By Jim Bovard | The Libertarian Institute | May 17, 2023
On Monday, Special Counsel John Durham released his final report on the FBI and Justice Department’s abuse of power during the 2016 presidential election. His 316-page report proves that federal law enforcement was weaponized to rig American politics by shielding Hillary Clinton’s campaign and persecuting Donald Trump’s campaign.
Durham’s report is only the latest in a long pattern of abuses by the FBI. In 1945, President Harry Truman noted in his diary, “We want no Gestapo or Secret Police. FBI is tending in that direction.” In the 1948 presidential campaign, Hoover brazenly championed Republican candidate Thomas Dewey, leaking allegations that Truman was part of a corrupt Kansas City political machine. In 1952, Hoover sought to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson by spreading rumors that he was a closet homosexual. In 1964, the FBI illegally wiretapped Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s presidential headquarters and plane and conducted background checks on his campaign staff seeking evidence of homosexual activity. In 1972, acting FBI chief Patrick Gray burned incriminating evidence from the White House in his fireplace shortly after the Watergate break-in by Nixon White House “plumbers;” he was forced to resign in 1973 for that ignition.
But those interventions were child’s play compared to the FBI’s role in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for years before the primary, had used an insecure private email server to handle top-secret documents while she was Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. The server, located in a bathroom of Clinton’s Chappaqua, New York, mansion, exposed emails with classified information to detection by foreign sources and others.
Clinton’s private email server was not publicly disclosed until she received a congressional subpoena in 2015. A few months later, the FBI Counterintelligence Division opened a criminal investigation examining the “potential unauthorized storage of classified information on an unauthorized system.” Attorney General Lynch swayed FBI chief Comey to mislead the public by denying that a criminal investigation involving Clinton had commenced; instead, it was referred to simply as a “matter.”
The FBI treated Clinton and her coterie like royalty worthy of endless deference, according to a 2018 report by the Justice Department Inspector General. The FBI agreed to destroy the laptops of top Clinton aides after a limited examination of their contents (including a promise not to examine any post-January 31, 2015, emails or content). When BleachBit software and hammers were used to destroy email evidence under congressional subpoena, the FBI treated it as a harmless error. A 2018 Inspector General report criticized FBI investigators for relying on “rapport building” with Team Hillary instead of using subpoenas to compel the discovery of key evidence.
FBI investigators shrugged off every brazen deceit they encountered from Hillary’s staffers. The 2018 Inspector General report revealed that key FBI agents in the investigations were raving partisans. “We’ll stop” Trump from becoming president, lead FBI investigator Peter Strzok texted his mistress/girlfriend, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, in August 2016. One FBI agent labeled Trump supporters as “retarded” and declared “I’m with her [Hillary Clinton]”. Another FBI employee texted that “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS.”
The FBI delayed interviewing Clinton until the end of the investigation, after she had clinched the Democratic presidential nomination and just before the Democratic National Convention. Comey decided before Clinton was interviewed by FBI agents that she would not be charged with criminal wrongdoing. FBI agents at that interview found Clinton’s answers claiming she didn’t realize she was handling classified documents “strained credulity;” one agent said he filed her responses in the “bucket of hard to impossible to believe.’” The FBI planned to absolve her “absent a confession from Clinton,” the Inspector General noted. There was no recording or transcript of that final interview. Minimizing the evidence and disclosures maximized the arbitrary power of Comey and other FBI officials in a landmark political case.
Shortly after that interview, FBI chief James Comey publicly announced that “no charges are appropriate” because Hillary didn’t intend to violate federal law. But that law is a strict liability statute; “intent” is irrelevant to the criminal violation.
FBI racketeering repeatedly rescued Hillary Clinton. The Clinton Foundation raked in hundreds of million dollars of squirrely foreign contributions while she was Secretary of State and revving up her presidential campaign. The Durham report found that “senior FBI and Department officials placed restrictions on how [the Clinton Foundation investigation was] handled such that essentially no investigative activities occurred for months leading up to the election.” On top of that dereliction, “the FBI appears to have made no effort to investigate…the Clinton campaign’s purported acceptance of a [illegal] campaign contribution that was made by the FBI’s own long-term [confidential human source] on behalf of Insider-I and, ultimately, Foreign Government.”
A few weeks after an effective whitewash, “Clinton allegedly approved a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to tie Trump to Russia as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server,” according to the Durham report. CIA chief John Brennan briefed President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other top officials on “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal…to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.” There is no evidence that Obama and his policymakers had any objections to Hillary’s vilification proposal (referred to as the “Clinton Plan” in Durham’s report).
FBI officials relied on the “Clinton Plan” to target the Trump campaign even though “No FBI personnel who were interviewed by the Office recalled Crossfire Hurricane personnel taking any action to vet the Clinton Plan intelligence,” the report noted. The Clinton campaign helped bankroll the notorious Steele dossier, which made sweeping, unsubstantiated, and salacious accusations against Trump. The FBI, which was apparently willing to pay any price to defeat Trump, offered former British spy Christopher Steele $1 million in cash if he could prove the charges in that dossier before the 2016 election. There was no proof—but that didn’t stop the FBI from using the dossier to get warrants to spy on Trump campaign officials from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. “The FBI discounted or willfully ignored material information that did not support the narrative of a collusive relationship between Trump and Russia,” the report noted. As FBI analysts began to recognize that the Steele dossier was a hoax, FBI bosses ordered “no more memorandums were to be written” analyzing its claims.
After the election, FBI officials devoted themselves to crippling Trump’s presidency with fabricated evidence that Russia massively intervened to help him win. Kevin Clinesmith, a top FBI lawyer, was convicted for falsifying evidence to secure a FISA warrant to unjustifiably target Trump campaign officials. A federal prosecutor declared that the “resulting harm is immeasurable” from Clinesmith’s action. But federal judge James Boasberg conducted a “pity party” at the sentencing, noting that Clinesmith “went from being an obscure government lawyer to standing in the eye of a media hurricane…Clinesmith has lost his job in government service—what has given his life much of its meaning.” Scorning the prosecutor’s recommendation for jail time, the judge gave Clinesmith a wrist slap—400 hours of community service and 12 months of probation.
Though the Durham report vivifies the extent of FBI meddling in the 2016 election, Americans remain in the dark about the full extent of the FBI’s efforts to rig the 2020 election. In December 2019, FBI agents came into possession of a laptop that Hunter Biden, the drug-addicted son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, had abandoned at a Delaware computer repair shop. That laptop’s hard drive was a treasure trove of crimes, including evidence that Hunter and other family members had collected millions in payments from foreign sources for providing access in Washington and other favors. That laptop provided ample warnings of how Joe Biden could be compromised by foreign powers. But FBI bosses blocked their agents from investigating its contents until after the 2020 election. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) reported that FBI agents examining the evidence on Hunter Biden “opened an assessment which was used by an FBI headquarters team to improperly discredit negative Hunter Biden information as disinformation and caused investigative activity to cease.”
When news finally leaked out about the Hunter Biden laptop in October 2020, 51 former intelligence officials effectively torpedoed the story by claiming that the laptop was a Russian disinformation ploy. Their letter was orchestrated by Biden presidential campaign advisor—and current Secretary of State—Anthony Blinken. The FBI knew that the laptop was bona fide but said nothing to undercut the falsehoods made by the former spooks. Twitter and other social media outlets suppressed information on the Hunter Biden laptop until after the election. Matt Taibbi and other Twitter Files investigators have provided a torrent of evidence of how the FBI censored Americans prior to the 2020 election, almost always muzzling conservative voices.
Special Counsel John Durham asserted that the FBI’s abuses in the Clinton and Trump investigations caused the agency “severe reputational harm.” But Congress just awarded the FBI a record budget, and that is the only “reputation” that matters inside the Beltway.
Democrats and other Biden allies are treating the Durham report as a nothing-burger. The Washington Post fretted that the Durham report “may fuel rather than end partisan debate about politicization within the Justice Department and FBI.” The FBI announced that it had taken “dozens of corrective actions” to prevent similar “missteps” in the future. Law professor Jonathan Turley scoffed that the FBI’s statement “is ample evidence of a lack of remorse by the FBI like a habitual offender giving a shrug in his court ‘allocution’ before a judge.”
When getting caught trying to steal an election is a mere “misstep,” it will happen again. How many years will it take until we learn all the details of how the FBI tampered with the 2020 election?
Unless Congress and federal courts rein in the FBI, there needs to be a change in inaugural festivities. Instead of invoking “the will of the people,” will future presidents candidly tout “the will of the FBI”? If that happened, a big swath of the Washington press corps would probably stand up and cheer for their favorite agency.
Jim Bovard is the Junior Fellow for The Libertarian Institute. He is the author of Public Policy Hooligan (2012), Attention Deficit Democracy (2006), Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994), and 7 other books.