mention of any dirt, and neither was there any mention of an offer from Russia. The official narrative, which the FBI not only used to open the investigation but also used to obtain FISA warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page, to push Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel, and to pressure Congress into investigating Trump, was plain false.

Notably, the FBI also pushed its false story about Papadopoulos spilling the beans on Russia collusion during a drunken encounter at a London bar to the media.

According to Durham, Papadopoulos had met an Australian career diplomat in London on May 6, 2016. According to emails reviewed by The Epoch Times, that diplomat was Erika Thompson. Thompson then arranged a second meeting on May 10, which included Downer.

The day before Papadopoulos met Thompson, Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano reported that it was a near-certainty that Russia had Hillary Clinton’s emails from her time as secretary of state. At the time, these emails were the subject of much speculation that Clinton had used an illicit private server for her communications instead of a State Department email account. Then, on the day before Papadopoulos met Downer, Napolitano reported that the Kremlin had possession of Clinton’s emails and was debating whether to release them.

The fact that Papadopoulos repeated a story that was being aired on Fox News, on a topic that many people were talking about at the time, was hardly newsworthy.

Downer later told Durham that the only thing of significance that Papadopoulos said was that “the Russians have information,” which matches what Napolitano reported on Fox News. It also matches what had previously been reported in Forbes magazine.

The exchange with Papadopoulos appeared so trivial that Downer didn’t come forward with his account of the encounter until July 26, 2016, a full 2 1/2 months after the meeting. Durham notes that he found no evidence that Downer’s information had undergone any analysis or scrutiny by Australian intelligence officials, again suggesting that Papadopoulos’s comment appeared insignificant.

Tip Reaches FBI Office

According to Durham, the reason why Papadopoulos’s insignificant comment about Russia having information on Clinton suddenly prompted Downer to take the information to the U.S. Embassy in London was the July 22, 2016, release by Wikileaks of allegedly hacked Democratic National Committee emails. At the time, the Clinton campaign was quick to blame Russia for the leak.

Downer’s tip reached FBI headquarters on July 28, 2016, and lead investigator Peter Strzok rushed to open a full investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31, before having even talked to Downer.

According to Durham, Strzok then interviewed Downer and Thompson in London on Aug. 2, 2016. Durham notes that Strzok’s own record of the interview is inconsistent with statements later made by the FBI investigator.

Specifically, Strzok wrote in his book, as well as telling Horowitz and TV interviewers, that Downer was prompted to come forward when he heard Trump say during a campaign speech, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” However, Downer never said this and couldn’t have said it because he provided his information before Trump made his speech.

peter strzok
peter strzok FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok testifies at the Committee on the Judiciary and Committee on “Oversight and Government Reform Joint Hearing on Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election” in Washington on July 12, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The inconsistency appears to have been an after-the-fact effort on Strzok’s part to address the deficiencies in opening the case against Trump by tying Papadopoulos to Clinton’s emails, emails which we now know were never mentioned by Papadopoulos. Strzok refused to be interviewed by Durham.

While some may argue that Durham’s conclusions related to Downer’s tip are made with the benefit of hindsight, the evidence presented by Durham proves otherwise. Strzok had all the information he needed to conclude that Downer’s tip was completely insignificant and yet went ahead with the investigation regardless.

Strzok’s own notes from his Aug. 2, 2016, interview with the Australian diplomats reveal that Papadopoulos “did not say he had direct contact with the Russians,” that “Papadopoulos acknowledged his lack of expertise” and that Downer stated that he would have sniffed Papadopoulos out if he was a fraud.

Alexander Downer
Alexander Downer Australian High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer in London on Jan. 24, 2017. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Downer also told Strzok that he “did not get the sense Papadopoulos was the middle-man to coordinate with the Russians.”

The contemporaneous meeting record prepared by the Australians in May 2016, which they shared with Strzok, didn’t mention the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the Russians being in possession of Clinton’s emails, or the public release of any emails.

Text Messages Reveal Bias

Durham also notes that prior to receiving Downer’s tip, Strzok and his FBI colleague Lisa Page were frantically texting each other about their loathing of Trump and shared desire to derail his campaign.

On March 3, 2016, Page texted Strzok, “God Trump is a loathsome human.” Strzok agreed.

On July 18, 2016, during the Republican National Convention, Strzok texted, “Oooh, TURN IT ON, TURN IT ON!!! THE DOUCHE BAGS ARE ABOUT TO COME OUT. You can tell by the excitable clapping.”

Page replied, “And wow, Donald Trump is an enormous douche.” On July 21, 2016, Strzok texted: “Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his Presidency would be.”

Most significantly, on July 27, 2016, which was before Strzok and Page knew of Downer’s tip, Page texted: “Have we opened on him yet? Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing.”

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo Lisa Page, former legal counsel to former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 13, 2018. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

On the same day, Page sent Strzok an article that seeded the idea of Trump–Russia collusion, a narrative that the Clinton campaign had begun to promote in the media.

None of these things had anything to do with Downer.

Perhaps even more significantly, the FBI’s legal attache in London, who accompanied Strzok to his Aug. 2, 2016, interview with Downer, told Durham that while they were being driven to the interview, Strzok told the attache, “There’s nothing to this, but we have to run it to ground.”

The legal attache also told Durham that when he ran Downer’s tip past British intelligence, he was told that whatever Papadopoulos had said wasn’t “particularly valuable intelligence.” The British side further insisted that there had to be something other than Downer’s tip for Strzok to have opened a full investigation into the Trump campaign:

“The British could not believe the Papadopoulos bar conversation was all there was, and they were convinced the FBI must have had more information that it was holding back.”

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington on Dec. 11, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

But there was nothing more. Downer’s tip about Papadopoulos repeating what Fox News was saying was all the FBI had.

On a final note, while we may never know why Horowitz determined that the FBI’s investigation was properly predicated when there was no basis for making that determination, the delay in disclosing how the FBI’s investigation really started means that most, if not all, statutes of limitation have now expired, meaning that it’s no longer possible to charge anyone within the FBI with any criminal offenses.

The Origin of the Trump Russia Investigation is the topic of an episode of “Truth Over News” that will air on EpochTV on May 24, 2023.

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