WHAT DURHAM PROVED. The trial of Michael Sussmann is before a jury in Washington, D.C. Sussmann is the Democratic lawyer who, according to special counsel John Durham, lied to the FBI in 2016 when, working on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign, he tried to plant a derogatory story about Donald Trump. The hope was that the FBI would start an investigation and then the campaign conversation would be: TRUMP IS UNDER FBI INVESTIGATION!
There is no doubt Sussmann lied to the FBI. There is no doubt he is guilty. But the trial is taking place in Washington, perhaps the deepest-blue jury pool in the United States. Durham's prosecutors are "facing a jury that has three Clinton donors, an AOC donor, and a woman whose daughter is on the same sports team as Sussmann's daughter," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said recently on Fox News. "With the exception of randomly selecting people out of DNC headquarters, you could not come up with a worse jury."
So the jury might reject Durham's evidence — juries are free to do that. Or it might convict. Whatever it does, though, Durham has already made some important points about the actions of the Clinton campaign in the 2016 election.
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The biggest point Durham has made is that an arm of the Clinton campaign developed a strategy to weaponize the FBI to investigate Clinton's political opponent. Starting around the time of the 2016 Democratic convention, with the Russian hack of Democratic National Committee emails, the Clinton campaign made a concerted effort to accuse Trump falsely of acting in collusion with Russia. At the Sussmann trial, Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager, testified that effort was focused on feeding information to reporters — the old-fashioned way to spread dirt.
But lawyers working for the campaign went beyond the old-fashioned way. They tried to enlist the FBI in the operation, to spur the investigation. That would turbocharge the story, allowing reporters to say the allegations were so serious that federal law enforcement was investigating.
That's why, when a team of pro-Clinton researchers came up with a theory that there were suspicious computer connections between a Russian bank, Alfa-Bank, and the Trump campaign, Sussmann took it to the FBI. He did it on behalf of the Clinton campaign. He billed the campaign for the work. Yet he specifically told the FBI that he was not acting on behalf of the campaign, that he was just doing it as a concerned citizen. In September 2016, when Sussmann requested a meeting with then-FBI General Counsel James Baker, Sussmann texted, "Jim — it's Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability 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."
But Sussmann was doing it on behalf of a client — the Clinton campaign.
Besides showing that an arm of the Clinton campaign sought to weaponize the FBI, the Sussmann trial has shown that the FBI was eager to be weaponized. We learned that a senior FBI agent involved in the Trump-Russia investigation, Joe Pientka, sent a note to another agent about the Alfa-Bank tip: "People on the 7th floor to include Director are fired up about this server. Reachout and put tools on...it's not an option — we must do it." The FBI building's seventh floor is where top management, including then-Director James Comey, had offices.
So those are two major revelations from the Sussmann trial: Elements in and around the Clinton campaign sought to weaponize the FBI, and the FBI welcomed the effort — all in the name of defeating the Republican nominee for president.
In the end, the Alfa-Bank story did not have a big influence on the campaign. One or two reporters fell for it, but the FBI could never verify any of it, and much of the press stayed away — for one simple reason: It was bogus.
But remember, this was the same team of Clinton lawyers and the FBI that brought the world the Steele dossier. And that did have a big influence. Even though the FBI's agents could never verify the dossier's allegations — they were bogus, too — Comey wanted to include some of them in the Intelligence Community Assessment, which was the intelligence community's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. And then, of course, Comey briefed both then-President Barack Obama and Trump, by then the president-elect, on it. And then the fact of those briefings leaked to the press — it must be important if top intelligence chiefs are briefing it to the president and the president-elect. And then the whole dossier leaked to the public, resulting in years of frenzied conversation and debate about its phony allegations.
So the Clinton strategy worked. No, it did not make Clinton president of the U.S. The voters just did not want that. But it did enormous damage to the Trump presidency and the Trump administration. We've been learning how the anti-Trump strategy worked for several years now, beginning with the evidence uncovered by Devin Nunes when he chaired the House Intelligence Committee. Now, the Durham investigation has told us even more. No matter the verdict, that is valuable.
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