Special counsel John Durham testified to a House committee Wednesday about his lengthy investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, aiming sharp retorts at two Democratic lawmakers who sought to detract from his findings.
Last month, Durham released his report criticizing the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation of whether Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign conspired with the Russian government in an effort to win the election.
Here are six big takeaways from the former U.S. attorney’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, which stretched from early morning into the late afternoon.
1. ‘Two of the Dumbest Things I’ve Ever Heard’
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, talked about the main sources for the anti-Trump “dossier” assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele, which became the FBI’s predicate for starting its Crossfire Hurricane probe.
Durham’s grand jury indicted Russian citizen Igor Danchenko, a U.S. resident who has been a Russian analyst for the Brookings Institution in Washington. Danchenko was the primary source for the Steele dossier, but he was acquitted in a trial.
“Danchenko is the primary sub-source. A few years before doing this work, he was investigated by the FBI for doing espionage. Is that right?” Jordan said.
Durham replied that the FBI stopped that investigation, believing that Danchenko had returned to Russia. However, he actually remained in Washington.
Jordan said of the FBI and Danchenko: “They go hire him, use the tax money of the people I get the privilege of representing to pay this guy, who they obviously think is a Russian spy, to hire him, who is the source of all the false information.”
Danchenko never was charged with being a spy.
“They hired him and they paid him,” Durham replied. “It was over $200,000.”
Jordan followed up by saying: “This guy is hanging out with Dolan, Charles Dolan, who is a buddy of the Clintons, who is also a source for the false [Steele] dossier that was used to spy on an American citizen. In fact, don’t they [Danchenko and Dolan] meet on a park bench somewhere in Arlington, Virginia, on New Year’s Day?
Durham replied: “New Year’s Day, middle of the day.”
The Durham report shows the FBI didn’t even interview Dolan.
“This is straight-up out of the movies,” Jordan said of the FBI’s uncritical acceptance of the so-called Steele dossier, despite its sourcing.
“These are two of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of,” the Ohio Republican added. “They pay a guy who is a Russian spy, who is the source of the dossier. The other source is Charles Dolan, who meets with that guy [Danchenko] on a park bench in Arlington, and [FBI agents] don’t want to interview him.”
Jordan later asked: “Were there agents on the case who wanted to talk to Mr. Dolan?”
“Yes,” Durham answered.
“What happened to [FBI] Analyst No. 1?” Jordan asked. “She kept pushing to talk to Mr. Dolan. She was ultimately turned down. What happened to her?”
Durham replied: “At or about the same time, she was assigned to a different project.”
Jordan seemed to want to add an explanation point to Durham’s answer.
“They moved her. They said we can’t have this,” Jordan said of the analyst’s FBI superiors. “We can’t have you looking into the Clintons’ buddy. What did she do?”
“She memorialized it,” Durham replied.
Jordan explained: “She entered a memo to the file because she said at some point the [Justice Department’s] inspector general is going to want to know this information.”
2. ‘Reputation Will Be Damaged’
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., mostly taunted Durham in his comments, pointing out that Trump had appointed him as U.S. attorney for Connecticut before Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham as special counsel to look into the FBI’s actions in the Trump-Russia case.
“Do you believe Mr. Trump has pretty good judgment on people, their abilities, their character?” Cohen asked.
“I’m not going to characterize Mr. Trump, or my thoughts about Mr. Trump,” Durham initially answered.
Cohen followed by saying: “Mr. Trump has called Mr. Barr a gutless pig, a coward, and a RINO [Republican in name only]. Which of those is correct? Which isn’t?”
Durham responded: “In my experience, none of those are correct.”
Cohen continued to taunt the special counsel.
“So Mr. Trump isn’t that good of a judge of character and judging people? In your opinion, he isn’t,” Cohen said. “He [Barr] is not a gutless pig. But Trump says he is.”
Durham: “That’s outside the scope of my report.”
Cohen: “Your reputation will be damaged. Everybody who gets involved with Donald Trump is damaged. He’s damaged goods.”
Durham’s response to Cohen drew applause from some of those in attendance.
“My concern about my reputation is with the people who I respect, and my family, and my Lord, and I’m perfectly comfortable with my reputation with them, sir,” Durham said.
3. ‘Clinton Campaign Funded the Work’
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., noted in his questioning of Durham: “The Steele dossier was entered into the Congressional Record. Was it true?”
Durham replied by stating what has been widely accepted for years.
“There is not a single, substantive piece of information in the dossier that has ever been corroborated by the FBI or, to my knowledge, anyone else,” Durham said.
McClintock later asked, “What role did the Clinton campaign play in this hoax?”
Durham replied: “The Clinton campaign funded the work and opposition research that was done by Fusion GPS, and Fusion GPS paid Mr. Steele.”
4. ‘Collusion and Conspiracy’
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., noted that Durham’s report said the FBI launched the Trump-Russia conspiracy probe without evidence or a predicate in 2016, and continued it until 2019, more than two years into Trump’s presidency.
“To date, has any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia been uncovered?” Johnson asked.
Durham seemed to try to be respectful of former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who as special counsel took over the Trump-Russia investigation.
“There is information, of course, in the report that was prepared by Director Mueller,” Durham said. “As to collusion and conspiracy, I’m not aware of any.”
In 2017, Mueller took over the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, issuing a report in 2019 that found no evidence of conspiracy or collusion between Russia and Trump or his campaign. However, the Mueller report said, grounds could exist for an obstruction of justice case.
During his testimony, Durham referred to Mueller as a patriot.
Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Calif., noted that several House Democrats claimed that Trump and Russia colluded even after multiple investigations failed to find evidence of it.
Kiley read an old tweet from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., saying: “Collusion in plain sight.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter: “Obviously a lot of collusion.”
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted: “We may have an illegitimate president currently occupying the White House.”
And Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., wrote on Twitter: “In our investigation we saw strong evidence of collusion.”
In each case, Kiley asked, “Mr. Durham, were those statements supported by the Mueller report?”
Durham responded with variations of “I don’t believe they were supported by the Mueller report” or “Not to my knowledge.”
5. ‘Unique in Your Experience’
In a moment that garnered attention, Durham appeared to take a not-so-subtle jab at Schiff by referring to a recorded prank call to the California Democrat by two Russian comedians in 2018.
In the prank, Schiff—investigating Trump at the time—believed he was talking to a Ukrainian official who had compromising information on Trump, including “naked pictures of Trump.”
At the hearing, Schiff brought up a 2016 meeting between Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and son-in-law Jared Kushner with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“People get phone calls all the time from individuals who claim to have information like that,” Durham responded.
Schiff shot back: “The son of a presidential candidate gets calls all the time from a foreign government offering dirt on their [most] important opponent. Is that what you’re saying?”
“I don’t think this situation is unique in your experience,” Durham said, in what seemed like a jab at Schiff.
>>> Related: House Votes To Censure Rep. Adam Schiff
Twitter lit up with reminders of Schiff being pranked by the comedians. (The Daily Mail, which first broke the story in 2018, ran another story Wednesday about what seemed to be Durham’s poke at the California Democrat, who is running for Senate.)
After this apparent reference to the prank played on Schiff, the two continued an exchange about the 2016 meeting of Trump’s son and son-in-law with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.
Schiff said: “You said it’s not uncommon to get help from a hostile foreign government. … Do you really stand by that, Mr. Durham?”
“I’m saying people make phone calls making claims all the time, that you may have experienced,” the special counsel replied.
Durham went on to say that the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower “was not illegal,” but he called it “stupid, foolish, ill-advised.”
6. ‘White Supremacist in Chief’
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a member of the “squad” of far-left female Democrats, blasted her Republican colleagues for embracing Durham’s criticism of the FBI and said Trump was pushing them to do so.
“St. Louis and I are here to set the record straight on this political investigation conducted on the twice-impeached, twice-indicted former white supremacist in chief, Donald Trump,” Bush said.
“From the start, this entire investigation has been an attempt to undermine the findings of the Mueller investigation and distract the people of this country from Donald Trump’s corruption,” the Missouri Democrat said. “That’s why it [the Durham investigation] began just days after the release of the Mueller report. That’s why four years later—no matter how much my colleagues across the aisle claim otherwise—the Durham investigation did not exonerate Mr. Trump or any of his associates.”
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