Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 17, 2022
By National Review Editors
One characteristic of Russiagate bombshells is that the mainstream press simply doesn’t cover them. That stands in contrast to the breathless coverage given to the original investigations, even as they never delivered the promised goods.
So it is with the latest jaw-dropping revelation from the Durham investigation. Special Counsel John Durham, of course, is scrutinizing the origins of the Obama administration’s Trump/Russia probe — a probe that holdover officials at the FBI and other government national-security agencies extended into the Trump administration, even as Donald Trump was the sitting president of the United States and, at least nominally, the chief executive to whom those agencies answered.
In a court submission last week, Durham alleged that a tech executive, who was supposed to be helping the government combat cyber threats, used his privileged access to Internet data — specifically, domain name system (DNS) traffic between servers — to mine contacts between Russia and facilities connected to Donald Trump. The information, Durham says, was taken out of context and distorted to suggest that Trump might be a clandestine agent of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Alarmingly, some of the Internet traffic mined in early 2017 was generated by the Executive Office of the President — the White House. That is, the tech executive, who has been identified as Rodney Joffe, was monitoring then-President Trump, trying to portray him as Putin’s mole.
In other words: He was spying on the president of the United States with the aim of harming his ability to govern the country.
Joffe was a Clinton supporter who was hoping to land a big national-security post if Hillary Clinton were elected president in 2016. Joffe and the Clinton campaign got their lawyer, Michael Sussmann, to communicate this “intelligence” about a corrupt Trump–Russia relationship to government intelligence agencies in the hopes that they would take action against Trump. Sussmann, a former Justice Department cyber-security prosecutor, was then a partner at Perkins Coie, the politically connected law firm that represented the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign.
Last year, Durham indicted Sussmann for lying to the FBI to conceal that he was working for the Clinton campaign and Joffe when he conveyed the information to James Baker, who was then the Bureau’s top lawyer (and an old acquaintance of Sussmann’s). Last week’s revelation by Durham indicates that, even after Sussmann delivered information to the FBI during the 2016 presidential campaign, Joffe continued to scrutinize Trump-connected Internet traffic. Durham has now disclosed that he intends to prove that Sussmann delivered the skewed data to another intelligence agency — apparently, the CIA — in February 2017, after Trump was already in office. That is, Clinton campaign operatives were using privileged information and insider access to nudge the government’s intelligence and law-enforcement apparatus to spy on the sitting president.
This is outrageous, but at this point not surprising. We already knew, based on prior government disclosures and Justice Department inspector-general reports, that the FBI and Justice Department obtained national-security surveillance warrants from a secret federal court based on suspicions that Trump and his campaign were doing Putin’s bidding. That surveillance continued for more than half a year into Trump’s administration.
The Clinton campaign, we now know, played a huge role in generating the suspicions that spawned the government’s investigation, not least by commissioning the discredited “Steele Dossier,” which the FBI used to persuade the court to issue the warrants. Durham has also indicted Igor Danchenko, the principal source for funneling bogus Trump/Russia “collusion” information to Christopher Steele.
The former president has long maintained that government agencies colluded with the Clinton campaign to slander him as a Russian operative, hampering his capacity to govern and leading to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose report ultimately cleared Trump on that score. Republicans are hoping that Durham brings about, in response, a legal Götterdämmerung.
We should be clear, though, on the state of play. Durham has not charged anyone with conspiring to defraud the government or a court. Neither Joffe nor Steele has been charged with a crime. And the only offenses for which Sussmann and Danchenko have been indicted involve lying to the FBI about who the sources of their information were; there is no allegation it was improper to provide the information — or even that the information was bogus, though there is abundant reason to believe it was at least badly misleading.
Most significantly, Durham is operating from a premise that the government, particularly the FBI, was duped by the Clinton operatives. Indeed, the one other indictment Durham has filed resulted in a slap on the wrist for an FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, whose crime was to lie to an FBI agent — in connection with the CIA’s having informed the Bureau that Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, had been voluntarily providing the CIA with intelligence about Russia.
It appears, though, that government agencies, at their top hierarchies, were predisposed to believe the worst about Trump, that they were biased against him, and that they failed to view highly dubious derogatory information about him with a skeptical eye — including failing to verify it before using it in court to obtain surveillance authority. Worse, they continued to pursue investigations as if they, not the president, were charged by the Constitution with running the executive branch.
That is not a case of the government being in a Watergate-style criminal conspiracy with the Clinton campaign, but it certainly bears a family resemblance to Watergate.
All indications are that Durham’s final report will be damning — and, if the pattern holds, ignored by all the same people in the media who promoted Russiagate for years. Even if few people ever face legal jeopardy for this, there ought to be political repercussions as well as serious thought given to preventing similar abuses in the future.