Nadler Opening Statement for Hearing on Durham Report
Washington, June 21, 2023
Tags: Government Oversight
WASHINGTON, D.C.—House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler today delivered the following remarks, as prepared, during a hearing on the Durham report:
“Mr. Chairman, on June 8, a grand jury in Miami indicted former President Trump on 37 counts related to his mishandling of extraordinarily sensitive national security information—including “information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.
“According to the indictment, “the unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.” And, indeed, the indictment goes on to describe how the former President made such unauthorized disclosures.
“Even if you believe, as Chairman Jordan claims, that President Trump has committed no crime, surely we can agree that it is dangerous and profoundly irresponsible to have taken these documents from the White House and to have left them unsecured in Mar-a-Lago.
“Don’t take just my word for it. Trump’s Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, said that the former President’s handling of this information put U.S. servicemembers’ lives and our national security at risk.
“And Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General, Bill Barr—with whom I agree on very little—hit the nail on the head when he described the former President’s legal troubles as, quote, “entirely of his own making. He had no right to those documents. … The government tried for over a year quietly and with respect to get them back. … And he jerked them around. … When he faced a subpoena, he didn’t raise any legal arguments. He engaged in a course of deceitful conduct … that was a clear crime if those allegations are true.”
“The former President could have—at any time, for months, simply returned the documents and avoided prosecution. But House Republicans do not want to talk about any of that. They seem incapable of assigning any agency or responsibility to Donald Trump for problems that are Trump’s and Trump’s alone.
“Instead, Republicans have planned this hearing—and constructed an entire false narrative around the work of Special Counsel Durham—in an effort to distract from the former President’s legal troubles and to mislead the American public.
“To be clear, the Durham Report is, by itself, a deeply flawed vessel.
“After four years, thousands of employee hours, and more than $6.5 million in taxpayer funds, Special Counsel Durham failed to uncover any wrongdoing that Justice Department Inspector General Horowitz had not already found in 2019.
“Mr. Durham brought just two cases to trial and lost them both: both were acquitted in mere hours.
“The single conviction that Special Counsel Durham obtained involved a single charge of lying to the FBI—a case developed and handed to him by the Inspector General, and one resolved by a quick plea bargain.
“The report itself outlines some fairly glaring investigative missteps. The FBI apparently never even looked at a thumb drive of key evidence related to allegations of contact between the Trump campaign and the Russian government via a Russian cell phone. Nor, says the report, did the FBI ever examine questionable computer contacts between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, one of the largest banks in Russia.
“The report also fails to recommend a single remedial measure that the Justice Department or the FBI might take to address certain process-related concerns—largely because DOJ and the FBI have already implemented the changes recommended by the Inspector General three-and-a-half years ago.
“Now, I understand that, like the former President, many MAGA Republicans had a lot riding on the Durham investigation. I understand that they might be disappointed with where it landed. But that is no excuse for making things up.
“First, the Durham Report unequivocally concludes that the FBI not only had the evidence to open an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but it actually had an “affirmative obligation” to investigate ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
“It is simply not true, as some Republicans have claimed, that the Durham Report suggests that there should not have been an investigation. “Affirmative obligation.” Those are Mr. Durham’s words, not mine.
“Second, the Durham Report shows that the FBI began its investigation when an aide to the Trump campaign disclosed, in May 2016, that the campaign knew that Russia had thousands of emails that would embarrass Hillary Clinton. The aide bragged about it at a bar, an Australian diplomat who overheard the remark reported it, and the investigation began.
“It is simply not true, as the most extreme voices in this room have claimed, that the investigation was somehow launched by the Clinton campaign. That particular conspiracy theory is off by several months.
“Nor is it true that the FBI was opposed to Trump from the beginning. For example, the Durham Report tells us that the FBI encouraged a confidential human source to infiltrate the Clinton campaign—not the Trump campaign—and to take steps to entrap—unsuccessfully—aides to Secretary Clinton. This story is right there on pages 74 and 75 of the report. I suspect we won’t hear a word about it from House Republicans today because it does not fit the MAGA narrative.
“Finally, nothing in the Durham Report disputes the central findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller—namely: Russia interfered in the 2016 election, it did so to help Donald Trump, and the Trump campaign welcomed this interference.
“This last point is important, because it tells us how Mr. Durham became Special Counsel in the first place, and it goes to the heart of the fully false narrative of MAGA victimhood.
“From the day that Special Counsel Mueller began his work, Donald Trump and his political allies have railed against an imagined conspiracy against the former President. The Russia investigation was a set-up! It was a witch hunt! Obama did it! We need to investigate the investigators!
“Then came the Mueller Report.
“The Mueller Report was delivered to Attorney General Barr on Friday, March 22, 2019. The next Monday, Mr. Durham was in Barr’s office. A week later, a colleague emailed Mr. Durham to ask about “the project” that Durham and Barr were working on. While we on this Committee were fighting to get access to the Mueller Report, Mr. Durham was already working on an investigation to undercut its central findings.
“A few weeks later, the Trump Administration announced Mr. Durham’s investigation into the investigators. And by August 2019, Mr. Durham and Attorney General Barr were on a plane to Europe, jointly hunting down nonexistent evidence of Donald Trump’s deep state conspiracy theories.
“If the duo ever found evidence proving that Donald Trump was right all along, that evidence certainly never made it into the Durham Report. It has been alleged, however, that they found evidence implicating the former President in certain financial crimes during their trip. Incidentally, that information, too, is missing from Mr. Durham’s final pages.
“When he could not give Donald Trump evidence of a deep state conspiracy, Mr. Durham gave him the next best thing: a public narrative with Hillary Clinton as the villain.
“Over the ensuing years, Mr. Durham constructed a flimsy story built on shaky inferences and dog whistles to far-right conspiracy theorists. Although he lost both times he took a case to trial, by prolonging his investigation, Durham was able to keep Donald Trump’s talking points in the news long after Trump left office.
“With a loose approach to DOJ norms protecting the reputation of the agency and a cavalier disregard for the privacy and reputational rights of others, Mr. Durham’s investigation operated as headline generator for MAGA Republicans.
“Less than half a year into his four-year investigation, Mr. Durham publicly disputed Inspector General Horowitz’s conclusion that the FBI was warranted in opening a full investigation, in violation of DOJ rules protecting investigations from appearances of political bias.
“Mr. Durham similarly flouted guidelines designed to protect third parties from reputational injury when he used his two indictments to accuse the Clinton campaign of a vast conspiracy to tie Trump to Russia.
“But, at the end of the day, Mr. Durham never found what he was looking for. He cannot dispute a single conclusion in the Mueller Report. He cannot prove a magnificent deep state conspiracy. And he cannot say that the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s many ties to Russia never should have happened.
“And, again, I can see why this would be disappointing to some. But instead of owning up to this failure, the Durham Report doubles down on theories that lost spectacularly before two, unanimous juries. The report also references classified material that has been called “likely disinformation” to lay out a series of accusations against the former President’s perceived enemies.
“By presenting his so-called findings in this way—swiping at Republican boogey men and hiding inconvenient truths in footnotes—the Durham Report gives Donald Trump one last talking point.
“It did not have to be this way. It may be hard to remember, but at the outset of the Durham investigation Mr. Durham was a well-respected career prosecutor with a solid reputation. The Attorney General is supposed to appoint a special counsel to prevent the appearance of politicization in a criminal investigation. Mr. Durham could well have lived up to that expectation.
“Instead, what we got was a political exercise that operated with ethical ambiguity and existed to perpetuate Donald Trump’s unfounded claims. The investigation failed in its political objectives but did real damage to a Department that is still recovering from the excesses of the Trump Administration.
“And despite Mr. Durham’s best efforts, a reckoning is well underway. Do not be misled. Former President Donald Trump is not a victim—he did this to himself. For all of its flaws, the Durham Report does not show that anyone else is responsible for the President’s legal woes, past, present, or future. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply making it up.
“I thank the Chairman and I yield back.”