Special Counsel John Durham may have issued his final report last month, but the Russiagate scandal is far from over. This is not because there is no more to learn about the years-long effort by the Democratic Party, the FBI, CIA, and major news outlets to advance the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump teamed with Vladimir Putin to steal the 2016 election.
Rather it’s because Russiagate never ended. Unlike political scandals of the past – from the XYZ Affair to Watergate and Iran-Contra – it is not a discrete set of events with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, it has become a form of governing in which the entrenched forces of the Washington bureaucracy punish their enemies, protect their friends and interfere in elections with impunity.
A continuous thread connects the schemes to deny the results of the 2016 election, to cover up the Biden family’s influence-peddling schemes during the 2020 election, and the ongoing effort to tar President Biden’s opponents as extremists or racists.
Ironically, all of this is especially dangerous because it is out in the open. The profound misdeeds are not hidden in the dark web; they are part of the public record. And yet, none of the major malefactors – including Joe Biden, former President Obama, Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James B. Comey, and former CIA Director John Brennan, among others – have been held to account. Rather, they are lionized, and in some cases employed, by leading media organizations.
The breadth of these machinations is so extensive that I would need a book, rather than a column, to detail it. But here is a brief recap that can serve as a reminder of key events of this dark period of our history.
On July 28, 2016, then CIA Director John Brennan informed President Obama about intelligence reports indicating Hillary Clinton’s campaign “plan” to tie Donald Trump to Russia in order to distract the public from the growing controversy over her use of a private email server while Secretary of State. Notes in the margin – “JC,” “Susan,” and “Denis” – almost certainly refer to then FBI Director James Comey, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough.
On July 31, Comey’s FBI launched a counterintelligence probe into whether the Trump campaign was conspiring with Russia to damage Clinton through the release of her emails.
On Jan. 3, 2017, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer warned the president-elect not to challenge the intelligence community’s claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
On Jan. 5, 2017, in his finals days in office, Obama held an Oval Office meeting with Brennan, Comey, Rice, Vice President Biden, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and others to strategize responses to alleged Russian election interference and Trump’s victory.
On Jan. 6, Comey briefed President-elect Trump about the Steele dossier – a series of absurd and salacious memos paid for and disseminated by the Clinton campaign that sought to tarnish Trump’s character while tying him and his campaign associates to the Kremlin.
On Jan. 10, CNN used a leak it received about Comey’s briefing to broadcast the dossier’s smears, fueling a partisan feeding frenzy that led to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate Trump/Russia ties. Buzzfeed News published the entire dossier the same day.
On Jan. 28, after assuring Trump privately that he wasn’t under investigation, Comey wrote a memo recounting that he’d boasted to the new president, “I don’t do sneaky things, I don’t leak, I don’t do weasel moves.” He then went to his car and typed up his version of the conversations. When Trump fired him on May 9, Comey immediately leaked the memos, in violation of FBI rules, to a sympathetic college professor in hopes, he conceded later, of prompting the appointment of a special prosecutor. On May 17, Robert S. Mueller III, a longtime Comey friend and ally, was appointed special counsel to investigate potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
On April 18, 2018, the New York Times and Washington Post shared the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for their “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign.” This work, much of which was based on leaks from anonymous government sources, was filled with “false and misleading claims” which, my RealClearInvestigations colleague Aaron Maté reported, the newspapers have still refused to correct.
On March 22, 2019, Mueller submitted a report on his investigation which “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Mueller, however, claimed that the source of these falsehoods was beyond his mandate, so he did not look into the role Clinton, Comey, Brennan, Obama, and other high-ranking Democrats played in ginning up charges of treason against a duly elected U.S. president.
On May 13, it was reported that Attorney General William Barr had appointed John Durham to examine the origins of the Russia probe. Barr upgraded Durham to a Special Counsel role on Dec. 1, 2020. Durham’s final report, issued last month, detailed the Clinton campaign’s central role in the Russiagate conspiracy while concluding that "the FBI should never have launched a full investigation into connections between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election" because it relied on “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence.” Durham’s investigation also undermined the other pillar of the Russia hoax, endorsing earlier findings that there was no conclusive evidence that the Russians had hacked DNC servers. Like the Trump/Russia collusion theory, this claim also originated from associates of the Clinton campaign.
On Sept. 24, the Mueller report a bust, House Democrats began proceedings to make Trump just the third president in history to be impeached based on the claim that he sought foreign influence in America’s elections by holding up aid to Ukraine for a short period to pressure the country into looking into its potential connection to the Russiagate hoax and the Biden family’s work in Ukraine. The aid package was later delivered, and no investigation was undertaken. Nevertheless, the House approved two articles of impeachment on December 18, 2019, along party lines – all Republicans and three Democrats opposed the measure – and sent them to the GOP-controlled Senate, which acquitted Trump on Feb. 5, 2020, on another party-line vote (only Republican Mitt Romney crossed party lines to convict Trump on a single charge).
On Oct. 14, 2020, the New York Post reported “that Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.” The article, based on email from a laptop Hunter Biden had abandoned at a Delaware repair shop, suggested an influence-peddling scheme while flatly contradicting Joe Biden’s claim that he never discussed his son’s foreign business dealings.
On Oct. 17, Biden campaign official and future Secretary of State Antony Blinken discusses the laptop with former acting CIA Director Mike Morell.
On Oct. 19, Politico reported that a letter signed by Morell and 51 other former intelligence officials – including Brennan and Clapper – claimed that allegations in the Post article had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” Echoing the false Russiagate claims, the letter continued, “For the Russians at this point, with Trump down in the polls, there is incentive for Moscow to pull out the stops to do anything possible to help Trump win and/or to weaken Biden should he win.” Major news outlets and social media companies relied on this letter to downplay and suppress the revelations. The FBI, which had taken possession of Hunter Biden’s laptop in December 2019, refused to comment on its authenticity.
On Oct. 22, Joe Biden invoked the letter in his final debate with Trump to dismiss the laptop as “a Russian plant.” On November 3, Biden became president through razor-thin margins in key swing states.
On May 15, 2023, the New York Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service removed “the entire investigative team” in its years-long tax fraud investigation of Hunter Biden at the behest of President Biden’s Department of Justice. This purge came after several whistleblowers stepped forward claiming the probe was being slow-walked. The move also came after a series of revelations showed how the Biden family used a series of shell companies to funnel millions of dollars from foreign sources to at least nine family members – including Joe Biden’s young grandchildren. As Andrew C. McCarthy recently noted in the National Review, it is still not clear what the Bidens provided in exchange for this money, other than access to Joe.
On June 4, former FBI Director Comey, noting the long string of cases being brought against Trump by Democratic officials, told MSNBC that “it’s a crazy world that Donald Trump has dragged this country into, but he could be wearing an ankle brace while accepting the nomination at the Republican convention.”
J. Peder Zane is a RealClearInvestigations editor and columnist. He previously worked as a book review editor and book columnist for the News & Observer (Raleigh), where his writing won several national honors. Zane has also worked at the New York Times and taught writing at Duke University and Saint Augustine’s University.