Where does John Durham go from here?
A review of the Special Counsel's next targets
Michael Sussmann has been indicted for lying to the FBI general counsel James Baker during a September 2016 meeting where he provided to Baker materials and information purported to link the Trump Organization with Russian entity Alfa Bank. In order to bolster the credibility of his claims, Sussmann told Baker he was acting on his own and not for any clients.
This was a lie – Sussmann was acting on behalf of a tech executive and the Hillary Clinton campaign. According to Special Counsel John Durham, Sussmann would repeat this lie on February 9, 2017 to two employees of another government agency (“Agency-2” in the indictment; possibly CIA).
The more interesting parts of the Sussmann indictment have to do with the orchestrated effort by Sussmann, the Clinton Campaign, a tech executive (identified as Rodney Joffe), their team of partisan researchers, and Fusion GPS to smear the Trump Organization – and thus candidate Trump – as having a “purported secret channel of communications” with Alfa Bank (a Russian bank). The highlights include:
E-mails among the Tech Executive and the researchers stating how “it would be possible to “fill out a sales form on two websites, faking the other company’s email address in each form,’ and thereby cause them ‘to appear to communicate with each other in DNS.’”
Internal doubts about the Trump Organization/Alfa Bank allegations: “we cannot technically make any claims that would fly public scrutiny.”
Concerns over disclosing how they came to their conclusions: “Do you realize that we will have to expose every trick in our bag to even make a very weak association?”
Importantly, there is a discussion of how they hid their doubts about their own work in order to present a more damning narrative for FBI review. Durham points to their internal e-mails stating: the Alfa Bank allegations were a “red herring” that should be “ignored”; that the allegations would “not fly in eyes of public scrutiny.” That describes a conspiracy.
On another point, significant groundwork had to be laid to prepare the Sussmann indictment. Durham has obtained, at a minimum:
E-mails records from the Tech Executive, the research group, and Sussmann.
Perkins Coie billing records.
Perkins Coie records (notes, etc.) relating to calls and meetings relating to Alfa Bank.
Grand jury testimony and corresponding subpoenas for evidence.
I add that the indictment’s description of the Alfa Bank conspiracy puts into context October 2020 reporting from The New Yorker, which said “Durham’s agents have summoned some of the same computer scientists to testify before a grand jury.” More interesting is their discussion that Durham’s team was:
“exploring a potential criminal charge – presumably against Max and Tea Leaves [those involved in the Alfa Bank hoax] – for giving false information to the government.”
The “false information” would be the Alfa Bank research - falsified by those tasked to create the Trump/Alfa Bank connections. At a minimum, there are false statement or potential obstruction charges (18 USC 1503) for the Alfa Bank conspirators. Their collective actions put them at risk for conspiracy charges as well. And as we have noted, there is also the potential for charges relating to the misappropriation/misuse of classified or proprietary government data.
As to the conspiracy, we believe there is much Durham didn’t say. For example, records in Alfa Bank’s civil case against Fusion GPS show there were working drafts of the Alfa Bank documents sent among Fusion GPS employees and outside contractor Edward Baumgartner.
Let us also look to other potential criminal charges: FBI employees, Fusion GPS (Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson), and Igor Danchenko.
The Sussmann indictment doesn’t mean Durham is finished. There is still Durham’s focus “on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI.” This would include Durham’s review of the FBI’s disclosures (more accurately, “lies”) to the FISA court in support the Carter Page warrants. Just imagine the internal discussions of the FBI personnel who prepared the FISA warrants with false information or information that had “no supporting documentation.” This chart from Inspector General Michael Horowitz from his 2019 report shows just how pervasive the lies were:
With that in mind, recall this report from The Wall Street Journal on August 13, 2021, which states Durham was:
“Presenting evidence to a grand jury and preparing a lengthy report expected to be completed in the coming months, according to people familiar with the matter.”
“Examining potential criminal charges against several lower-level FBI employees, and people who aren’t in government, according to people familiar with the matter.”
There is also Durham’s focus on the dossier and the inception of Crossfire Hurricane. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman (who broke the Sussmann story) reported in April 2021 that:
Mr. Durham has keyed in on the F.B.I.’s handling of a notorious dossier of political opposition research both before and after the bureau started using it to obtain court permission to wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser in 2016 and 2017.
In that same April 2021 article, the New York Times said Durham was focusing on Igor Danchenko, who served as Christopher Steele’s “primary subsource.” At a minimum, this means inquiry into Danchenko’s lies to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intel.
Charlie Savage @charlie_savageExclusive: To partly answer Trump's q re Durham, he's been scrutinizing the Steele dossier. Among other things, in Feb he obtained by subpoena records from Brookings Institution on the dossier's main researcher, who used to work there. w/ @adamgoldmanNYT https://t.co/czuLk1J3uQ
Durham could also be looking at Danchenko’s fabrication of information attributed to a Russian source.
Back to DNC lawyers Perkins Coie. Operate under the assumption Fusion GPS was providing the Steele Dossiers, along with regular updates, to Perkins Coie. We see evidence proving this theory in privilege logs disclosed in Alfa Bank’s lawsuit against Fusion GPS, et al. (We discussed this case here.)
For example, there is a May 2016 “Trump Russia Master” document distributed within Fusion GPS. (This was one of many.)
There were also drafts of Carter Page reporting floating within Fusion GPS e-mails.
When reviewing these e-mails and the Fusion GPS/Perkins Coie relationship, consider whether the dossiers were formed and disseminated with a similar conspiracy as the Alfa Bank hoax. One should also ask if the Hillary Clinton Campaign was directing the progress on the dossier through Perkins Coie.
Back to the Origins.
Finally, there’s the question of what started it all: the hacking of the DNC servers. It was the DNC who called Sussmann after they were hacked. His fingerprints were all over their response. After the DNC told him of the hack, Sussmann called his old friend, CrowdStrike’s Shawn Henry. “The CrowdStrike team concluded that the intruders were Russian government operatives” on that same day. A remarkable turnaround.
Based on what we now know of Sussmann, we must seriously consider if Sussmann called CrowdStrike because he wanted them to create a narrative to fit his client’s political agenda.
After all, CrowdStrike was retained by Perkins Coie and its work was subject to the attorney client privilege, which would generally provide cover for whatever they were doing. From their contract:
Finally, we observe this retention scheme is similar to how Perkins Coie retained Fusion GPS. We also recall Glenn Simpson’s testimony of how it was an “extraordinary coincidence” that the Fusion GPS work on Trump/Russia (directed by the Clinton Campaign and Perkins Coie) coincided with accusations the Russians hacked the DNC.
Are we to believe that it is a mere coincidence – or is it something more?
A note about leaks.
The indictment of Michael Sussmann was reported the day before it happened. While we were waiting for charges stemming from the Alfa Bank issue, nobody thought Sussmann would be indicted. It was a shock to the system, proving that Durham runs a relatively well-sealed operation. Further surprises might be in store.