Monday’s release of the long-awaited Durham Report confirmed widespread belief among conservatives that the Russia investigation that plagued much of the Trump presidency stemmed from unsubstantiated and politicized origins.
The report, which came following a four-year investigation led by Special Counsel John Durham, was a major rebuke of the FBI and DOJ, so much so that even CNN anchor Jake Tapper was stunned.
“For years, Donald Trump and his supporters pinned their hopes on the investigation by the former U.S. attorney for Connecticut, John Durham later named special counsel by AG Bill Barr, Trump and his allies arguing it would exonerate him from any hint of improper behavior regarding the Russian government’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election…” Tapper told his viewers. “The report is now here, it has dropped, and it might not have produced everything of what some Republicans hoped for, [but] it is regardless devastating to the FBI and to a degree, it does exonerate Donald Trump.”
Tapper’s comments are significant as the longtime anchor, one of the first hires of the Jeff Zucker era, was in some ways the face of CNN’s Russiagate coverage just as Rachel Maddow was for MSNBC.
On January 10, 2017, just ten days before Trump’s inauguration, Tapper co-authored a blockbuster report with the headline, “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.”
“Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN,” Tapper began his report along with colleagues Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto and Carl Bernstein. “The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.”
Tapper co-authored a report breaking the news of the Steele dossier’s existence just days before Trump’s inauguration. (Screenshot/CNN.com)
The next day, Tapper defended CNN from then-President-elect Trump’s attacks calling his network “fake news” over its reporting of the dossier, which had just been published by BuzzFeed News.
According to released emails involved in a lawsuit against BuzzFeed News, Tapper took his ire directly to its then-editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
“I think your move makes the story less serious and credible[.] I think you damaged its impact,” Tapper wrote to Smith after the dossier was published. “That was pretty uncollegial[.] Not to mention irresponsible[.] No one has verified this stuff,
Special Counsel John Durham concluded that the Russia investigation should never have been launched since it was based on “raw, unanalyzed and uncorroborated intelligence. (Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)
In January 2018, Tapper appeared to defend the Russia probe from Trump and his allies after it was reported that former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos allegedly triggered the investigation as opposed to the dossier.
“Why this is interesting and significant is that President Trump and others are trying to say that the FBI is corrupt, and they had this Steele dossier, which they say has been discredited, which is not entirely true,” Tapper told the panel. “And that it’s all because of the Steele dossier and this whole investigation is based on nonsense.”
“But what’s going on is there is this investigation and the president and his allies in the media and in Congress are doing everything they can to change the subject or to distract, to undermine the FBI, to undermine Mueller to undermine Comey, to undermine CNN, to undermine… NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post- there is clearly this effort that no matter what comes with the Mueller investigation, assuming it’s something, they’ll be able to say, ‘Well, you can’t trust any of these sources.’ And if it’s nothing, obviously, that they don’t have to worry about it,'” Tapper later added.
“In our politics lead, CNN is now learning that Christopher Steele, the British spy who authored the Trump Russia dossier, alerted the FBI in July 2016 because he was so concerned then-candidate Donald Trump may have been vulnerable to blackmail,” Tapper said. “This comes from transcripts of the congressional testimony of the head of Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS is the research firm, which paid Steele for the dossier. The testimony was released by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon over the objections of the committee’s Republican Chairman.”
The next day, Tapper had on former CIA Director. Gen. Michael Hayden, who hailed Steele as a “solid officer” from what he learned from the intelligence community and that as a former member of MI6, Steele was a “genuine friend” to the United States who wouldn’t seek out the FBI with political motivations.
In late January 2018, Tapper had former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who defended the FISA warrant process into Trump ally Carter Page and claimed he didn’t know if the dossier “played in this very much at all.”
“That claim alone from a former FBI director for any other president at any other time would be devastating, yet here we are,” Tapper said with a smirk. “We broke the story of the existence of the dossier… that President Trump had been briefed, and we did not mention any of the contents of the dossier, CNN. But there’s the FBI director talking about prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow.”
The following week, Tapper did, however, grill Comey directly for openly suggesting the most salacious details from the dossier were true without evidence, forcing the former FBI director to say it’s “unlikely, but possible.”
Tapper invited multiple former intelligence officials who praised ex-British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier. ( TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images))
While covering Steele’s interview with ABC in October 2021, Tapper had CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider on his show to recap the ex-spy’s sit-down with George Stephanopoulos, stressing he “didn’t provide any proof” to back up his explosive claims, which she characterized as “yet unproven.”
It wasn’t until November 2021 while covering the arrest of Russian national and Steele source Igor Danchenko that Tapper himself referred to the dossier’s claims as “unproven” and “disproven.”
Throughout the Russia investigation, Tapper offered few glimpses of skepticism towards the Steele dossier, one of them being during a “State of the Union” in February 2018 with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who he asked if the FBI had independently corroborated a claim about Carter Page while applying for a FISA warrant, a question Schiff declined to answer directly.
Fox News Digital tallied at least three dozens interviews Tapper had with Schiff since the days leading up to the 2016 election when the lawmaker was already planting the seeds of Russian interference.
In March 2018, Tapper asked Schiff whether Democrats “found any evidence of collusion,” to which Schiff replied “Yes, we have.”
Tapper regularly invited Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on his CNN programs and allowed the lawmaker to repeat his claim of having seen “evidence” of Trump-Russia collusion. (Screenshot/CNN)
Tapper repeatedly mocked Trump’s assertion that the Russia investigation was a “witch hunt” during multiple appearances on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and suggested anyone who wanted to stop the Mueller probe was “unpatriotic.” In another sit-down with Colbert, Tapper rejected the notion that the investigation had become “absurd.”