The limping conclusion to John H. Durham’s four-year investigation of the Russia inquiry underscores a recurring dilemma in American authorities: learn how to defend delicate regulation enforcement investigations from politics with out creating prosecutors who can run amok, by no means to be held to account.

At a time when particular counsels are proliferating — there have been 4 since 2017, two of whom are nonetheless at work — the much-hyped investigation by Mr. Durham, a particular counsel, into the Russia inquiry ended with a whimper that stood in distinction to the numerous hours of political furor that spun off from it.

Mr. Durham delivered a report that scolded the F.B.I. however did not dwell as much as the expectations of supporters of Donald J. Trump that he would uncover a politically motivated “deep state” conspiracy. He charged no high-level F.B.I. or intelligence official with against the law and acknowledged in a footnote that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential marketing campaign did nothing prosecutable, both.

Predictably, the report’s precise content material — it contained no main new revelations, and it accused the F.B.I. of “affirmation bias” moderately than making a extra explosive conclusion of political bias — made scant distinction in components of the political enviornment. Mr. Trump and lots of of his loyalists issued statements treating it as vindication of their claims that the Russia inquiry concerned much more extravagant wrongdoing.

“The Durham Report spells out in nice element the Democrat Hoax that was perpetrated upon me and the American individuals,” Mr. Trump insisted on social media. “That is 2020 Presidential Election Fraud, similar to ‘stuffing’ the poll bins, solely extra so. This completely unlawful act had a big impact on the Election.”

Mr. Trump’s comparability was unintentionally putting. Simply as his and his supporters’ wild and invented claims of election fraud floundered in courtroom (Fox Information additionally agreed to pay a $787.5 million settlement for amplifying their lies about Dominion Voting Programs), the political noise surrounding Mr. Durham’s efforts finally ran up towards actuality.

In that sense, it was much less that Mr. Durham did not ship and extra that Legal professional Basic William P. Barr set him as much as fail the second he assigned Mr. Durham to search out proof proving Mr. Trump’s claims concerning the Russia investigation.

There have been real-world flaws with the Russia investigation, particularly how the F.B.I. botched functions to wiretap a former Trump marketing campaign adviser. However the Justice Division’s inspector basic, Michael E. Horowitz, discovered these issues, leaving Mr. Durham with depleted searching grounds.

Certainly, credit score for Mr. Durham’s solely courtroom success, a responsible plea by an F.B.I. lawyer who doctored an electronic mail throughout preparations for a wiretap renewal, belongs to Mr. Horowitz, who uncovered the misconduct.

On the identical time, Mr. Horowitz kneecapped Mr. Durham’s investigation by discovering no proof that F.B.I. actions had been politically motivated. He additionally concluded that the premise of the Russia inquiry — an Australian diplomat’s tip associated to the discharge of Democratic emails hacked by Russia — was adequate to open a full investigation.

Earlier than Mr. Horowitz launched his December 2019 report, Mr. Durham lobbied him to drop that discovering, arguing the F.B.I. ought to have as a substitute opened a preliminary inquiry. When Mr. Horowitz declined, Mr. Durham issued a rare assertion saying he disagreed primarily based on “proof collected to this point” in his inquiry.

However at the same time as Mr. Durham’s report questioned whether or not the F.B.I. ought to have opened it as a lower-level investigation, he stopped wanting stating that opening a full one violated any rule.

A remaining rationale for the Durham investigation was that Mr. Horowitz lacked jurisdiction to scrutinize spy companies. However by the spring of 2020, in keeping with officers accustomed to the inquiry, Mr. Durham’s effort to search out intelligence abuses within the origins of the Russia investigation had come up empty.

As a substitute of wrapping up, Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham shifted to a unique rationale, attempting to find a foundation guilty the Clinton marketing campaign for suspicions surrounding myriad hyperlinks Trump marketing campaign associates needed to Russia.

By preserving the investigation going, Mr. Barr initially appeased Mr. Trump, who, as Mr. Barr recounted in his memoir, was indignant concerning the lack of expenses because the 2020 election neared.

However Mr. Barr’s public statements about Mr. Durham’s investigation additionally helped foster perceptions that he had discovered one thing huge. In April 2020, for instance, he advised in a Fox Information interview that officers may very well be prosecuted and mentioned: “The proof exhibits that we aren’t coping with simply errors or sloppiness. There’s something much more troubling right here.”

Mr. Trump and a few of his allies within the information media went additional, stoking expectations amongst his supporters that Mr. Durham would imprison high-level officers. These embrace the previous administrators of the F.B.I. and C.I.A., James B. Comey and John O. Brennan, and Democratic leaders like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Actually, Mr. Durham solely ever developed expenses towards two outsiders concerned in efforts to scrutinize hyperlinks between Mr. Trump and Russia, accusing them each of constructing false statements to the F.B.I. and treating the bureau as a sufferer, not a perpetrator.

Whereas in workplace, Mr. Barr labored carefully with Mr. Durham, usually assembly with him, sharing Scotch and accompanying him to Europe. When it grew to become clear that Mr. Durham had discovered nobody to cost earlier than the election, Mr. Barr pushed him to draft a possible interim report, prompting Mr. Durham’s No. 2, Nora R. Dannehy, to resign in protest over ethics, The New York Instances has reported.

In opposition to that backdrop, the primary section of Mr. Durham’s investigation — when he was a U.S. legal professional appointed by Mr. Trump, not a particular counsel — illustrates why there’s a recurring public coverage curiosity in shielding prosecutors pursuing politically delicate issues from political appointees.

However the second section — after Mr. Barr made him a particular counsel, entrenching him to stay beneath the Biden administration with some independence from Legal professional Basic Merrick B. Garland — illustrates how prosecutorial independence itself dangers a unique type of dysfunction.

The rules empowered Mr. Garland to dam Mr. Durham from an motion, however provided that it was “so inappropriate or unwarranted beneath established departmental practices that it shouldn’t be pursued” and required him to inform Congress. Mr. Garland gave Mr. Durham free rein, avoiding Republican accusations of a cover-up.

Mr. Durham continued for an additional two and a half years, spending thousands and thousands of {dollars} to deliver the 2 demonstrably weak circumstances involving accusations of false statements; in every occasion, a jury of 12 unanimously rejected the fees. One in all Mr. Durham’s handpicked prosecutors resigned from his crew in protest of the primary of these indictments, The Instances has reported.

However Mr. Durham’s use of his regulation enforcement powers did obtain one thing else. He used courtroom filings to insinuate a idea he by no means discovered proof to cost: that the Clinton marketing campaign conspired to border Mr. Trump for collusion. These filings offered countless fodder for conservative information media.

Even after Mr. Durham’s circumstances collapsed, some Trump supporters held out hope that his last report would ship a bombshell. However it largely consisted of recycled materials, interlaced with conclusions like Mr. Durham’s accusation that the F.B.I. had displayed a “lack of analytical rigor.”

Mr. Durham’s personal analytical rigor was topic to scrutiny. At one level he wrote that he had discovered “no proof” that the F.B.I. ever thought of whether or not Clinton marketing campaign efforts to tie Mr. Trump to Russia may have an effect on its investigation.

But the identical web page cited messages by a prime F.B.I. official, Peter Strzok, cautioning colleagues concerning the Steele file, a compendium of claims concerning the Trump marketing campaign’s ties to Russia that, it later grew to become clear, had been Clinton campaign-funded opposition analysis. He wrote that it “needs to be seen as supposed to affect in addition to to tell” and whoever commissioned it was “presumed to be linked to the marketing campaign indirectly.”

As Mr. Horowitz uncovered and criticized, the F.B.I. later cited the Steele file in wiretap functions, regardless of studying a cause to doubt its credibility. However Trump supporters usually go additional, falsely claiming that the F.B.I. opened the whole Russia investigation primarily based on the file.

Mr. Durham’s report appeared to nod to that false declare, saying that “info acquired from politically affiliated individuals and entities” partly had “triggered” the inquiry. But elsewhere, his report acknowledged that the officers who opened the investigation in July 2016 had not but seen the file, and it was prompted by the Australian diplomat’s tip. He additionally conceded that there was “no query the F.B.I. had an affirmative obligation to carefully study” that lead.

Tom Fitton, a Trump ally and the chief of the conservative group Judicial Watch, expressed disappointment within the Durham investigation in an announcement this week, whereas insisting that there had been a “conspiracy by Obama, Biden, Clinton and their Deep State allies.”

“Durham let down the American individuals with few and failed prosecutions,” Mr. Fitton declared. “By no means in American historical past has a lot authorities corruption confronted so little accountability.”

However Aitan Goelman, a lawyer for Mr. Strzok, mentioned that whereas the particular counsel accused the F.B.I. of “affirmation bias,” it was Mr. Durham who spent 4 years looking for help for a preformed perception concerning the Russia investigation.

“Actually, it’s Mr. Durham’s investigation that was politically motivated, a direct consequence of former President Trump’s weaponization of the Division of Justice, an effort that unanimous juries in every of Mr. Durham’s trials soundly rejected,” he mentioned.

Adam Goldman contributed reporting.