I ran through, for the retiree class, a few of the contradictory interpretive headlines in respectable newspapers on the Durham Report. That's the document summarizing the findings of special counsel John Durham's investigation into whether the Justice Department sought to sabotage Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016 on allegations of collusion with Russia.
Here are those headlines, all from either The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times: "The Durham Report is a flop." "The Durham Report is a damning indictment of the FBI--and the media." "After years of political hype, the Durham Report fails to deliver."
A woman in the class threw up her arms, literally, and asked, "What are we to believe?"
I advised her to read the report for herself or save herself the time and believe me. My credibility rested in what I had just been willing to admit, which was that all those headlines were right.
What Durham did was deliver down-the-middle minimalist fact. And there are a lot of people in and around contemporary politics and media who have no use for, or much experience with, that kind of thing.
Let's summarize what Durham found: Officials in the Justice Department found that initial raw intelligence was flimsy on Trump campaign dalliances or worse with Russian. Yet they chose to proceed to investigate quickly and deeply. They paid dubious informants and delved into allegations contained in a dossier while knowing the Democratic National Committee had indirectly paid for that dossier. They did so, Durham found, from their "confirmation bias," not political bias. Confirmation bias is what we all have naturally, which is a tendency to believe assertions that jibe with our general predisposed views. It's similar to an editor's news judgment, which he exercises when he assigns one news tip to his best reporter with instructions to prioritize it while he puts the other news tip in a file he'll reach for on a slow news day.
What Durham described was the frailty of human nature.
His main substantive recommendation was that the Justice Department look at establishing a new monitoring agency to keep ongoing watch on department activities when a campaign and an investigation of that campaign overlap.
The department already has an inspector general who previously came to conclusions similar to Durham's. But that's a review process. Durham is throwing out the idea that something like the investigation of Russian collusion charges could be supervised independently as it takes place. It's probably a good idea, though the possibility remains that the people in the supervisory role could themselves slip up with their confirmation biases.
The report did not indict anyone or confirm the Trumpian charge of deep-state corruption--unless, that is, you choose for your own political aims to portray the summary above as essentially describing corruption without calling it that. And the report did not spare from criticism anybody with the FBI--unless, that is, you choose for your own political aims to portray the summary above as essentially exonerating the FBI without calling it that.
What it comes down to is that collusion as alleged between Trump and Russia was never established.
I never thought it happened. I asserted at the time that Trump wasn't smart enough to collude with anybody. I'd tone that down now, reducing the judgment from a lack of intelligence to a behavioral disorder rendering Trump incapable of caring about anything or anyone other than himself.
Narcissists and megalomaniacs can't easily collude because collusion requires working with others in deference, at least in part, to the concurrent purposes of another. A colluder with Russia does not publicly implore Russia to find more Hillary Clinton emails to help him out in his campaign. A man thinking only of benefit to self, and ham-handed in that reckless self-absorption, would make such an inane campaign-stump request, which would be actual collusion if said by back-channel.
Trump more likely could be manipulated by a sinister foreign source stroking his ego than effective as a co-conspirator requiring patient partnership.
When Trump spoke favorably the other night in that CNN "town hall" of the United States defaulting on its debt, he wasn't conspiring with anyone to try to harm the American or global economy. He was thinking that default would help him get elected by burdening Joe Biden with an international economic calamity.
Trump simply stays too busy colluding with his own ego to worry about colluding with something smaller like Russia.
The voters' responsibility is to accept minimalist fact, consider varied interpretation, and balance the human nature of confirmation bias with a broader aim toward justice. It's not easy. A department named "justice" can't always do it.
Worry about Trump for what he evidences. That's plenty to keep you up at night.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.