As the trial for former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann draws closer, Special Counsel John Durham is painting a picture of a relentless effort by Democrat operatives to sell the Russia collusion narrative across the U.S. government from the FBI to the State Department.
Essentially, Hillary Clinton operatives flooded the zone in the summer and fall of 2016, hoping multiple Trump collusion allegations circulating inside the government agencies might prompt an investigation and media interest.
For the first time this week, Durham called it a “joint venture” and a conspiracy to shop unproven Trump dirt.
In the case of Sussmann, Durham alleges that effort involved deceit by lying to the FBI that he did not have a client when he presented (since-discredited) evidence to the FBI that Donald Trump had a secret computer back channel at the Alfa Bank in Moscow to talk with the Kremlin.
In fact, Sussmann was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and a tech executive named Rodney Jaffe who was aligned with the campaign when he approached the FBI in September 2016 and made the anti-Trump allegations, Durham’s team alleges.
A few months later, prosecutors say, Sussmann was still representing the tech executive when he approached the CIA in February 2017 to get the spy agency involved and again claimed he wasn’t representing a client’s interest.
On Monday, Durham showed the strength of his evidence of Sussmann’s alleged lie: He offered the handwritten notes of two senior FBI officials who recorded that the Clinton lawyer had said he was not acting on behalf of a client when he reported the Trump dirt.
“Said not doing this for any client,” then-Assistant FBI Director for Counterintelligence Bill Priestap wrote in his notes, recording what Sussmann had told him. A deputy general counsel wrote a similar notation.
Durham also produced a text message Sussmann sent then-FBI General Counsel James Baker making the claim in his own words.
“Jim – it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss,” he texted Baker on Sept. 18, 2016, according to the new court filing. “Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks.”
In his latest court filings, Durham repeatedly called Sussmann’s comments a “lie” that had consequences, concealing from the FBI that the origins of the Trump dirt came from his rival’s campaign, Hillary Clinton.
“The aforementioned communications demonstrate the materiality of the defendant’s lie insofar as they reveal the political origins and purposes for this work,” the prosecutor wrote. “And those political origins are especially probative here because they provided a motive for the defendant to conceal his clients’ involvement in these matters.”
Former Rep. Devin Nunes, who led the House Intelligence Committee when it unraveled the false Russia collusion narrative, said Durham has now put on the public record what many Americans have suspected for a long time.
“We’ve got millions of Americans who understand the facts here, they understand that Donald Trump and the whole Republican Party was framed, and quite frankly, the people who voted for Donald Trump and voted for the Republicans were framed,” he said.
Nunes said the false Russia collusion narrative weaved by Team Clinton ended up having consequences all the way to the current Russia invasion of Ukraine.
“Because of all of this crap that happened during the Trump administration, the United States of America couldn’t have a real foreign policy and deal with characters like Putin in kind of a normal way,” he said.
Sussmann’s lawyers clearly plan to challenge the evidence, questioning markings on the notes and the possibility some of the evidence is protected by attorney-client privilege. But they also have shown their hand for the trial should they lose those arguments: They will try to argue the lie wasn’t material and didn’t affect the FBI’s decision-making.
The defense also signaled in their most recent court filings that they are going to fight to keep mention of Christopher Steele’s dossier — the other Clinton effort to falsely tie Trump to Russia collusion — out of the trial and away from jurors. They argued the Steele dossier would be inflammatory and prejudicial, even though it too was funded by the Clinton campaign and handled by Sussmann’s law firm.
“Any modicum of relevance would be so substantially outweighed by risk of confusion, delay, waste, and unfair prejudice as to require this evidence be precluded,” wrote Sussmann’s attorneys.
And that is where Durham’s new declaration of a conspiracy will be focused, arguing the Steele dossier and Sussmann’s approaches were a “joint venture” designed to flood government agencies with information — later proven false or flawed — to make it look like Trump was conspiring with Russia.
Durham also dropped new hints this week that Sussmann and the researchers working with him had reason to suspect the Alpha Bank allegations might not be true or at least suspect. Emails talked about them being a “red herring” or suggested that all that could be drawn from the data was “an inference.”
One researcher offered this candid warning about the computer data: “We don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying ‘send me the money here’ etc.,” Durham wrote.
Over the last several months, Durham’s court filings — as well as now public government documents — lay out a timetable of key events in what he believes adds up to a conspiracy. Here it is:
July 5, 2016: The same day that the FBI clears Hillary Clinton of criminality in the mishandling of classified emails on her hard drive, Steele walks into an FBI agent he knows in London and delivers his first version of the dossier alleging collusion between Trump and the Kremlin. The field office doesn’t act on it immediatetely.
Month of July 2016: A group of computer executives aligned with Clnton and working with Sussmann’s law firm begin looking for evidence in Internet domain name service logs to tie Trump to Russia, eventually coming up with the Alfa Bank theory. “Tech Executive-1 tasked these researchers to mine Internet data to establish ‘an inference’ and ‘narrative’ tying then-candidate Trump to Russia,” Durham wrote in Monday’s court filing. “In doing so, Tech Executive-1 indicated that he was seeking to please certain ‘VIPs,’ referring to individuals at Law Firm-1 and the Clinton Campaign.”
July 26, 2016: CIA Director John Brennan tells President Barack Obama about intelligence that Hillary Clinton has personally approved a plan “from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services” in the election. That briefing is captured in Brennan’s handwritten notes.
July 30-31, 2016: Frustrated by inaction by the FBI in London, Steele travels to Washington to meet his friend, senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, to relay his research on Trump. Ohr takes the information directly to FBI headquarters and the bureau’s senior leadership, where Steele is eventually brought on as a confidential informant.
July 31, 2016: FBI formally opens the Crossfire Hurricane investigation into alleged Russia-Trump collusion.
Sept. 7, 2016: CIA sends FBI Director James Comey and others the same warning it gave Obama, namely that Clinton has approved a plan to tie Trump to Russia to distract from her email scandal.
Sept. 15, 2016: Another lawyer at Sussmann’s firm briefs the Clinton campaign on the Russia collusion research and efforts to plant a story in the media leaking some of the findings.
Sept. 19, 2016: Sussmann brings the Alpha Bank angle of Russia collusion to the FBI through Baker. The FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Team, on the same day, gets six of Steele’s memos from the dossier and asks for permission to seek a FISA warrant.
Sept. 21, 2016: FBI lawyers urged Crossfire Hurricane to refocus the FISA on Carter Page predominantly and not fellow Trump adviser George Papadopolous, according to the inspector general.
Sept. 23, 2016: First information leaked from Clinton campaign’s Russia research appears in Yahoo News, including information gleaned from Steele.
Oct. 13, 2016: Steele breaks FBI protocol and goes to the State Department, meeting with senior official Kathleen Kavalec, where the former MI6 agent working for the Clinton campaign briefs officials on his dossier and the Alpha Bank allegations and admits he’s also talking to major news media.
Oct. 21, 2016: FBI secures first FISA warrant targeting former Trump adviser Carter Page in Russia probe.
Oct. 31, 2016: The first news story leaks about the Alpha Bank allegations, and Hillary Clinton calls attention to it as well as putting out a statement by her adviser Jake Sullivan, now President Biden’s national security adviser. “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank,” Clinton tweeted. Sullivan boasted the allegations in the article “could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow[,] that “[t]his secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia[,]” and that “[w]e can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia.”
Nov. 8, 2017: Donald Trump wins the election.
Feb 9, 2017: Sussmann takes Alfa Bank allegations and new information to the CIA, again denying he is acting on behalf of a client.