There is a long game and a short game going on in special counsel John Durham’s indictment of Democratic Party lawyer Michael Sussmann on a false-statements count.
The short of it is this: A false statement was allegedly made by Sussmann to the FBI’s then-general counsel, James Baker, on Sept. 19, 2016. In federal law, the false-statement crime has a five-year statute of limitations, meaning it had to be charged by last Sunday (Sept. 19, 2021). Consequently, even if Durham would probably have preferred to wait until his full investigation was concluded before filing indictments, by delaying beyond Sunday, he would have lost what appears to be an eminently provable felony charge. If he was going to indict Sussmann on this conduct, it was now or never.
Now, more critically, the long game.
It is unusual for a one-count false-statements charge, which can be alleged in a paragraph, to be presented as a 27-page speaking indictment. But Durham wrote a highly detailed account of the facts and circumstances surrounding the false-statements charge. It is significant in that it tells us far more about his investigation.
Here is where the prosecutor appears to be going: The Trump–Russia collusion narrative was essentially a fabrication of the Clinton campaign that was peddled to the FBI (among other government agencies) and to the media by agents of the Clinton campaign — particularly, its lawyers at Perkins Coie — who concealed the fact that they were quite intentionally working on the campaign’s behalf, and that they did not actually believe there was much, if anything, to the collusion narrative. It was serviceable as political dirt but would not amount to anything real for criminal or national-security purposes.
Sussmann allegedly told Baker that he was not working for any client when he brought Baker sensitive information — even though Perkins Coie client-billing records obtained by Durham show that Sussmann was logging his time as spent working for the firm’s Clinton campaign account. The indictment describes the information Sussmann gave Baker as expert analyses (mainly in the form of white papers), which showed a backchannel connection between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. The back channel was said to be established by Internet communications between servers at Trump Tower and at Alfa Bank (a top Russian bank said to have Putin-regime connections).
In fact, the indictment alleges, Sussmann was working for the Clinton campaign and another client — an unidentified cyber expert and executive (Tech Executive-1) — who was expecting to get an important government cybersecurity job if Clinton was elected. (The executive made clear that he — the indictment describes a he — had no interest in working for Trump.)
What Durham describes in the indictment will confirm many people in their most cynical perceptions of a sinister Washington deep state. Tech Executive-1 owned Internet companies that offered domain name system “resolution services.” The indictment explains that these involve the lucrative business of translating recognizable Internet domain names (e.g., http://www.google.com) to numerical IP addresses (e.g. 123.456.7.89.). These private companies have arrangements with the government that provide them with access to a great deal of nonpublic information about Internet traffic.
The government provides this privileged access because the companies are supposed to help with cybersecurity. But Tech Executive-1 and Perkins Coie are said to have exploited this access for political purposes.
Tech Executive-1 was having contact with Sussmann and another Perkins Coie lawyer (who is not identified in the indictment, but appears to be Marc Elias, who was the main lawyer at the firm for Clinton and the DNC), and with what is identified as a “U.S. investigative firm.” That firm appears to be Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson’s oppo-research outfit that was retained by Perkins Coie, on behalf of the Clinton campaign, to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump — the exercise that resulted in the farcical “Steele Dossier,” generated principally by Christopher Steele, the former British spy recruited by Simpson for that purpose.
In a nutshell, then, people closely connected to the Clinton campaign use privileged access to nonpublic information for political purposes. They concoct it into a political narrative that they know is baseless but can be convincingly spun to suggest Trump is in cahoots with Putin.
They then simultaneously peddle that storyline to the media and the FBI — the latter of which opens an investigation of Trump because the Clinton team, in this instance Sussmann, misrepresents its intentions. Sussmann was supposedly bringing this alarming “evidence” to the FBI not for political purposes but because he and his associates were well-meaning citizens concerned about national security.
Naturally in this cozy world, Sussmann is a former Department of Justice cybersecurity official who traded on his long-standing professional relationship with Baker, the bureau’s lawyer.
The indictment details that researchers at Tech Executive-1’s companies were very uncomfortable being tasked to run extensive queries about Trump and his campaign in their databases, but they did it because Tech Executive-1 was a powerful person. The researchers also highlighted significant weaknesses in the Trump–Russia narrative that they were being asked to weave, to the point that even Tech Executive-1 acknowledged it was a “red herring.”
But because the objective was to craft a political theme that would damage Trump, rather than to prove an actual national-security peril, this information was kept from the government.
Durham’s speaking indictment, then, is much more interesting than the single false-statements charge against Sussmann.
There is one last thing that I find interesting but that is not in the indictment. Among the many risible aspects of the Steele Dossier is that Steele, the great Russia expert, obviously doesn’t know much about Alfa Bank . . . which he repeatedly misspells as “Alpha” Bank. One of Steele’s “intelligence reports” from September 2016 makes extravagant claims about connections and favors exchanged between the owners of Alfa Bank and Putin. Consequently, the owners sued Steele for libel in London.
In British court, Steele was deposed. He related that he didn’t know about any Alfa Bank–Trump connection. So why put it in the dossier? Well, he was told about the alleged corrupt Alfa Bank–Trump tie by . . . wait for it . . . yes . . . Michael Sussmann.
So, the Clinton lawyers at Perkins Coie give information to Steele, who folds it into the collusion tall tale he presses on the FBI, without telling the bureau that he’s working for the Clinton campaign (through his cutouts, Perkins Coie and Fusion GPS).
Simultaneously, the Clinton lawyers are getting suspect information from a cyber-exec client who is hoping for a big job in the anticipated Clinton administration, and one of the lawyers — Sussmann — presses it on the FBI while allegedly lying in order to conceal that he’s actually working for both the Clinton campaign and the selfsame cyber exec who’s hoping for a job in the Clinton administration.
Meantime, having orchestrated the creation of all this smoke, the Clinton campaign exploits it to tell the media and the American people, “See, Trump is a Kremlin mole!”
I suddenly think the eventual Durham report could be very interesting reading.
Andrew C. McCarthy is the author of “Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency.” Reprinted with permission from National Review.