Yesterday, Special Counsel John Durham’s team responded to a perfunctory motion filed by defense attorneys in the criminal case against Michael Sussmann. Durham’s response reveals details about the breadth of the special counsel’s investigation and suggests two things: More charges will be forthcoming related to the Clinton campaign’s attempt to sell the Alfa Bank conspiracy theory, and the special counsel’s office has likely used similar investigative techniques to unravel further misconduct underlying the Crossfire Hurricane and Robert Mueller investigations.
A little over a month ago, Durham filed a one-count criminal indictment against Sussmann, a Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign lawyer. That indictment charged that Sussmann lied to FBI General Counsel James Baker when providing him three “white papers” and various data files that purported to establish a secret communication channel between the Trump organization and the Russian Alfa Bank.
Before the 2016 election, the Clinton team had peddled claims to the media that there was a covert communication channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. Slate published a detailed story on this conspiracy theory the week before the election.
The indictment, however, focused on Sussmann’s attempts to feed the false story to the FBI through his friend Baker. Although the Clinton campaign was paying Sussmann for his work, including the time he spent meeting with Baker, according to the indictment, Sussmann falsely claimed that “he was not doing his work on the aforementioned allegations ‘for any client.’”
In fact, according to the indictment, Sussmann was acting on behalf of “a U.S. technology industry executive at a U.S. Internet company” and “the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign.” The indictment further alleged that after the election Sussmann lied to a second agency—presumably the CIA—again repeating the false claim that he was not presenting his work on behalf of a client.
While the indictment included but a single count of lying to a government agent, the charging document ran 27 pages long and revealed the origins of the Alfa Bank conspiracy theory and the role other unnamed actors played in the scheme.
According to the indictment, to craft the so-called white papers on the Trump-Alfa connection, an unnamed “Tech Executive I” “used his access at multiple organizations to gather and mine public and non-public Internet data regarding Trump and his associates, with the goal of creating a ‘narrative’ regarding the candidate’s ties to Russia.” Tech Executive I, the indictment alleged, “directed and caused employees of two companies in which he had an ownership interest,” identified as “Internet Company-2” and “Internet Company-3,” “to search and analyze their holdings of public and non-public internet data for derogatory information on Trump.”
Also involved were two university researchers, identified only as “Researcher-1” and “Researcher-2.” Those individuals, Durham claims, “searched broadly through Internet data for any information about Trump’s potential ties to Russia. At that time, the university at which the researchers work was finalizing a federal government contract.” Significantly, in doing this research, they both accessed “data of an Executive Branch office of the U.S. government,” which “Internet Company-I had come to possess as a sub-contractor in a sensitive relationship between the U.S. government and another company.”
The indictment also included excerpts from various email exchanges indicating the team compiling the white papers that Sussmann handed to the FBI did not believe the data showed a secret Trump-Alfa network. The supposed standard-bearers of journalism ignored or glossed over these revelations and instead spun the single charge against the Clinton campaign lawyer as proof that there was no big there there in the special counsel’s investigation into the investigators.
On Wednesday, however, we learned that just on the Alfa angle of his investigation, Durham has compiled an overwhelming amount of information. The revelation came buried in the special counsel’s response to Sussmann’s “Motion for a Bill of Particulars,” in which the defendant asked the court to order the government to provide more details about his supposed crime.
Among other things, Sussmann asked the court to order the government to identify “the exact words of Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement,” the “specific context in which the statement was made,” “what portion of the statement is allegedly false,” and what various words in the indictment meant, such as “his work” and “acting on behalf of any client.”
In response to Sussmann’s motion, the special counsel’s office argued that “the grand jury’s detailed, 27-page speaking indictment more than adequately informs the defendant of the charges against him and provides him with sufficient information and facts to prepare his defense at trial.” Durham added, “all or nearly all of the information that the defendant seeks either has already been, or soon will be, made available to him through the government’s discovery,” and therefore the motion for a bill of particulars fails.
On the latter point, the special counsel stressed that the government had already produced “more than 6,000 documents, comprising approximately 81,000 pages.” That discovery included, the brief explained, “documents received in response to grand jury subpoenas issued to fifteen separate individuals, entities, and organizations—including among others, political organizations, a university, university researchers, an investigative firm, and numerous companies.”
Additionally, Durham explained, the government is working expeditiously to declassify large volumes of materials,” including, “more than 30 declassified reports of interviews conduct in the course of this aspect of the Special Counsel’s investigation,” “emails and other documents shown to witnesses during the above-referenced interviews,” and notes the investigators took during those interviews. In addition, the government intends to provide “transcripts of grand jury testimony for multiple witnesses,” and “the majority of the FBI’s electronic ‘case file’ pertaining to its investigation of the Russian Bank-1 allegations.”
The breadth of information gathered, through subpoenas and grand jury testimony, and the targets of those subpoenas, which include “political organizations” (plural), and “an investigative firm,” coupled with the detailed allegations included in the Sussmann indictment, suggests the Alfa Bank angle of the Durham investigation extends beyond Sussmann and that several more players might still face potential criminal jeopardy.
A second key takeaway from these passages emerges when one considers the framing of this evidence as related to “this aspect of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
The investigation into the Alfa Bank hoax likely pales in comparison to the probe that has been underway for some two-plus years into the numerous other Russia-collusion threads weaved by the Clinton campaign and the Crossfire Hurricane team. And Sussmann’s white papers are no Steele dossier, meaning there will be a lot more evidence to sift through and use to find the truth underlying Spygate and the culpability of the various players involved. Here, the power of subpoenas and grand jury questioning will prove vital.
It already has, as the indictment against Sussmann reveals, but more is to come—and not just related to Alfa Bank.