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May 17, 2023

Unless you’re a news junkie, you may have forgotten what Counsel John Durham was supposed to be investigating. Back before Covid exploded, it seemed as if the valiant prosecutor was charged with investigating how that Trump-Russian collusion thing got started. Had that whole mess begun with shenanigans by the FBI and, who knows, maybe even the intelligence community? Republican die-hards and other perpetual optimists even hoped that Durham’s uncovering of Democratic wrong-doing during and after 2016 might even influence the election of 2020.

Mr. Durham’s report was published yesterday. Not surprisingly, no individual malefactors were indicted, Democratic malfeasance was once again documented while Republicans were typically relegated to history’s sidelines. Again. Why do Republicans so often seem to “win” historical or legal arguments on scholarly merit while perpetually losing elections? Part of the reason is of course that the media likes it that way, particularly when its agents have been complicit on any matter having to do with Republicans, especially when named Donald Trump.

Even while occupied trying to survive Covid, it is not difficult to recall the media crescendos blaring the names the names of James Comey, Robert Mueller or Peter Strzok on every broadcast. How soon, they thundered, before these new Inspectors Javert would uncover the evidence proving the case against Donald Trump? Today’s headlines in The Guardian were considerably more reserved, “FBI accused of failures but key report finds no deep-state plot against Trump.” Like their brethren elsewhere in the Fifth Estate, Guardian authors opined that “Durham’s inquiry had failed to find any blockbuster revelations” even though the report concluded that the FBI had “failed to uphold the mission of strict fidelity.”

In ten years as a military analyst with NBC News, I developed an immunity to “media spin.” Having been both an operational special agent (Army Intelligence) and a West Point professor, I was especially appalled to read the following passage from Mr. Durham’s report: “…there is a continuing need for the FBI and the Department to recognize that lack of analytical rigor, apparent confirmation bias, and an over-willingness to rely on information from individuals connected to political opponents caused investigators to fail to adequately consider alternative hypotheses and to act without appropriate objectivity or restraint in pursuing allegations of collusion or conspiracy…Although recognizing that in hindsight much is clearer, much of this also seems to have been clear at the time. (p.28)

Are you kidding? When you lack analytical rigor, display confirmation bias and fail to consider competing analytical hypotheses, then you have no right to consider yourself any more as an “investigator.” Instead, you have become an ideologue strictly limiting one’s self to carrying out whatever agenda has been assigned to that respective agency; truth, or the lack of it, is no longer your concern. Or as Felix Dzherzinsky, chief of the Soviet Secret Services, put it so memorably, “Show me the man and I will show you the crime.”

Somehow the passage of four years now seems to give the Durham Report an extra punch. If our version of the secret police was that bad four years ago, why should we assume they have improved in the interim? In particular, should we believe the Bureau’s quick explanation today that those troublesome issues have already been corrected? “Had those reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in the report could have been prevented. This report reinforces the importance of ensuring the FBI continues to do its work with the rigor, objectivity, and professionalism the American people deserve and rightly expect.”

Yadda-yadda-yadda. What really matters is that the Republicans have been given an information edge that needs to be transformed into a winning margin, from now all the way up to 2024. I agree with the far-sighted vision of Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who thinks that Michelle Obama may be planning a presidential run, if and when Joe Biden stumbles – or maybe even if he does not. But even if Ms. Obama chooses to remain a private citizen, there is a lot to learn about how the collusion scandal began, the cool smoothness with which the FBI and the CIA suddenly switched on and began to target the incoming Trump administration. Who gave those orders and switched on the long tentacles of the deep state?


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