Imagine you are in the FBI overseeing national security and a candidate for President for the United States hired to run his campaign a man who had:

Taken $66 million from Russian intelligence services via Putin-friendly oligarchs, helped Russia install their own puppet government in Ukraine in 2010, was paid $1 million a year to help the corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), solidify his relationship with Moscow, forced his party to remove references in their platform to defending Ukrainian democracy, gave a Russian intelligence agent top-secret insider campaign information about voters in 6 swing states so they could run an ultimately successful micro-targeted Facebook campaign to help the candidate, offered to run the campaign for free because he had been well-compensated by Russian intelligence services, and then repeatedly lied to the FBI about his connections to Putin and Russia, leading to his being charged, convicted, and imprisoned until that candidate pardoned him.

Imagine that candidate had visited Moscow with his Soviet-citizen wife — whose father was a Soviet agent — and been groomed all the way back in 1987 by Russian intelligence (then Soviet intelligence, the KGB) to run for president.

That he came back home from that 1987 trip to Moscow and spent $100,000 to run full-page ads in three major US newspapers urging America to abandon and leave defenseless its allies in Europe and Asia. That he then went to New Hampshire a month later and did a campaign rally to see if there was enough support for him to run for president. That US intelligence officers reported that the 1987 ad and campaign for president led to a champagne-laced celebration in Moscow, with Russian intelligence calling it one of their most successful infiltration/influence campaigns in decades.

Imagine if during his campaign for the White House that president — when only a candidate — had inked a secret deal with Russia to earn hundreds of millions of dollars by putting a hotel with his name on it in Moscow, and kept it concealed from the American public throughout the campaign.

Imagine that he made extensive use of his opponent’s emails that had been hacked by Russian intelligence services, who then ran a Facebook operation hyping that same information that reached 26 million targeted Americans in 6 swing states, helping him win the Electoral College vote.

Imagine that during the 2016 campaign an insider with Russian connections learned that Russia had successfully hacked this candidate’s opponent’s emails on behalf of the candidate before the hack was revealed on Wikileaks during the Democratic National Convention where his opponent was nominated for president…and that information came to you via an informant.

Imagine that candidate became president 29 years after his first Moscow trip and in his first weeks in office, presumably as thanks for their help, invited the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister to a covert meeting in the Oval Office and gave them top-secret information on a spy about whom Russia had been concerned; that spy was then “burned.”

Imagine that this was nothing new for that president’s party: that two presidents before him had gained the White House by treasonous collaboration with openly hostile foreign powers (North Vietnam in 1968 and Iran in 1980). That congressional members of his own party would then go on to vote against compiling information about war crimes committed in Ukraine by Russia. That a senator from that party by the name of Rand Paul made a private trip to Russia to hand-deliver possibly stolen sealed “documents” to Putin’s intelligence service given him in confidence by that president.

Imagine that president had a series of nearly 20 secret telephone conversations with Putin (for which the records of what was said no longer exist) and then unilaterally — in defiance of both Congress and the law — blocked military aid to Ukraine while Russia was massing troops on its borders. And then followed those up with a years-long campaign to destroy NATO, which was Russia’s top military concern. And openly praised and deferred to Putin while trash-talking American intelligence services.

Imagine that the FBI worked with a special prosecutor named Mueller to determine the extent of Russian involvement in the 2016 election and:

  • Found that Russian interference in the 2016 election was “sweeping and systemic.”
  • Brought indictments against 37 individuals including six Trump advisers and 26 Russian nationals, secured seven guilty pleas or convictions, and found “compelling evidence” that the president himself had stonewalled or lied to investigators and “obstructed justice on multiple occasions.”
  • Referred 14 criminal matters to the Justice Department, where the president’s hand-picked Attorney General — who’d helped President George HW Bush cover up the Iran/Contra Treason Scandal — ignored them and let them lapse.
  • Uncovered five specific examples of the president criminally obstructing justice in ways that could easily have been prosecuted.

Imagine that when that president ran for re-election Russia again came to his aid by hacking his 2020 opponent’s family members, both looking for and trying to plant damaging information suggesting his opponent’s family was corrupt. That Russia then spread rumors across social media to that effect on the candidate’s behalf in the months before the election.

Imagine that when he nevertheless lost, Russian intelligence officers used social media to amplify his claims the election was stolen, leading to an attempted coup conspiracy involving the assassination of the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

Imagine that the FBI — in part, during that president’s time in office — compiled material for a report concluding that:

“Throughout the [2020] election, Russia’s online influence actors sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in ballots, highlighting alleged irregularities, and accusing the Democratic Party of voter fraud.”

So, if you were in the FBI and knew all that, how do you imagine you would react? Would you want to dig deeper, to determine if an agent of a hostile foreign power was trying to co-opt or even destroy America from within, a la The Manchurian Candidate?

On May 15 we learned that Trump ally John Durham, a former federal prosecutor who should know better, cannot imagine any of this.

He issued a 306-page report on his well-paid four-year investigation in a futile effort to salvage his reputation (or burnish it with Trump) claiming that the FBI really had “no basis” to investigate the possibility that the 2016 Trump campaign might have been infiltrated or corrupted by Russian intelligence.

Durham wrote there was “a complete lack of information from the Intelligence Community that corroborated the hypothesis upon which the [2016] Crossfire Hurricane investigation [of Trump’s connections to Russia and Putin] was predicated.” (I have to admit, I almost spit out my coffee when reading that line.)

During the course of his $6.6 million “investigation,” Durham pressed charges against two people, costing each a fortune in legal fees and damaging their reputations, and in both cases the individuals were exonerated by a jury of their peers.

Durham later claimed he was “misunderstood” by the media, and that he brought the charges not because he thought he could easily win the cases but because he was interested in defining “the narrative,” apparently in a way that would be favorable to Trump:

“[D]efense counsel has presumed the Government’s [Durham’s] bad faith and asserts that the Special Counsel’s [Durham’s] Office intentionally sought to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool,” Durham wrote last year. “That is simply not true. If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government’s Motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the Government’s inclusion of this information.”

When Bill Barr and John Durham took multiple taxpayer-funded luxury trips to Italy to interrogate that country’s government about possible FBI wrongdoing in the Hurricane Crossfire investigation of Trump and Russia, they instead discovered evidence of specific “financial crimes” committed by Trump himself that were so serious they aborted the trip and Barr authorized himself to dig deeper.

The details of those Trump crimes are not mentioned in the Durham report, and there is no explanation for their absence. Barr’s “digging” was, perhaps, simply another cover-up like he did with Iran-Contra back in the day.

Apparently Durham’s imagination couldn’t extend to the possibility that Trump has been a Russian asset for at least 30 years and continues to be one to this day. After all, there’s obviously no connection between him and Russia, right?

Evan Vucci (AP) and Diego Fiore

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