May 18, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The story about the storytellers behind the Durham report story
The truth is beside the point.
The real story behind the Durham report is more disturbing than what’s being reported this week, because the people who are reporting on the Durham report are avoiding putting themselves at the center of the story.
The truth, meanwhile, is beside the point.
The Durham report is named after Special Prosecutor John Durham. He was appointed in 2019 by US Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the people who investigated Russia’s sabotage of the 2016 election.
That investigation, led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, “produced more than two dozen criminal cases, including against a half-dozen Trump associates,” the Associated Press reported this week. “Though it did not charge any Trump aide with working with Russia to tip the election, it did find that Russia interfered on Trump’s behalf and that the campaign welcomed, rather than discouraged, the help.”
The Mueller report wounded Donald Trump. He never recovered, though he spent most of a single term trying to, which in turn deepened the wound. The criminal former president and his comrades had hoped that the Durham report would heal the wound or generate “alternative facts” with which to tell a story that they want to tell.
But after four years of searching, Durham found practically nothing. His investigation yielded one conviction but also two acquittals, and even that one conviction wasn’t his success. It was due to a separate 2019 investigation by the Department of Justice’s inspector general.
Most important, in terms of Trump’s legitimacy, was that “none of the three [cases] undid core findings by Mueller that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election in sweeping fashion,” according to the AP. That he “welcomed, rather than discouraged, the help” of Russian saboteurs is an indisputable, inalienable fact that will go with him to his grave.
John Durham “sharply criticizes” the FBI, but only because his criticism goes where the inspector general report would not go. That report, from 2019, found that “applications for warrants to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, contained significant errors and omitted information that would likely have weakened or undermined the premise of the application,” the AP reported.
But, the AP added, the IG report found no evidence that the FBI “acted with political bias and said there was a legitimate basis to open a full investigation into potential collusion, though Durham has disagreed.”
The Times was much more pointed. The inspector general report “kneecapped Mr. Durham’s investigation by finding no evidence that FBI actions were politically motivated,” Charlie Savage reported. “He also concluded that the basis of the Russia inquiry — an Australian diplomat’s tip related to the release of Democratic emails hacked by Russia — was sufficient to open a full investigation” (my italics).
But Durham didn’t disagree with the inspector general’s conclusions. He disagreed with his facts. The facts, you might say, have a liberal bias.
To an illiberal mind such as Durham’s, a painting of the truth is not done according to the facts available to the painter. The painter always already knows the truth. What he needs are facts that cooperate. That the facts did not cooperate in Durham’s case isn’t occasion to revise a truth-painting. (The painter already knows the truth.) It’s an occasion to keep looking until the painter finds those “cooperative facts.”
This is an eternal feature of rightwing politics. We can expect to see it from the Republicans every time they have power, as they did when Bill Barr was the attorney general, and as they did in January, when they took the House to launch an investigation into “the Biden family.” That investigation, like Durham’s investigation, found no dead bodies but plenty of “smoking guns.” Proof is beside the point, and the point is always making allegations of The Truth seem truer than they are.
But the question isn’t whether they will or won’t launch one phony investigation after another in the ever-hopeful search for “cooperative facts.” That’s an eternal feature of rightwing politics. The question is whether the Washington press corps will recognize what they’re doing and see it as serving the interests of the Washington press corps.
Given that the interest of the Washington press corps is generating as much attention as possible to the Washington press corps, it shouldn’t be surprising that Durham’s investigation is struggling for attention.
Even if the Washington press corps were to play along with the Republicans effort at making allegations of The Truth seem truer than they are, practically no one is paying attention to stuff that happened six years ago (the Durham investigation) or that has no relevance the year before an election year (“the Biden family” investigation).
Some say the Durham report is struggling for attention, because it isn’t true. Not so. It’s struggling because the Washington press corps has decided, unconsciously and not, that it’s not much good for generating the kind of attention that the Washington press corps needs.
Alas, that’s the real story. It’s more disturbing than what’s being reported, because the people who are telling the story are avoiding putting themselves at the center of the story. But they are the story.
The truth, meanwhile, is beside the point.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.