A lawyer for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign was indicted on Wednesday with one felony count of lying to the FBI about a fraudulent Russiagate story he helped propagate. Michael Sussman was charged with the crime by Special Counsel John Durham, who was appointed by Trump Attorney General William Barr to investigate possible crimes committed as part of the Russiagate investigation and whose work is now overseen and approved by Biden Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Sussman's indictment, approved by Garland, is the second allegation of criminal impropriety regarding Russiagate's origins. In January, Durham secured a guilty plea from an FBI agent, Kevin Clinesmith, for lying to the FISA court and submitting an altered email in order to spy on former Trump campaign official Carter Page.
The law firm where Sussman is a partner, Perkins Coie, is a major player in Democratic Party politics. One of its partners at the time of the alleged crime, Marc Elias, has become a liberal social media star after having served as General Counsel to the Clinton 2016 campaign. Elias abruptly announced that he was leaving the firm three weeks ago, and thus far no charges have been filed against him.
The lie that Sussman allegedly told the FBI occurred in the context of his mid-2016 attempt to spread a completely fictitious story: that there was a "secret server” discovered by unnamed internet experts that allowed the Trump organization to communicate with Russia-based Alfa Bank. In the context of the 2016 election, in which the Clinton campaign had elevated Trump's alleged ties to the Kremlin to center stage, this secret communication channel was peddled by Sussman — both to the FBI and to Clinton-friendly journalists — as smoking-gun proof of nefarious activities between Trump and the Russians. Less than two months prior to the 2016 election, Sussman secured a meeting at the FBI's headquarters with the Bureau's top lawyer, James Baker, and provided him data which he claimed proved this communication channel.
It was in the course of trying to lure the FBI into investigating this scam conspiracy theory when Sussman allegedly lied to Baker, by concealing the fact — outright denying — that he was peddling the story in his role as lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign as well as a lawyer for a "tech executive” hoping to be appointed as the top cybersecurity official in the soon-to-be-inaugurated Clinton administration. Sussman's claims that he was just acting as a concerned private citizen were negated by numerous documents obtained by Durham's investigation, including billing records where he charged the Clinton campaign for his work in trying to disseminate this story, including his meeting with Baker at FBI's headquarters.
The FBI went on a wild goose chase to investigate Sussman's conspiracy theory. But the Bureau quickly concluded that there was no evidentiary basis to believe any of it, as the indictment explains:
It has long been known that the Trump/Alfa-Bank story was a fraud. A report issued in December, 2019 by the DOJ's Inspector General revealed that “the FBI investigated whether there were cyber links between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, but concluded by early February, 2017 that there were no such links.” Special Counsel Robert Mueller thought so little of this alleged plot that he did not even bother to mention it in his comprehensive final report, which admitted that "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Even the more anti-Trump Senate Intelligence Committee report acknowledged that, while unable to explain the data, “the Committee did not find the DNS activity reflected the existence of covert communication between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel."
Despite all this, this fraud — one of so many that formed the Russiagate scandal — played a significant role in shaping media coverage of the 2016 election. Spurred on by Hillary Clinton herself, the liberal sector of the corporate media used this fake claim to bolster their narrative that Trump and the Russians were secretly in cahoots. And the story of how they spread this disinformation involves not just the potential criminality outlined in this indictment of Hillary's lawyer but, even more seriously, a rotted and deeply corrupted media.
The indictment reveals for the first time that the data used as the basis for this fraud was obtained by another one of Sussman's concealed clients, an "unnamed tech executive” who “exploited his access to non-public data at multiple internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump.” There will, presumably, be more disclosures shortly about who this tech executive was, which internet companies had private data that he accessed, and how that was used to spin the web of this Alfa Bank fraud. But the picture that emerges is already very damning — particularly of the Russiagate sector of the corporate press.
The central role played by the U.S. media in perpetuating this scam on the public — all with the goal of manipulating the election outcome — is hard to overstate. The fictitious story was first published on October 31, 2016, by Slate, in an article by Franklin Foer (who, like so many Russiagate fraudsters, has since been promoted to The Atlantic by the magazine's Iraq War fraudster/editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg). Published just over a week before the election, the article posed this question in its headline: “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?" Slate left no doubt about the answer by splashing this claim across the top of the page:
There was, needless to say, no disclosure from Slate that it was Hillary's own lawyer — the now-indicted Michael Sussman — who was pushing this story and providing the data to support it, including by meeting with the FBI twelve days earlier. Foer instead credited this discovery to a group of scholarly digital researchers who discovered the incriminating data through, in Foer's words, “pure happenstance.”
There were, from the start, all sorts of reasons to doubt the veracity of this article. Shortly after publication of the Slate article, several media outlets published stories explaining why. One of those was the outlet where I worked at the time, The Intercept, which used four experts in digital security and other tools of journalistic investigation to publish an article, two days after Foer's, headlined: “Here's the Problem With the Story Connecting Russia to Donald Trump's Email Server.” The team of journalists and data experts had reviewed the same data as Slate and concluded that “the information we reviewed was filled with inconsistencies and vagaries,” and said of key findings on which Slate relied: “This is simply untrue and easy to disprove using publicly available information.” Beyond that, The New York Times published a story the day after Foer's which reported about the Alfa Bank claims: “the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.”
Indeed, according to internal emails obtained by Durham's investigators, the researchers with whom Sussman was working warned him that the information was woefully inadequate to justify the claim that Trump was secretly communicating with the Russian bank, and that only animus against Trump would lead someone to believe that this evidence supported such a claim (see paragraphs 23j and k of the indictment).
But by then, the media's Russiagate fraud was in full force, and could not be stopped by anyone. This particular hoax got a major boost when the candidate herself, Hillary Clinton, posted a tweet on the same day …….
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