Durham and his staff are preparing to try heavyweight Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann in about three weeks. Plainly, their focus is broader than just the one alleged false statement to the FBI on which Sussmann has been indicted. Durham’s charging documents and court submissions strongly intimate that the Hillary campaign is the fons et origo of the Trump/Russia “collusion” farce that dizzied the country and hamstrung a presidency for two years.
The theory is straightforward: The Clinton campaign, working through its lawyers at Perkins Coie and its “oppo” gourmands at Fusion GPS, ginned up a smear that the Republican presidential nominee and his campaign were Vladimir Putin’s own little KGB cell attempting to take control of the United States government. The Clinton campaign not only peddled this narrative to the media-Democrat complex, which dutifully hyped it; Team Clinton also had operatives, such as Sussmann (a former Justice Department cybersecurity specialist and man-about-Washington), exploit their deep government ties to project the collusion story onto the radar of national-security agencies. This enabled the campaign to claim that concerns about Trump’s nefarious Russia relationship had blossomed into a criminal investigation.
When people are doing something sneaky and potentially illegal — and we should note that defrauding the government is a felony — they often take pains to conceal their connection to it. In miniature, that is what the Sussmann prosecution is about. His alleged lie was the claim that he was bringing derogatory Trump/Russia information to the government not on behalf of any client — just as a good, patriotic citizen and former U.S. national-security official who was trying to help the FBI protect Americans. In reality, Durham alleges, Sussmann was working for the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe, a pro-Clinton tech executive who was hoping to score a cybersecurity gig in the anticipated Hillary administration.
But let’s widen the aperture, beyond Sussmann. The interesting question here is not whether Sussmann fibbed to the bureau. It is: Why did the Clinton campaign and Joffe think it necessary to conceal their roles in the scheme?
What does that have to do with the Clintons’ sense of humor?
Well, as is standard before a criminal trial, the parties are now arguing about what evidence the jury will be permitted to hear. On that score, Durham has subpoenaed lots of information from the Clinton campaign, but it has declined to produce it, citing — all together now! — the attorney–client privilege. That’s an amusing touch in a case where the central allegation is Sussmann’s insistence that he was not acting as an attorney for the Clinton campaign.
While Team Clinton’s gambit is at Durham’s expense, the prosecutor is trying to make sure the joke is on Sussmann. For purposes of the trial, Durham has told the court, he may not need the underlying information he has subpoenaed; he just wants to show the jury that Sussmann’s collaborators have tried to withhold it based on the exact attorney–client relationship that Sussmann told the FBI he didn’t have with them.
It’s a tight spot for Sussmann: Unless the court finds some reason to rule in his favor, his only way around this evidence would be to stipulate that he was working for the Clinton campaign when he told the FBI he wasn’t working for the Clinton campaign. That would make for an awfully quick false-statements trial.
The more intriguing thing is the continuing effort by the Clinton camp to conceal relevant communications — hundreds of which, Durham reports, do not even involve a lawyer, much less pertain to confidential legal advice or preparation for litigation. Why the secrecy?
If they really believed Trump was Putin’s puppet, you’d think they’d be anxious for people to see those discussions. They could then say they were just trying to help the FBI with the Alfa Bank story and the Steele dossier — you know, like Sussmann was just trying to help the FBI.
A last thing to think about. Sussmann’s defense counsel say they would like to call Joffe as a witness. But Joffe won’t testify unless he has immunity, and Durham has represented to the court that he will not immunize Joffe because Joffe remains the subject of a criminal investigation.
I have some ideas about what’s going on here.