On Sept. 22, former Clinton attorney Michael Sussmann appeared by video at the first status hearing in Special Counsel John Durham’s criminal case against him. During the hearing, the government stated that certain disclosure material was likely classified, which sparked conjecture about what the documents might contain.
While the investigation is still in its early stages, and it will be some time before the public learns more about Sussmann’s role in Spygate, the most ardent supporters of the Trump-Russia conspiracy lie have already cleared Sussmann. That follows a lengthy history of collusion spinners downplaying every investigative step forward in their Russia lie.
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1. Mr. Durham, is that all you’ve got?
When news surfaced last week that Durham had filed a one-count indictment against Sussmann, charging the Clinton lawyer had lied to FBI Director James Baker about his representation of the Clinton campaign in passing on alleged Alfa Bank “intelligence,” the knee-jerk reaction was, “That’s it?”
That was the headline of the Washington Post’s editorial board’s rant, which downplayed Sussmann’s actions before slamming former Attorney General Bill Barr. Durham should “put an end to this long-running exercise” if he has nothing, the editorial board said after spewing forth some more meaningless talking points (see below).
Randall Eliason had written a similar editorial for the Washington Post the day before, headed, “After two years, this is the best Trump’s chosen investigator can do?” Durham should also “pack up his tent and go home” if “prosecutions like these are all he’s got,” according to Eliason.
Chris Cillizza of CNN.com produced a similar piece titled “Is this all John Durham has?” Cillizza shifted to the “broader question: Is it the best that Durham’s got?” after gently acknowledging, “You shouldn’t lie to the FBI’s chief lawyer.”
The Hill published an op-ed titled, “Barr-Durham Investigation Fails to Produce a Main Event Again.” Dennis Aftergut’s op-ed began, “On September 17, John Durham, former Attorney General William Barr’s appointed special counsel, disclosed a molehill he had built out of the mountain Barr asked him to build.”
Aftergut followed with further jabs at Trump, Barr, and Durham—themes that were picked up by other left-leaning pundits—before concluding, “We don’t know what Durham’s probe may eventually uncover.” However, the rose garden that Barr promised Trump and his team has only developed a couple of thorns so far.”
2. Ignore the allegations in the indictment
While the “That’s It” crew cautioned that Durham may yet come up with additional accusations, they sounded truly certain that this would not happen. Given the details in the indictment, that is a pretty strange position to take.
The 27-page indictment contained a number of troubling details that Sussmann’s defenders chose to ignore, including the following: “Researcher-1 and Researcher-2 both worked to locate any connection between Trump and Alfa Bank and in doing so, accessed’data of an Executive Branch office of the United States,’ which’Internet Company-I had come to possess as a result of their work.”
It screams criminal behavior that Internet Corporation-I shared data gathered as a “subcontractor in a sensitive relationship between the United States government and another company” with Researcher-1 and Researcher-2.
The Hill op-ed, The Washington Post editorial board, and CNN’s Cillizza, on the other hand, made no mention of this fact. Benjamin Wittes, writing for Lawfare, called the story “a sleazy one” that was “quite typical of opposition research efforts in high-stakes races.” (If that’s the case, our federal government needs to do a better job of vetting contractors.)
In his article for the Washington Post, Eliason described the indictment as “reading like a political document, not a legal record.”
3. Sussmann is unrelated to the SpyGate scandal.
The special counsel’s indictment of Sussmann has nothing to do with his charge of determining whether the FBI initiated its Crossfire Hurricane investigation properly, according to a third line of defense advanced by Durham’s detractors.
The Sussmann indictment, according to a Hill op-ed, was “collateral” to Durham’s aim of “‘investigating the investigators’ who initiated the FBI’s 2016 Trump-Russia probe.” Durham’s “sole other result” from his investigation—the conviction of former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith—was also portrayed as unrelated to Durham’s accusation, as Clinesmith’s crime happened 11 months after the FBI began Crossfire.
4. Best of luck with your case.
A coordinated attempt was also made to portray the special counsel’s case against Sussmann as weak and difficult to prove, and hence an inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion. To put it another way, the charge against Sussmann was a direct indictment of Durham.
Former U.S. Attorney McQuade intoned for MSNBC, “Before putting a person through the expense, burden, and stigma of criminal charges, a prosecutor should make a determination “that the admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction,” before declaring, “This case comes woefully short of that standard.”
5. However, Michael Flynn
Invoking the name of Michael Flynn was a fifth common retort used over the last week. “Even if true,” the editorial board of the Washington Post wrote, “the Sussmann story is far less disturbing than the case of former national security advisor Michael Flynn, whom Mr. Barr attempted to protect from prosecution and eventually pardoned by Mr. Trump.” Sussmann’s alleged deception paled in comparison to Flynn, who was accused of lying “about his contacts with the Russian ambassador” regarding “an topic of critical importance to the investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia,” according to the editorial board.
“Claiming materiality here is particularly galling in view of DOJ’s treatment of former national security advisor Michael Flynn,” McQuade lamented on MSNBC. According to McQuade, Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Flynn with lying to the FBI, but Attorney General William Barr later filed a move to dismiss the allegation “on the grounds that Flynn’s statement was not significant.” “While the threshold for materiality is normally low,” McQuade noted, “the different standard that Durham — whom Barr appointed — is holding Sussmann now shows that he is being treated unfairly.”
So, before the Durham critics launch into their next story, they should read what Barnett had to say and realize that the summary came from an interview performed exclusively for the purpose of evaluating the Flynn prosecution’s legitimacy by US Attorney Jensen.
Durham’s charge is far broader—and, if the specifics in the Sussmann indictment and Barnett’s interview are any indication, so will the criminal charges before he’s done.