While allegations of presidential candidate Donald Trump colluding with Russia dominated the news over the last four years, information about John Durham’s criminal probe into the investigation — including one trial of a Clinton operative which starts this week — is harder to come by.
Most news organizations that devoted hours of coverage to every detail and angle of the Steele dossier have had little to say about Durham’s investigation into the origins of “Crossfire Hurricane,” while few legacy media outlets have questioned the prosecutor’s intentions or integrity. Yet Durham’s legal filings — including two highly detailed indictments carrying a total of six charges — paint a picture of elites engaging in casually cynical manipulation, criminal concealment, and deep deception of the American people for political gain. Democratic insiders allegedly ginned up evidence of phony scandals and asked their friends to investigate; others reportedly used their access to government information to further anti-Trump investigations; still others simply fabricated reports and lied to federal agents about their sources — all with hopes of career advancement and financial gain.
Here are the facts buried inside his voluminous legal filings.
The investigation comes under investigation
In May 2019, then-Attorney General Bill Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut to find out how the Obama-era federal investigation into Russian collusion, known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” had gone so far astray. Barr elevated Durham to special prosecutor the following October. For more than a year, Durham worked so quietly that some Republicans wondered if he was doing anything at all. Then in the fall of 2021, Durham indicted two people — and pried open the sordid, backroom process for public scrutiny and legal recompense.
Durham indicted two people: Michael Sussmann, an attorney at the high-powered Perkins Coie law firm, and Igor Danchenko, a Russian-born researcher who helped produce the Steele dossier. Both stand accused of lying to federal investigators. But Durham’s exceptionally detailed legal briefs paint a deeper picture of abusing federal contracts and sensitive data, lying to officials, and weaponizing the U.S. justice system for personal advancement. But their indictments hint at broader issues yet.
Did a contractor spy on the White House?
One of the most explosive extrapolations made from Durham’s indictments concerns the role of a federal contractor’s searching “non-public” information about phone and internet usage, including in the Executive Office of the President. The complicated facts require some parsing.
Sussmann had represented a tech executive (now retired) named Rodney Joffe since February 2015 and the Democratic National Committee since April 2016, concerning the alleged hacking into its email server.
In July 2016, a computer researcher nicknamed “Tea Leaves” claimed to have found peculiar Domain Name System (DNS) data linking Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank, to a Trump email domain. Joffe soon told Sussmann about the data linking the two, and a new conspiracy was born.
“Over the ensuing weeks, and as part of their lawyer-client relationship,” Sussmann, Joffe, then-Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias, “and individuals acting on behalf of the Clinton [c]ampaign” sought “to share information about the Russian Bank Data with the media and others, claiming that it demonstrated the existence of a secret communications channel between the Trump Organization” and Alfa Bank.
To further the narrative, Joffe used sensitive data that he had access to through a federal contract. As part of the process of awarding the taxpayer-funded contract, a university that Joffe did business with had early access to federal government DNS data, including that of the Executive Office of the President. According to Durham, Joffe “exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump.” Entrusted with federal data, he used it to settle political scores.
In August, Joffe told an internet company to rigorously investigate six people close to Trump. “The Trump Associates List contained detailed personal information for these individuals, including, for example, their names, home addresses, personal email addresses, business names, business websites and email domains, suspected IP addresses for those domains, and information pertaining to the spouse of one of these associates,” wrote Durham. He provided the company with such detailed information that a list of six people ran five pages. That company had another firm search its “non-public” information. While employees at the third company felt “uncomfortable” about doing this job, Durham wrote, they did so because Joffe “was a powerful figure at both companies.” The data was used to bolster the claim that Alfa Bank had contacted the Trump organization.
Sussmann then requested — and received — a personal meeting with FBI general counsel James Baker in September 2016 to discuss the findings. Sussmann said he did not represent any client; he came out of his deep, personal concern about the Alfa Bank data. He turned over the collected data and a white paper he had written connecting the dots between Russia and Trump.
The agents opened an investigation, then promptly closed it. “The FBI’s investigation revealed that the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather, had been administrated by a mass-marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients,” wrote Durham.
Building ‘a very useful narrative’
Joffe seemed to privately acknowledge that he had found no scandal. He told his team that these connections to Russia amounted to “a red herring,” because the company in question was a “legitimate … part of the marketing world.” But his employees already knew the futility of their work. One of his partners, identified by investigative journalist Paul Sperry as lead researcher Manos Antonakakis of the Georgia Institute of Technology, publicly documented the vacuous nature of their work. “The only thing that drive[s] us at this point is that we just do not like [Trump]. This will not fly in [the] eyes of public scrutiny,” he wrote in an email obtained by Durham.
But Joffe also seemed not to care. He told his researchers their work will “give the base of a very useful narrative.” The existence of a mere “hypothesis” would satisfy the campaign, because it could trigger a broader investigation into Trump — and that an investigation itself constitutes a win. Joffe’s “goal was to support an ‘inference’ and ‘narrative’ regarding Trump that would please certain ‘VIPs,’” wrote Durham.
Joffe may have found himself motivated by the conditional promise of money and power in a Hillary Clinton White House. In November, Joffe admitted, “I was tentatively offered the top [cybersecurity] job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.” One is left to read between the lines that Joffe may have hired Sussmann to help elect Clinton president in 2016, so that he could take a government cybersecurity position in her administration.
Michael Sussmann also had a financial incentive to keep the research going. Durham documents that Sussmann billed his meetings on the Alfa Bank issue to the Clinton campaign as “general political advice.”
Joffe’s employees apparently had enough espirit de corps, or blind fear, not to divulge much of their methods to investigators. Durham revealed in an April 15 legal filing that he had to offer immunity to a witness in July 2021, because “at least five other witnesses who conducted work” on the Alfa Bank issue “invoked (or indicated their intent to invoke) their right against self-incrimination” under the Fifth Amendment.
While morally dubious, Durham has not charged that any of this behavior broke the law. That changed when Sussmann met with the FBI. By claiming he represented no client, Durham says, Sussman broke U.S. Code § 1001, which makes it illegal for a citizen to lie to a law officer and carries a penalty of five years in prison. On September 16, 2021, Durham filed a 27-page indictment against Sussmann for one count of making “a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement” to the FBI.
In his defense, Sussmann’s legal team questioned Durham’s evidence. Sussmann’s reported remarks came during a conversation “for which there is no recording; and for which there are no contemporaneous notes by anyone who was actually in the meeting,” they said — adding that, even if he did lie, it would be “immaterial” to the investigation. But Durham produced a smoking gun in April, revealing that the night before his FBI meeting, Sussmann texted Baker:
“Jim – it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availibilty [sic] for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau. Thanks.”
Durham said Sussmann’s “lie was material,” because it “misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data.” In other words, had Sussmann admitted that he came to the office on behalf of Donald Trump’s chief political rival, the FBI might have taken his allegations with a grain of salt.
Media outlets began to nibble on the story. The Clinton campaign raised it publicly as an October surprise. “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank,” tweeted Hillary Clinton just eight days before the 2016 election — and coincidentally, Halloween.
Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank. pic.twitter.com/8f8n9xMzUU
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 1, 2016
After the election, allegations of Trump-Russian collusion quickly became one of the biggest media feeding frenzies of the decade. Newscasts from the three major broadcast TV networks — NBC, ABC, and CBS — spent 2,202 minutes covering the alleged Russian collusion scandal during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency. CNN and MSNBC undoubtedly spent more time yet.
The campaign chose not to back off on the Alfa Bank story, either. Since the FBI did not pan out, Sussmann took an updated batch of data to the CIA in February 2017. The CIA concluded Sussmann’s information “was not ‘technically plausible,’ did not ‘withstand technical scrutiny,’ ‘contained gaps,’ ‘conflicted with [itself],’ and was ‘user created and not machine/tool generated,’” wrote Durham in an April 15 legal filing. Although Durham has said Sussmann lied about his employment status to the CIA, as well, Durham allowed the five-year statute of limitations to run out without indicting him.
Michael Sussmann’s trial is scheduled to open on May 16.
Where does the Steele dossier fit into the picture?
While many people know the names of Christopher Steele, few know the man who provided much of the Steele dossier’s content: Igor Danchenko, a U.S.-based Russian citizen who formerly worked at the left-of-center Brookings Institution. Danchenko had been introduced to Steele by Fiona Hill, and when Steele got the contract from Fusion GPS to create an anti-Trump opposition research file, Steele tapped Danchenko to fill in the details.
It was reportedly Danchenko who wrote the dossier’s most outlandish claims, such as the allegation that, during a trip to Moscow, future President Trump hired Russian prostitutes to urinate on a hotel bed where Barack and Michelle Obama had slept. He also said he sourced “the allegation that there were communications ongoing between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and that … the Kremlin might be of help in getting Trump elected,” Durham wrote.
The FBI made the dossier, which allegedly reflected Danchenko’s, an integral part of its four successful applications for FISA warrants to surveil Trump aide Carter Page. Based on the dossier, the FBI wrote of “a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership,” because Vladimir Putin “feared” Hillary Clinton.
But Danchenko had produced little research. Under questioning, Danchenko admitted the dossier’s contents came from “hearsay” and “conversations he had with friends over beers.” Danchenko based his information on conversations with at least one childhood friend and a former employer, Durham noted.
Even at that, Durham wrote, Danchenko would not divulge the complete lack of substance that went into the infamous DNC dossier. Danchenko repeatedly told federal agents that he based part of his report on a tip from an anonymous source he believed to be a Russian-American business leader. Instead, much of his report came from PR specialist and longtime Clinton family confidante Charles Dolan Jr. Near the beginning of his stint, Danchenko told Dolan he was working on a “project against Trump.” Dolan, who had ties to the Clintons’ presidential campaigns since 1992, happily provided many tales that made their way into the dossier.
Like Joffe, some of Danchenko’s Russian sub-sources appeared to have financial or career motivations, as well. Durham quoted an email one sub-source sent to another in Russian saying, “[W]hen [PR Executive-I and others] take me off to the State Department [to handle] issues of the former USSR, then we’ll see who is looking good and who is not.”
On November 3, 2021, Durham issued a 39-page indictment against Danchenko, charging him with five counts of making false statements to federal investigators. The Russian could face a fine and up to five years in prison for each of the five counts.
Igor Danchenko’s trial is currently scheduled to begin on October 11, 2022.
The Media-Bureaucratic Complex
The Durham indictments and associated legal filings appear to show political operatives willing to orchestrate smear campaigns: They gain access to private data at taxpayers’ expense, then exploit these resources to carry out their political agenda on the public dime. They contact the media to place a story, cite the story to justify a federal investigation, then use the investigation to drive the negative news narrative for weeks or months to come. In the incestuous personal and political relationships forged in Washington, it becomes exceedingly difficult to discern who is deceiving, and who is being deceived. Thus far, Durham’s reports expose how the bureaucratic forces some label “the Deep State” and the legacy media work in symphony, especially when targeting their common enemies.
“The emails that Durham has just uncovered, just the few that we’ve been able to see, clearly outline the entire conspiracy,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) told The Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow.
“And the question is: Can the dirty cops, the Clinton campaign, the people in the DNC, can they escape like rats off of a ship?” he continued. “Are they willing to spend time in jail to cover up for the others? We’ll see.”
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.