According to Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into the Trump-Russia probe, former President Barack Obama and his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, were briefed in 2016 on reports that Hillary Clinton planned to discredit Donald Trump by alleging collusion with Russia during the election. Durham’s recently released report revealed that there was insufficient information to warrant the FBI’s original investigation, and both the bureau and the Department of Justice failed to uphold their legal obligations.
These findings challenge the claims made by Trump’s opponents who have long alleged his collusion with Russia. However, some Democrats in Congress and critics in the media have downplayed or dismissed the report’s conclusions.
As part of the investigation, the special counsel’s office examined how the government handled intelligence received in 2016 regarding Clinton’s alleged efforts to link Trump to Russian interference. The report refers to this information as the “Clinton Plan intelligence.”
In a letter from 2020 cited in Durham’s report, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe described an alleged proposal by Clinton’s foreign policy adviser, approved by Clinton herself, to tarnish Trump’s image by creating a scandal involving Russian interference. The letter suggested that Clinton’s plot aimed to tie Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, diverting attention from the investigation into her use of a private email server.
Ratcliffe’s letter and Durham’s report acknowledge that the information originated from U.S. intelligence agencies’ insights into Russian intelligence analysis. However, the report notes that the intelligence community cannot confirm the full accuracy of the allegation.
Nevertheless, the report states that Obama, Clapper, and other top national security officials were informed about Clinton’s plan shortly after its discovery in 2016. On August 3, 2016, CIA Director John Brennan briefed Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and other officials on Russian interference in the election, including the Clinton plan, as per Brennan’s handwritten notes and recollections.
At some point later that month, FBI personnel, apart from then-Director James Comey, became increasingly aware of the intelligence. Clapper and other high-ranking officials also received an intelligence product on Russian interference in the election, which included the Clinton Plan intelligence. However, the report does not identify any further actions taken by the CIA or FBI in response to this intelligence.
The report highlights that the special counsel’s investigation found no evidence of the FBI considering how Clinton’s alleged plot might impact their probe into potential Trump-Russia collusion. In contrast, the FBI heavily relied on the unverified Steele Reports, which some personnel suspected were funded or promoted by the Clinton campaign.
During the ongoing probe, Marc Elias, general counsel for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, testified that he hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to gather damaging information on then-candidate Trump. Fusion GPS commissioned Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent, to create the controversial “Steele dossier,” which claimed collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. The dossier contained unverified and later debunked allegations about Trump and his supposed ties to Russia.
The FBI used the discredited dossier to obtain a warrant to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide. The Department of Justice later admitted that the warrant application contained inaccurate information and should not have been approved.
In contrast to the FBI’s actions based on uncorroborated information regarding the Trump campaign, the report states that no inquiry, taskings, analytical personnel, or analytical products were generated in response to the alleged Clinton campaign plan. This lack of action occurred despite the significance of the Clinton plan intelligence, which prompted the CIA director to brief senior government officials shortly after its receipt. The CIA even sent a written referral memorandum to Director Comey and Peter Strzok of the FBI’s counterintelligence division for consideration and action.
Clapper, who has been critical of Trump and works as a CNN analyst, informed Durham’s investigators and the House Intelligence Committee that he saw no evidence of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia. He also stated publicly in interviews that he never witnessed any evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia, despite acknowledging that Russian meddling likely influenced the 2016 election.