Tue. Jun 6th, 2023


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The Durham Report Offered Few Conclusions. The Right Drew Its Own.

3 min read

“Bombshell,” screamed The Federalist in all capital letters. A “treasonous charade,” former President Donald J. Trump declared. “Who should go to jail?” demanded Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

A report by the special counsel John H. Durham on the origins of the F.B.I.’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s work with Russia recommended no further prosecutions, produced no startling revelations and declined to suggest any “wholesale changes” to F.B.I. rules for politically sensitive investigations.

But in the world where Mr. Trump and his supporters operate, Mr. Durham’s four-year investigation was Watergate times 10, or 100. Mr. Durham’s awesome prosecutorial powers led to two minor criminal cases, both of which ended in acquittal. A former F.B.I. lawyer pleaded guilty to altering an email to help prepare a wiretap application.

Yet the former president and his allies in the conservative media bubble and in Congress found in Mr. Durham’s 306-page report what they needed. In their view, the contents amplify a long-held position that the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, known as Crossfire Hurricane — and the Trump campaign’s active or passive abetting of it — was a political vendetta concocted by Hillary Clinton and her willing accomplices in federal law enforcement.

With Mr. Durham’s investigation now officially finished, no court cases or indictments will advance such claims. But the Republican interpretation of the final Durham report will feed a narrative of “Deep State” corruption that is fueling not only Mr. Trump’s quest for the White House in 2024 but that of many of his rivals for the Republican nomination. The vilification of federal bureaucracy was already an emerging theme in the fight to be the Republican standard-bearer. Regardless of Mr. Durham’s actual conclusions, his report appears to serve that theme.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Mr. Trump’s closest competitor in the still-early Republican primary race, promised on Monday “to clean house” at “weaponized federal agencies,” which he said had “manufactured a false conspiracy theory.”

“Heads need to roll,” another competitor, former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, said.

Mr. Trump had termed the Russia investigation “the crime of the century,” and with no one doing time for that crime, the Durham report could still prove to be Exhibit A in how the American right seems to be living in its own universe — and how Mr. Trump still dictates the parameters of that separate reality.

On his Truth Social website, Mr. Trump said the special prosecutor had concluded that “the FBI should never have launched the Trump-Russia Probe!” In fact, Mr. Durham said he agreed that the F.B.I. should have opened a preliminary investigation.

“I, and much more importantly, the American public have been victims of this long-running and treasonous charade started by the Democrats — started by Comey,” Mr. Trump told Fox News Digital. “There must be a heavy price to pay for putting our country through this.”

Repeated fund-raising emails from Mr. Trump were headlined “I WAS FRAMED.”

The conservative website The Federalist picked up the cudgel, attacking The New York Times’s initial coverage of contacts between Russian intelligence officials and associates of Mr. Trump, reporting that earned The Times a Pulitzer Prize.

And on Twitter, Mr. Trump’s most reliable allies in Congress framed the final report as explosive and groundbreaking, the opposite conclusion of mainstream media outlets. Mr. Durham may have pursued no major prosecutions, but Republicans demanded them.

“Democrats attempted a coup against President Trump with their ‘Russia Russia Russia’ hoax,” wrote Ms. Greene, Republican of Georgia.

Representative Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, urged her supporters to “get active” and “fight to make things better.”

“Let this be your wake-up call: they’re trying to take our country away from us,” she wrote on Twitter.

Others who piled on included Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the House Republican Conference chairwoman; the commentator Ben Shapiro; and Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida. Conservative media outlets such as The New York Post and Breitbart weighed in, implicating Ms. Clinton, President Biden, former President Barack Obama and a vast cast of Democrats in what Breitbart called the “collusion hoax.”

“Shut down the F.B.I.,” said the entrepreneur and Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who has made castigation of the “administrative state” central to his campaign.

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