Imagine if the police caught Ted Bundy and, instead of trying him for his crimes, released a bombshell report detailing his brutality with reams of evidence—but then let him walk free.
While many are treating the Durham report as the final word on defamatory Russian collusion claims against President Donald Trump, punishment and prosecutions are absent. As illustrated by the Bundy example, exposing wrongdoing, but withholding punishment, is deeply unsatisfying.
The Durham report explains in great detail what many of us already know: the FBI, the broader intelligence community, various Washington insiders, and the Hillary Clinton campaign conspired to influence the 2016 election with fake claims that Donald Trump had engaged in unlawful Russian collusion. They used these charges to influence his foreign policy, investigate him and his associates, and to encourage widespread disobedience among unelected bureaucrats working for the federal government.
While this is all terrible and demonstrates lawless unaccountability by our most senior intelligence and law enforcement officials, everyone should have known most of this already. Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz had earlier reached a similar conclusion. And various of the particular details had already become public through a combination of court rulings, news reports, and the mostly empty Mueller report.
Public interest in this story is more than merely academic. The entire government is supposed to be our servant. Its workers—elected and unelected—only have the authority we give them. When they lie to us, break the rules, and try to control us in order to further their institutional interests, then they deserve much worse than a written reprimand.
Some of the bad actors have lost their jobs, including James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Kevin Clinesmith. But none, so far as I know, have lost their pensions, been barred from future federal employment, or been sent to prison.
Junior FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who altered an email in order to secure a FISA warrant against Carter Page, served no jail time and was able to get his Washington, D.C., law license back (although he remains suspended in Michigan).
Not a single one of these creeps has apologized.
Perhaps this weak sauce should not be surprising. After all, being filled to the gills with lawyers, Washington, D.C., loves words, and its striver class is obsessed with prestige. Perhaps the people celebrating this report think the embarrassment of being called out in the report is punishment enough. But this is all cold comfort, since we do not hold these people in nearly the esteem in which they all hold themselves.
The problem of reports leading nowhere is not limited to the recent Durham report. There were endless congressional hearings on Benghazi and Iran during the Obama years, none of which led to prosecutions or serious changes in policy. The Washington Post released the “Afghanistan Papers,” showing years of dishonesty, corruption, and incompetence in that military campaign, but none of the liars were cashiered.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and others in the public health apparatus have been hauled repeatedly in front of congressional committees, but they have retired with fat pensions and book deals. And the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, has lied and dissembled before Congress repeatedly since his appointment, but even he still has his job. In other words, with and without detailed reports, none of these wrongdoers have faced serious consequences.
Rather than being the start of accountability, documents like the Durham report are a type of performance art. They are designed to shore up the image of a government characterized by the rule of law and fidelity to high principle, but they conceal the reality of bipartisan addictions to graft, low standards, and self-dealing.
Any congressman, Democrat or Republican, has more in common with his counterparts in the other party, as well as everyone else in that town, than they do with their constituents. This is why so many congressmen retire only to live there.
This is also why self-evidently immoral practices that are not technically illegal—like congressional insider trading, government officials getting royalties for the drugs they regulate, and generals selling their services to the highest bidder—are also normal and regularized. We are in a more “advanced” stage of national decline, one characterized by the luxury, weakness, and decadence for which democracies have long been criticized.
No one receiving benefits wants to stop the gravy train, and that means there is a mutual non-aggression pact between all of the players. This pact allows demotion, reputational harm, and, in extreme cases, termination for actions that embarrass the political class, but otherwise leaves real prison time and penury off the table.
Sensing someone who might threaten business-as-usual, the D.C. political class rejected Trump and circled the wagons against him. The infamous Steele dossier acquired a prestigious provenance early on, when it was ferried to the FBI by the consummate insider (and Keating Five beneficiary), Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). As the Russian collusion story developed, for every lunatic like Adam Schiff, there was a nominal Republican like Liz Cheney willing to impart the patina of neutrality to what was, in fact, extreme partisanship for the interests of the ruling class.
While nothing in the Durham report surprises me, and its conclusions are incontrovertible, I am not nearly as excited as the professional commentariat. Unless people are being sent to prison—or worse—then the rot in our political system will continue unabated.