On Eve of 'RussiaGate' Trial, Questions Loom About Special Counsel Durham

 

With final preparations underway for one of the most politically explosive federal prosecutions in years, U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel John H. Durham’s record reveals legal error that undercuts his image as straight-shooting seeker of justice.

In a 2008 ruling that has never been reported by a major news outlet, a New York federal appeals court vacated bribery, wire fraud and racketeering convictions john durham Custombecause a team led by Durham, left, then the Deputy U.S. Attorney in Connecticut (and Acting U.S. attorney for supervising the prosecution), illegally withheld evidence that could have helped federal defendant Charles Spadoni defend himself in a corruption case.

In another case, a Connecticut federal judge overturned a conviction in 2003 because of what she ruled in a 57-page decision was Durham's repeated prosecutorial misconduct at trial, a sanction that authorities stated is extremely rare in the federal system.

Past performance is relevant now because Durham's three-year probe of alleged illegality pertaining to the 2016 U.S. presidential election is reaching a pivotal and controversial juncture with the trial this month of the prominent cyberlaw attorney Michael Sussmann, right, on a claim that Sussmann falsely denied that michael sussmann perkins youngerhe was representing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton when he sought to alert FBI general counsel James Baker in the fall of 2016 to suspicions of Russian interference.

Sussmann, his attorneys and some independent commentators have denied wrongdoing and claimed that the prosecution is exceptionally weak and also tainted by political partisanship by Durham, a career prosecutor who was also nominated by President Trump for the political post of U.S. attorney for Connecticut.

Several important pretrial motions were heard on April 27 by U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper in Washington’s federal court. (See appendix below for analysis: Sussmann Prosecutors Seek Legally Dubious "Tactical Advantage" At Trial, Defense Claims.) The judge largely resolved them on May 7 in favor of the defense, as reported here in Judge spares Clinton camp in Sussmann ruling. The trial began on May 16 and was expected to last about two weeks.

Durham’s case against Sussmann, a former partner at the DC office of law firm Perkins Coie, has generated substantial interest in the national press, particularly in pro-Trump circles where some Trump supporters regard it as their last best hope to vindicate Trump’s 2016 election victory as a purely American popular effort, thereby debunking claims that Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election to hurt Clinton and other Democratic candidates.

donald trump for president button nice smileSussmann and his defenders, on the other hand, have defended his actions as both non-criminal and reasonable, particularly in view of what they see as confirmed threats to the elections process posed by Russians, Trump and their allies. Sussmann’s defense lawyers accused Durham, for example, of promoting a “baseless narrative that the Clinton campaign conspired with others to trick the federal government into investigating ties between President Trump and Russia.”

Sussmann’s attorneys also have pointed to evidentiary problems in Durham’s case, including the lack of contemporary notes by the key FBI witness, James Baker, to support the Durham prosecution team's allegation that Sussmann criminally deceived Baker regarding his relevant clients.

The case, in other words, has come to be regarded in some quarters as either a rigorous and fearless application of the law by Durham and his team -- or, conversely, as an example of over-zealous overreach by an unaccountable prosecutor suspected of bringing a baseless prosecution to favor pro-Trump politics.

A consistent theme in the news accounts exploring the Durham investigation is that prosecutor and his team, including Nora R. Dannehy, a former Acting U.S. Attorney in Connecticut and longtime Durham colleague, bring to their work outstanding reputations as career prosecutors long entrusted to fulfill their responsibilities with the highest standards of professional expertise and justice-seeking.

And this is why the 2008 federal court decision, invalidating Durham’s prosecution of Spadoni for prosecutorial misconduct, remains especially relevant today in Durham’s prosecution of Sussmann.

barry sussmanHere’s the story: New Questions Raised About Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials in U.S. Attorney Firings, which we at the Justice Integrity Project originally reported in 2010 in Nieman Watchdog, a niche website published by Harvard University and edited by Barry Sussman, left, the former Watergate editor of the Washington Post who supervised its coverage of that scandal. Sussman is also the author of the recently released fifth edition of The Great Cover-up, a widely praised account of the Watergate probe.

The Nieman Watchdog story focused primarily on the appointment of Durham and Dannehy as special counsel investigating allegations of CIA and Justice Department misconduct. The story began this way:

"Four days before Nora Dannehy was appointed to investigate the Bush administration’s U.S. attorney firing scandal, a team of lawyers she led was found to have illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case.....[T]his previously unreported fact calls her entire investigation into question as well as that of a similar investigation by her colleague John Durham of DOJ and CIA decision-making involving torture."

charlesspadoniThe New York-based U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that Durham’s team should have known that the Spadoni defense was entitled to an FBI's agent's notes, which could have been used by Spadoni to argue that his conduct was legal.

The three-judge court ruled unanimously in vacating the major convictions against Spadoni, right. Judges held that the evidence john gleeson Customunconstitutionally withheld might have helped Spadoni's defense against prosecution claims that he and his employer, Triumph Capital, Inc., illegally conspired to hire a political consultant in hopes of winning a major contract from the State of Connecticut.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, left, a former federal prosecutor, authored the opinion, which is available here. It did not name the federal prosecutors at fault but the case caption and relevant filings were signed by Durham and Dannehy as the most senior attorneys.

Follow up correspondence to the courts in 2010 provides a sense of the high stakes and continued rancor. A memo signed by Durham and assistant, William J. Nardini, now a federal judge, urged the courts to sentence Spadoni without delay.

Spadoni's attorney, William M. Sullivan, Jr.., responded this way:

In his Memorandum (“Mem.”), Charles Spadoni presents overwhelming evidence of the government’s continued misconduct in this case—misconduct which the Second Circuit  previously recognized when it sternly rebuked the government. Instead of being chastened by the Second Circuit’s opinion, however, the government complains of Mr. Spadoni’s “tone” and of the delay which has taken place in this case—even though responsibility for both lies in its
hands.

 

Widespread Praise

Durham and Dannehy have achieved widespread praise and career advancement as special prosecutors entrusted with reviewing several of the most sensitive Justice Department controversies of recent years. These include investigations of suppression of evidence, partisan prosecutions or other alleged serious wrongdoing by Justice Department and CIA personnel in major proceedings of historic stature.

That pattern continued after May 2019, when the Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr named Durham, later assisted by Dannehy, to investigate the Trump team’s claims that the FBI and other Justice Department concocted phony claims of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election along with Democratic operatives associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Tabloids, pro-Trump media outlets and some leftist critics of the Democratic Party have labeled the claims of Russian interference "RussiaGate" in many news stories and commentaries that suggest that Russian "interference" is colossal fraud on par with the Nixon-era scandal of the 1972 break-in by GOP and CIA operatives of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC.

Typical of such coverage are editorials by the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, including a headline in February, Eyes turn to Hillary Clinton, not Trump in the Russiagate scandal. A headline last fall was The real ‘collusion’ was the creation of ‘RussiaGate’ out of absolutely nothing. Fox News, pro-Trump Republican officers and many bloggers have similarly advanced arguments that Trump and Russians have been falsely accused.

John Durham: 'The Legendary Lawman'

National Review columnist Jim Geraghty was even more forceful in a 2019 column headlined The Last Trusted Prosecutor in Washington, and subtitled: John Durham is the legendary lawman digging into how the intelligence probe of Donald Trump started. It began:

John Durham may be the most consequential and least known figure in Washington right now.

william barr new oIn May, U.S. attorney general William Barr (right) selected Durham, a longtime prosecutor with a résumé so sterling it nearly glows, to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and whether it was properly predicated. Some Trump fans believe there was a vast effort by a “deep state” of high-ranking intelligence and law-enforcement officials to smear Trump or hinder his campaign by creating a perception of corrupt ties to Russia. In late October, the New York Times quoted unnamed sources who said that Durham’s probe had officially become a criminal investigation, meaning he now has the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury, and to file criminal charges.

Since he is an attorney general appointed by President Trump, almost every decision from William Barr is criticized by Democrats as a partisan abuse of law-enforcement powers. But the appointment of Durham received no backlash, and in fact received praise far and wide.

Who is Durham, this rare-as-a-unicorn figure who can reassure lawmakers, talking heads, and court-watchers on both sides of the aisle, in an era when everything seems destined to turn into a loud partisan food fight?

To say Durham is tight-lipped is an understatement; he lets his courtroom arguments speak for him and rarely talks to reporters at all. Those who have covered him for years — or, more accurately, tried to cover him — say that when he does run into reporters, he is cordial but uninformative, and almost never on the record. In Durham’s questionnaire for the Senate while awaiting confirmation to be a U.S. Attorney, he was asked to list his written work. He answered that he had never written or published any books, articles, reports, or letters to the editor.

seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionBy contrast, an analysis headlined Russiagate Was Not a Hoax in 2020 by staff writer Franklin Foer argued that the 2017 to 2019 investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI Director, and a bipartisan report by the Republican-chaired Senate Intelligence Committee showed that Russians seriously interfered with the 2016 elections and were well-positioned to do so in the future.

Similar themes have been advanced in court and by such books as the “Proof” trilogy (Proof of Collusion, Proof of Conspiracy and Proof of Corruption) by Seth Abramson, right, House of Trump, House of Putin by Craig Unger and Russian Roulette by Michael Isikoff and David Corn.

Back-and-forth argumentation on the seriousness of threats began during the post-election transition to the Trump presidency michael flynn flickr gage skidmore phoenix 10 29 2016when FBI personnel warned Trump that his campaign advisor Michael Flynn, a retired general and former Defense Intelligence Agency director, was falsely denying Russian contacts while Trump was in the process of naming Flynn to be the first National Security Advisor in 2017. Flynn, shown at left in a 2016 photo by Gage Skidmore, later pleaded guilty to federal charges, tried to withdraw his plea and ultimately received a pardon from Trump while helping lead a MAGA movement to have Clinton and her campaign personnel prosecuted.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over the Flynn case, appointed Gleeson, by then a former judge, to serve as a special master to sort through the legal options when a such a defendant seeks to withdraw a guilty plea even after the kind of thorough plea admission that Sullivan had supervised, as our Justice Integrity Project witnessed in covering the case. But the Trump-Barr Justice Department short-circuited the prosecution by dropping it, thereby protecting Flynn, an ardent admirer of Trump famed also for leading campaign rally chants of "Lock her up!" demonizing Clinton.

Another oddity in Durham's prosecution background is that retired FBI special agent Robert Fitzpatrick co-authored a 2011 memoir that criticized Durham as essentially whitewashing an investigation that is usually cited as one of Durham's finest achievements.

robert fitzpatrickIn Betrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down, Fitzpatrick and co-author Jon Land wrote about Durham's work in Boston after appointment by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate Justice Department misconduct documented by U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf in a special report. The report confirmed the coddling of Bulger's Irish-American gang by Justice Department personnel who were using them as informants against Italian-American Mafia leaders being prosecuted before Wolf.

Fitzpatrick claimed credit for initiating the investigation of the Bulger gang and FBI wrongdoing. He complained that higher levels of the Justice Department had been thwarting his internal probes.

He wrote that Durham then took an easy compromise by targeting solely the most obvious culprit, a flashy former FBI Boston supervisor, John Connolly, who is currently serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy.

"Nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise," Fitzpatrick quoted Durham as saying at Connolly's sentencing, with the retired agent characterizing Durham's words as "seeming to indicate a plan or at least an intention, to pursue other guilty parties."

Fitzpatrick continued:

Nothing could be further from the truth. More than a decade later now, no additional arrests or prosecutions have taken place, in spite of the fact that I and a number of other law enforcement officials laid out all the evidence of corruption and leaking for Durham. We basically served up everything he needed on a silver platter, which he apparently ignored and has continued to ignore since.

A further oddity is that the Justice Department then prosecuted its retired agent, Fitzpatrick, for false statements for material in his memoir and elsewhere. He pleaded guilty. Neither he nor his co-author were available for comment when our Justice Integrity Project tried to contact them.

The controversies above are not the only ones in Durham's background. In 2003, a federal judge in Connecticut took the extraordinary step of vacating a conviction in her court because of what she described as prosecution misconduct by Durham. The story is recounted in a 2003 news report by the Connecticut Law Tribune excerpted below and at greater length at the bottom of the appendix to this column, with a link to the docket here: Anthony Washington Docket Report.

Connecticut Law Tribune, Attorney's Trial Tactics Impugned, Kellie A. Wagner, June 23, 2003. Judge tosses conviction.

Admonishing Deputy U.S. Attorney John Durham's trial tactics, as well as her own failure to maintain courtroom decorum, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond janet bond artertonArterton has taken the extraordinary step of overturning a weapons charge conviction largely on account of prosecutorial misconduct.

In granting defendant Anthony Washington's request for a new trial las month, Arterton (right) rebuked Durham for undermining the defense's key witness, while personally vouching for those who took the stand on the prosecution’s behalf, maligning defense counsel and his arguments; and aluding to highly prejudicial facts not in evidence.

Durham could not be reached for comment by press time. But U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor said his office will be filing a motion for reconsideration in the matter.

Though he declined to reveal the specifics of the government's objections, O'Connor acknowledged the rarity of a conviction being uprooted due to prosecutorial misconduct at the federal level, stating there have only been one or two such rulings in the past 20 years.

In fairness, it can be expected that any professional litigator would generate criticiim during the course of a long career. But the criticism reported here against Durham by federal judges is both extraordinary and also is sharply at odds with his national image as an extraordinarily well-respected prosecutor.

Part of that discrepancy may arise from the economic cutbacks in advertising-supported local news media and national professional journals (the Connecticut Law Tribune was an affiliate of The American Lawyer) that used to cover courts, particularly in local and regional courts, far more thoroughly than now. That's a larger issue but underscores the lack of public knowledge and accountability for decision-making in the justice system.

 

Government Accountability

There are many aspects of the current Durham investigation, his overall career, Russian election tampering and so-called "RussiaGate" that have prompted wide commentary, sometimes at book length because it relates to controversial aspects of national presidential elections. This column will use an appendix below to summarize a diverse array of such commentary, and instead focus in our remaining space on a couple of over-arching themes.

First is that Durham's overall career success is publicly premised on the image that the public can rely on Durham and a few other high-ranking prosecutors (such as his longtime colleague Dannehy) to enforce justice even-handedly, not just against private attorneys like Sussmann and Spadoni, but also against federal agents suspected of illegal or unethical conduct, as in their probes of CIA officers who destroyed torture evidence or the Justice Department and White House operatives involved in the 2006 U.S. attorney firing scandal.

That's government accountability, in sum, at least according to popular understanding, as reinforced by commentaries who increasingly lack the time and sources to penetrate the tight-knit world of high-level law enforcement.

nora dannehy doj photoAnd tight knit it is, and almost opaque to legislative oversight, much less to reporters and the rest of the public. Durham and Dannehy, right, spent much of the past three decades working in the Connecticut U.S. attorneys office. So did Dannehy's husband, Leonard Boyle, the interim U.S. attorney recently running the office responsible for all federal criminal and civil litigation involving Connecticut, albeit under the overall supervision of the U.S. attorney general's staff at "Main Justice" in Washington, DC. The Senate confirmed Biden-nominated Boyle's successor on April 27.

All of these officials have made a virtue out of silence and secrecy except in court filings and appearances, as Boyle boasted of Durham in a rare if not unique public appearance by both of them in 2018 at a special lecture / tribute honoring Durham's career arranged by the University of St. Joseph. As reported by Jim Geraghty in his 2019 National Review column The Last Trusted Prosecutor in Washington

The only time Durham has offered public remarks on his work was in a March 2018 lecture at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Conn. Durham was introduced by his friend of three decades and frequent prosecutorial partner, Leonard C. Boyle, the deputy chief state’s attorney in Connecticut, and Boyle observed, “At least three members of the press are here tonight, because they probably realize that this may be their only chance to hear John speak about his work, other than in a courtroom. He’s notoriously shy about speaking about himself.”

The impenetrability of such decision-making, while undoubtedly legally correct in most instances, nonetheless carries a potential cost in public accountability when suspicions arise that decision-makers are neither fair nor error free. That has happened on several occasions with both Durham and Dannehy even beyond the Sussmann and Spadoni cases.

For still-mysterious reasons, for example, Dannehy dropped off Durham's current investigation in the fall of 2020, shortly before the presidential election.

Only Edmund H. Mahony, right, a prominent legal reporter for the Hartford Courant for more than three decades, reported for any mainstream publication an indication of her reason for ed mahonyresigning. And even his reporting conveyed, in essence, a hint of displeasure, based on unidentified sourcing, about the probe's direction.

That is very thin fare for the public to understand a continuing multi-million-dollar investigation about the integrity of the two major political parties during the 2016 presidential campaigns, including concerns of overall honesty of the FBI, particularly as controversies continue to simmer and while claims of Russian election interference in 2016 have morphed into fears of continuing election threats, enhanced by fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Notable also is that both Durham and Dannehy advanced their reputations and careers by appointments to investigate wrongdoing at the Justice Department regarding the 2006 U.S. Attorneys firing scandal, for Dannehy, and destruction of torture evidence by CIA personnel, Durham's probe. In both instances, the investigators of the major national scandals found no wrongdoing worthy of any significant sanction. Close scrutiny of Dannehy's probe, which most reporters or watchdog officials are not in a position to provide, indicated that she interviewed only one of the eight (or arguably nine) of the 93 U.S. attorneys the Bush Administration fired for allegedly political reasons.

Their decision-making was attacked at the time as whitewashing major government scandals that ruined countless lives via unmerited prosecutions. Where is the accountability for any of that?

When the power and majesty of the U.S. Justice Department are brought to bear upon an individual almost everyone pleads guilty. A vigorous defense can easily cost a million dollars in a case like Spadoni's or Sussman's. Spadoni lost his law license from the prosecution begun in 1999 and thus his ability to make a professional income. He served 18 months in jail for trying before the federal prosecution geared up to delete from his computer two contracts that proved to be not on the computer. He says his legal costs were more than $5 million, albeit mostly covered by insurance.

Whatever the costs, most people do not have either those kinds of resources or a desire to subject their family and friends to the process, which can often include threats of dubious prosecutions against family and friends to pressure a primary defendant.

One of the great heroes of modern American civic life, the Pennsylvania coroner, author and medical school professor Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D., below, now aged 91, cyril wecht capafaced legal bills of more than $8 million because he was targeted in 2006 with more than 80 felony charges in a political cyril wecht jfk assassination dissectedprosecution. More than 40 of them were "wire fraud" felony charges for using a fax machine for personal use in his part-time job as county coroner, with the total cost to county government calculated by Wecht's attorneys as less than $3 in ink and telephone charges.

Clearly, some politically ambitious or vengeful personnel at the Justice Department wanted to put him in prison for the rest of his life following his long career of rendering independent judgments on the cause of death in more than 500 autopsies a year (and more than 600 in 2021). These included analysis of many high-profile deaths where his independent judgment might conflict with those of police and prosecutors. He performed an autopsy on the imprisoned murderer and former federal informant James "Whitey" Bulger, for example.

His more than 60 books, including textbooks used to train fellow forensic pathologists in medical schools, include two recent ones, The JFK Assassination Dissected and his memoir, The Life and Deaths of Cyril H. Wecht

Wecht's primary prosecutor in 2006, Mary Beth Buchanan, was a politically connected Justice Department executive at Main Justice who had supervised of all U.S. attorneys nationally during the George W. Bush presidency. In leading the prosecution against Wecht, she was gearing up for a future campaign for a Pennsylvania congressional seat.

But her prosecution and political career faltered after Wecht was able to win transfer of his case away from a hostile judge and towards a new one, who pressured the government to dismiss the case.

Not everyone has the will power and connections of a Wecht in persevering to win such a victory. In his case, he won wide support in his Metro Pittsburgh community and via his law team, which included former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

The federal oversight investigation by Dannehy, now counsel to Connecticut's Gov. Ned Lamont, had nothing to say about that, with no record of even interviewing christopher coopervictims or prosecutors aside from fired New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Her oversight probe, which we have described previously as a whitewash, thereby provided the most superficial illusion possible of effective oversight of massive injustice around the nation in numerous such cases that our organization and others were documenting, much like Durham's similar probe of CIA wrongdoing.

 

Judgment Day Looms

The day is fast approaching when Michael Sussmann, another intrepid but doubtless beleaguered defendant, will put Durham and his current investigation to the test. Following the pre-trial hearing on April 27, Sussman's trial is scheduled to begin on May 16 before Judge Cooper, right.  The Justice Integrity Project will be among those covering developments, including the jury's verdict on Sussmann -- and in effect a verdict on Durham and the rest of like-minded Justice Department officials.

 

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This column has been updated, most recently on May 18, 2022. Justice Integrity Project Editor Andrew Kreig was assigned by the Hartford Courant, Connecticut's largest news organization, to cover federal courts from 1976 to 1981. He later authored "Spiked," a best-selling book describing economic incentives in regional news media to curtail in-depth coverage of courts and other local government. Also, he later served as law clerk to Judge Mark Wolf in Boston from 1990-91 during the judge's pre-trial oversight of a federal racketeering case against seven leaders of the New England Mafia, including Raymond Patriarca, Jr., that evolved into the judge's scrutiny of federal prosecution methods. Any opinions expressed in this column are the author's, except as attributed in the text, and with no input from either the newspaper management or the judge. 

 

Related News Coverage

2022

May 18

washington post logoWashington Post, Prosecutor says Sussmann used connections to share Trump dirt with FBI, Devlin Barrett, May 18, 2022 (print ed.). “This is a case about privilege,” prosecutor tells a D.C. jury on the first day of testimony in Michael Sussmann's trial for allegedly lying to the FBI.

A lawyer working for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign used his connections with top FBI officials to fuel an investigation into Republican nominee Donald Trump, a prosecutor told jurors on Tuesday during opening statements at the attorney’s trial for allegedly lying to the bureau.

The lawyer in question, Michael Sussmann, is in D.C. federal court for the first trial to arise out of the work of special counsel John Durham, who has spent three years investigating whether the federal agents unfairly probed the 2016 Trump campaign for possible ties to Russian election interference.

Durham sat in the courtroom Tuesday but did not address the jury.

“The evidence will show this is a case about privilege — privilege of a well-connected D.C. lawyer with access to the highest level of the FBI,” said Assistant Special Counsel Brittain Shaw. Sussmann, she told the jury, believed "he could use the FBI as a political tool.”

Political partisans are closely tracking the trial as a reexamination of some of the more controversial events of the 2016 presidential race, including the role played by the FBI. Trump and his supporters claim Durham’s work shows the FBI mistreated Trump; Democrats charge Durham’s assignment has been tainted by a thirst for score-settling against the former president’s perceived enemies.

May 17

ny times logoNew York Times, Clashing Views of Cybersecurity Lawyer as Trial in Special Counsel’s Case Opens, Charlie Savage, May 17, 2022. Michael Sussmann, a prominent lawyer with Democratic ties, is accused of lying to the F.B.I. in a case with broader political overtones.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers clashed in opening arguments on Tuesday in the trial of Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to Democrats who has been charged by a Trump-era special counsel with lying to the F.B.I. in 2016 when he brought the bureau a tip about possible Trump-Russia connections.

Deborah Shaw, a prosecutor working for the Trump-era special counsel, John H. Durham, told a federal jury that Mr. Sussman was in part representing Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at the time. But he claimed to the F.B.I. that he was not bringing the tip on behalf of any client because he wanted to conceal his ties to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Whether one loves or hates former President Donald J. Trump, Ms. Shaw said, the F.B.I. needs to know the truth “and should never be used as a political pawn.”

But a defense lawyer, Michael Bosworth, argued to the jury that Mr. Sussmann did not lie to the F.B.I. when he relayed the suspicions. No one at the Clinton campaign told Mr. Sussman to take the matter to the F.B.I., Mr. Bosworth said.

Mr. Bosworth did acknowledge that Mr. Sussmann was representing the Clinton campaign when he reached out separately to a reporter then at The New York Times about the suspicions. The move led the bureau, Mr. Bosworth said, to try to delay any news article while they investigated.

“The meeting with the F.B.I. is the exact opposite of what the campaign would have wanted,” Mr. Bosworth said, adding: “They wanted a big story that hurts Trump and helps them. He was there to help the F.B.I.”

The contrasting narratives were a highlight of the first day of the trial, which is expected to take about two weeks. Witnesses may include Marc Elias, who was then Mr. Sussmann’s law partner as well as the general counsel of the Clinton campaign, and James Baker, who was then the F.B.I.’s general counsel.

May 16

Politico, Opinion: John Durham Has Already Won, Ankush Khardori (Ankush Khardori, an attorney and former federal prosecutor, is a Politico Magazine contributing editor), May 16, 2022. The Trump-era special prosecutor begins his first trial this week, but the verdict hardly matters.

Most people are probably not looking for a reason to revisit the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but if you are, then you’re in luck this week.

politico CustomBeginning Monday morning in Washington, special counsel John Durham — the prosecutor who was appointed in 2019 by Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation in the wake of the Mueller report — finally gets to present his case to a jury in federal court. Though it’s come to represent much more in the public imagination, the actual charge is quite narrow. The defendant is Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who worked at the outside law firm representing the Clinton campaign, and he is facing a single count of lying to the FBI’s top lawyer in the run-up to the election in order to instigate a criminal investigation into Trump.

Since Durham’s appointment, however, a clear dynamic has dominated his investigation — namely, a palpable desire among right-wing operatives, commentators and media outlets to use Durham’s work, no matter how thin or nebulous the underlying evidence may be, to try to vindicate the theory that Trump was grievously victimized by the Democratic Party in an effort to defeat him and later hobble his presidency. When it comes to perpetuating that narrative, whether or not the jury ultimately rules in his favor, Durham has effectively already won. If the investigation has revealed anything of note, it is just how secondary the law has come to be in politically-charged prosecutions like this one

The trial beginning this week was supposed to be the culmination of an otherwise spotty and languorous investigation, now entering its fourth year. During the run-up to the 2020 election, both Trump and Barr suggested that Durham would finally unveil dramatic evidence of misconduct within the FBI and Justice Department during the Obama administration, but nothing of the sort happened. The only conviction that Durham has obtained was from a low-level FBI lawyer who altered an internal email while working on an application to surveil adviser Carter Page. (Despite much hype, Durham’s prosecutors were eventually forced to concede that there was “no indication” that the lawyer’s misrepresentation actually affected the investigation, while the sentencing judge said that the lawyer was simply “saving himself some work” rather than trying to mislead the presiding surveillance court.)

Things picked up last fall. In September, Durham’s team indicted Sussmann, and in November, they charged a researcher named Igor Danchenko with lying to the FBI about his work on the infamous Steele dossier, in a case that will go to trial in October.

The case against Sussmann was curious from the start, because it was apparent that Durham’s team was less interested in a discrete misrepresentation to the FBI during a single meeting than it was in the broader and arguably unseemly opposition research work of the Clinton campaign, its lawyers and the investigative firm Fusion GPS. Prosecutors have alleged that Sussmann lied to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker at a meeting between the two men on Sept. 19, 2016 — during which Sussmann provided several white papers and data to Baker concerning a possible link between computers in Trump Tower and Russia’s Alfa Bank — by stating “falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client” when, in fact, he was supposedly doing so “on behalf of” both the Clinton campaign and a technology industry executive named Rodney Joffe who hoped to obtain a position in the Clinton administration. The indictment, however, was rife with allegations suggesting — though never outright claiming — that the technical analysis was intentionally designed to smear Trump, and that Sussmann willfully participated in an effort to deceive the government in order to help Clinton get elected.

The case was met with broad skepticism among liberal legal commentators who noted that, at least on the face of the indictment, it was far from clear that Sussmann had made the misrepresentation at issue. In the eight months since Sussmann’s indictment, the case has traveled an unusual path even by the standards of politically high-profile prosecutions.

Sinclair Broadcasting via WKRC-TV (Cincinnati), Former Clinton campaign lawyer in court for special counsel John Durham's probe, Kristine Frazao, May 16, 2022. A nearly three-year investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe turned a new page Monday with its first criminal trial.

Former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussman was in court as part of special counsel John Durham’s inquiry. The charge against Sussman is "lying to the FBI."

Prosecutors say that in 2016, Sussman passed on a tip to them about suspicious ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia and said he was not working on behalf of any client. Prosecutors say that in fact, he was and that those clients included the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Court filings detail a text message Sussman reportedly sent to an FBI lawyer saying, “I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company. Want to help the Bureau.”

“The best way to convict a target of an investigation, especially of a crime, is their own documentation. It’s to follow the money. John Durham followed the money and connected the Clinton campaign with the lawyers," Kash Patel, a former Department of Defense chief of staff, said in an interview on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures."

This case is being closely followed by many in and outside of Washington not just because of the legal ramifications but for the political ones as well.

The investigation was launched to see if another investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller looking into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia was launched on a false premise.

Supporters cite the use of a still unverified dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele to obtain a warrant to surveil Trump campaign official Carter Page.

“On Oct. 21, 2016, the FBI used one party's opposition research document as the basis to go to get a warrant to spy on the other party's campaign. That happened," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said at a May 2019 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

But a 2019 inspector general report — while finding some errors in the handling of surveillance orders — determined that the Trump-Russia probe was legitimately opened and was not motivated by anti-Trump bias.

Fox News, Jury selected in Durham-Sussmann trial: Opening arguments, testimony from Democratic lawyer Marc Elias to come, Brooke Singman and Jake Gibson, May 16, 2022. Sussmann is charged with making a false statement to the FBI and has pleaded not guilty.

A jury was seated Monday in the trial of former Clinton attorney Michael Sussmann — the first trial stemming from Special Counsel John Durham’s years-long investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe — and opening arguments are expected to be presented by both the government and the defense Tuesday morning, as well as testimony from Democratic lawyer Marc Elias.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper on Monday presided over the first day of the Sussmann trial, which consisted of nearly eight hours of jury selection.

Special Counsel John Durham was in the courtroom for the entirety of jury selection, but was not seated with the prosecution team. Instead, Durham sat in the first row of the courtroom, behind the government’s table.

Sussmann is charged with making a false statement to the FBI and has pleaded not guilty.
U.S. Attorney John Durham, center, outside federal court in New Haven, Conn., after the sentencing of former Gov. John Rowland. Durham will continue as special counsel in the investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia inquiry, but is being asked to resign as U.S. attorney.

U.S. Attorney John Durham, center, outside federal court in New Haven, Conn., after the sentencing of former Gov. John Rowland. Durham will continue as special counsel in the investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia inquiry, but is being asked to resign as U.S. attorney. ( Bob MacDonnell/Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

The jury includes one federal government employee who told the judge they donated to Democrats in 2016 and another government employee who told the judge they "strongly" dislike former President Trump—both of those jurors told the judge they could be impartial throughout the trial. The jury also includes a teacher, an illustrator, a mechanic and more.

The overwhelming majority of jurors selected told Cooper they had not heard of the case prior to jury service.

"Picking a jury is more of an art than a science," Cooper said Monday, urging the individuals who were not selected to serve on the jury to "take nothing from the fact that you’re being excused."

Cooper, in dismissing the jury Monday evening, instructed jurors against doing "any independent research about the case," and instructed them not to discuss the case even amongst fellow jurors.

Representing the government are federal prosecutors Andrew DeFilippis, Michael Keilty, Deborah Brittain Shaw, and Jonathan Edgar Algor IV.

Representing Sussmann are defense attorneys Sean Berkowitz, Michael Bosworth, Catherine Yao, and Natalie Hardwick Rao.

Both the prosecution and the defense are expected to deliver opening arguments Tuesday morning, beginning at 9 a.m. ET.
Michael Sussman attends the Washington Post’s sixth annual cybersecurity summit on October 6, 2016.

Michael Sussman attends the Washington Post’s sixth annual cybersecurity summit on October 6, 2016.

The government is expected to call several witnesses to testify after opening arguments Tuesday, including former Clinton lawyer Marc Elias, who formerly served with Sussmann at Perkins Coie.

DURHAM RELEASES FORMER CLINTON LAWYER MICHAEL SUSSMANN'S TEXT MESSAGE, SAYS HE PUT 'LIE IN WRITING'

Perkins Coie is the law firm through which the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign funded the anti-Trump dossier.

The unverified dossier, which contained allegations of purported coordination between Trump and the Russian government, was authored by Christopher Steele, an ex-British intelligence officer, and commissioned by opposition research firm Fusion GPS.

Cooper acknowledged Monday that Elias had testified before the grand jury as part of the government’s case, but said he had not yet read his grand jury testimony.
Photo of John Durham and Michael Sussmann. Sussman pic: Perkins Coie

Photo of John Durham and Michael Sussmann. Sussman pic: Perkins Coie (Perkins Coie)

The government is also expected to call two FBI special agents to testify Tuesday.

With regard to COVID-19, Cooper warned the prosecution and the defense to take care when outside the courtroom, due to rising cases of coronavirus in Washington D.C.

"We may have to take a break, or even worse," Cooper warned, should someone involved in the case test positive.

Durham and the government allege Sussmann told FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016 — less than two months before the 2016 presidential election — that he was not doing work "for any client" when Sussman requested and attended a meeting where he presented "purported data and ‘white papers’ that allegedly demonstrated a covert communications channel" between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which has ties to the Kremlin.

Durham and the government allege Sussmann lied in the meeting, "falsely stating to the general counsel that he was not providing the allegations to the FBI on behalf of any client."

Durham, in a filing in the weeks leading up to the trial, said "the night before the defendant met with the general counsel, the defendant conveyed the same lie in writing and sent the following text message to the general counsel’s personal cellphone."

"Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss," the text message stated, according to Durham. "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."

Baker replied: "OK. I will find a time. What might work for you?"

DURHAM SAYS CIA FOUND DATA ALLEGING TRUMP-RUSSIA CONNECTION NOT 'TECHNICALLY PLAUSIBLE,' WAS 'USER CREATED'

Durham in February first revealed that the government would attempt to establish at trial that among the data "exploited" was domain name system (DNS) internet traffic relating to "a particular healthcare provider, Trump Tower, Donald Trump's Central Park West apartment building and the Executive Office of the President of the United States (EOP)."

In February, Durham said data was exploited "by mining the EOP's DNS traffic and other data for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump," adding the data was used to establish "an inference" and "narrative" tying Trump to Russia.

Durham also alleges that Sussmann in February 2017 provided an "updated set of allegations," including the Alfa Bank claims, and additional allegations related to Trump to a second U.S. government agency, which Fox News has confirmed was the CIA.

Cooper, has said the prosecution can present evidence and question witnesses about the DNS data but has limited the evidence Durham and the prosecution can present against Sussmann during trial.

HILLARY CLINTON 2016 TWEETS PUSHED NOW-DEBUNKED CLAIM OF TRUMP USE OF 'COVERT SERVER' LINKED TO RUSSIA

The prosecution has argued that Sussmann desired to conceal a "joint venture" with the Clinton campaign, which Cooper wrote that the prosecution claims "supplied a motive" for Sussmann to "misrepresent" to Baker "that he was not providing the data to the FBI on behalf of any client, when he was actually representing both Mr. Joffe and the campaign."

That was a reference to tech executive Rodney Joffe, who has not been named in Durham’s filings and has not been charged with a crime.

Sussmann’s defense has denied he had an attorney-client relationship with the Clinton campaign that covered activities related to the Alfa Bank data.

Durham was tapped in 2019 by Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI’s original investigation into the Trump campaign, which led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.

May 15

 

U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel John Durham, left, and defendant Michael Sussmann, a cyberlaw attorney and former federal prosecutor. split

U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel John Durham, left, and defendant Michael Sussmann, a cyberlaw attorney and former federal prosecutor whose trial begins on May 16 on a false statement charge in Washington, DC's federal court.

CNN, Who's who in the Michael Sussmann trial, Marshall Cohen, Updated May 15, 2022. The trial of Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael CNNSussmann kicks off Monday in Washington, DC, and will feature a cast of characters related to the 2016 election.

Sussmann was indicted last year by special counsel John Durham, the Trump-era prosecutor who has spent the last three years reviewing the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation.

Here's a breakdown of the key figures that will be featured prominently at Sussmann's trial.

John Durham

john durhamDurham, right, is the Justice Department special counsel who charged Sussmann. Former Attorney General William Barr tasked Durham in early 2019 with reviewing the Trump-Russia investigation.

He had a reputation as an apolitical fact-finder who took on tough cases. But some legal experts have criticized his handling of the current investigation, which has become a cause célèbre in right-wing circles. Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly hyped up the Durham probe, suggesting without proof that it could lead to indictments of top Democrats, even Clinton herself.

Michael Sussmann

michael sussmann perkins youngerSussmann, right, is a lawyer who has focused on cybersecurity and privacy matters. During the 2016 campaign, he worked for the law firm Perkins Coie and represented the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. He helped the DNC after Russian hackers breached its servers, stole thousands of internal emails, and released the material through WikiLeaks.

The case revolves around a meeting Sussmann had with a top FBI official in September 2016. During that meeting, Sussmann passed along a tip about strange cyber activity between the Trump Organization and Moscow-based Alfa Bank. Durham says Sussmann broke the law by falsely telling the FBI official that he wasn't there on behalf of any client. He pleaded not guilty.

Alfa Bank

alpha bank logo russiaAlfa Bank is the largest private bank in Russia. In 2016, data scientists uncovered information that they believed suggested a communications backchannel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. The researchers passed the data to Sussmann, who gave it to the FBI during his September 2016 meeting. The FBI ultimately concluded that there weren't improper cyber links.

Both companies denied that there was any backchannel. The Senate Intelligence Committee looked into the matter as part of its bipartisan inquiry into potential Trump-Russia collusion. The final report accepted the FBI's conclusions but also noted that the explanations that Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization provided regarding the unusual cyberactivity "were not consistent."

James Baker

james baker fbiJames Baker, right, was the FBI's general counsel from 2014 to 2017. He is the FBI official that met with Sussmann in September 2016 where Sussmann passed along the Trump-Alfa Bank information.

He will be a major witness for the prosecution, because he was the only other person in the room when Sussmann allegedly lied about his clients. Sussmann's lawyers have attacked Baker's credibility because he has given differing accounts of their meeting over the years.

Fusion GPS

Fusion GPS is an opposition research company that was indirectly paid by the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt about Trump's connections to Russia. The company had previously been hired by anti-Trump Republicans, but the Clinton campaign picked up the tab after the GOP primaries.

The company hired retired British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Trump's dealings in Russia, and his work led to the infamous Steele dossier. Fusion GPS' founders prodded journalists to publish stories tying Trump to Russia during the 2016 campaign, based on their opposition research, according to emails that were made public as part of the Sussmann case.

Perkins Coie

Perkins Coie is the law firm where Sussmann worked in 2016. It was the primary firm retained by Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee to handle election matters.

The law firm has pushed back against Durham's attempts to obtain internal emails about its dealings with Fusion GPS during the 2016 campaign. The judge in Sussmann's case has privately examined the emails and will decide if they are protected by attorney-client privilege.

CNN previously reported that Durham subpoenaed Perkins Coie after Sussmann's indictment, which is an indication that the special counsel could be trying to build a broader criminal case.

Marc Elias

marc eliasMarc Elias, right, is a prominent Democratic attorney who worked for Perkins Coie in 2016. He has worked as a top lawyer for every Democratic presidential nominee since at least 2004. In recent years, he started his own firm and has been a leading figure pushing for expanded voting rights.

He was a key intermediary between the Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS during the 2016 election, and the campaign's payments to Fusion were routed through Elias' firm at the time.

As part of the Sussmann case, Elias submitted a sworn statement to the court saying that he hired Fusion GPS to help with legal matters and to vet the accuracy of potential campaign statements about Trump's ties to Russia. The dispute over whether Fusion GPS was a legal consultant or research shop recently led to the Clinton campaign paying a small federal fine.

Rodney Joffe

Rodney Joffe is a cybersecurity expert who recently retired as a top executive at a technology company called Neustar. He was one of Sussmann's clients in 2016, and Durham has accused Sussmann of illegally hiding this relationship while passing along the Trump-Alfa tip to the FBI.

According to the Sussmann indictment, Joffe directed data scientists to look for potential links between Trump and Russia, which led to the discovery of the strange cyberactivity between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. The indictment also quoted emails where Joffe claimed to have been offered a top cybersecurity position in a potential Clinton administration, if she won.

Special counsel prosecutors have said there is an active criminal investigation into Joffe and whether he defrauded the US government by misusing internet data involved in government contracts to look for derogatory information about Trump. Joffe denies wrongdoing and his lawyers claimed Durham is pushing an "unfounded political narrative through false innuendo."

Christopher Steele

christopher steele ex MI6 spy express croppedSteele, right, is the retired British spy who wrote a dossier containing unverified and explosive claims about Trump in 2016. Since then, a series of government investigations and private lawsuits discredited many of Steele's central allegations about Trump's supposed collusion with Russia.

Trump has denied all allegations and says the Steele dossier was a shoddy political smear.
Durham's team has previously indicated that they'll bring up the Steele dossier at trial -- which fits with the pattern of Durham using his court cases to relitigate the 2016 election. The judge has said he'll police how much of this material is relevant to the charge against Sussmann.

New York Post, Opinion: One lie that hides an enormous conspiracy: Inside the trial that exposes Clinton’s plot to slander Trump, Andrew C. McCarthy new york post logo(senior fellow at National Review Institute), May 13, 2022. Special Counsel John Durham appears to have methodically built a case of historic consequence. It’s just not the case he has brought against bigshot Democratic Party lawyer Michael Sussmann.

Jury selection begins in Sussmann’s trial on Monday, in Washington, DC. It will be the first trial to arise out of the Russiagate probe, which began over three years ago. That’s when former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr assigned Durham, a longtime Justice Department prosecutor from Connecticut, to investigate how, in the middle of a heated presidential campaign and based upon scant evidence, the FBI came to suspect one of the candidates of being a clandestine agent of the Kremlin — to the point of opening counterintelligence and criminal investigations targeting Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

According to court filings in the Sussmann case, Durham has fingered the Hillary Clinton campaign as the culprit. The problem is that Durham has not charged that fraudulent scheme. Yet, he wants to offer evidence of the sweeping scheme in order to prove a comparatively minor and narrow offense — namely, that Sussmann lied to the FBI at a single meeting, on September 19, 2016.

Durham theorizes that the Clinton campaign concocted a political smear that Trump was a Putin puppet, then peddled the tale to a compliant media and to the FBI. This would enable Clinton to tout the “evidence” of corrupt Trump-Russia ties as so serious that the Feds were investigating.

Durham contends that the Clinton campaign left most of the scandal-mongering to its lawyers. Thus did Sussmann become central to the scheme, as did his law partner, Marc Elias. (Both attorneys have since left their white shoe international law firm, Perkins-Coie.) The deployment of lawyers in their schemes and scandals is a time-tested Clinton modus operandi, enabling them to claim attorney-client privilege to cover their tracks when controversy erupts and investigators start snooping around — a frequent occurrence over the last 30 years.
John Durham.John Durham describes the fraud scheme as the “joint venture” involving the Clinton campaign, its lawyers, a group of Internet researchers, and Fusion GPS.US Department of Justice via AP

Here, as we’ll see, there is delicious irony in the attorney-client gambit. The Clinton campaign is now claiming privilege in a desperate effort to block Durham from examining its communications with Sussmann and others. Yet Sussmann is on trial for allegedly telling the FBI, falsely, that he was not representing the Clinton campaign when he urged the Bureau to investigate Trump — insisting that the Republican nominee had established a secret back channel for communications with Vladimir Putin, through servers at Alfa Bank, an important Russian financial institution.

In short, Durham portrays the Clinton campaign as guilty of perhaps the worst dirty trick in the history of American presidential elections: a conspiracy to defraud the government into probing her opponent, the better to slander Trump, in the electorate’s eye, as a nefarious threat to the United States.

But, again, Durham has not charged anyone — not Hillary Clinton, her campaign, or any of its operatives — for such a sensational crime. This sets up the central dynamic of the trial: How much of evidence of the big, uncharged fraud scheme will the judge, Obama-appointee Christopher Cooper, permit Durham to introduce as proof of why Sussmann allegedly lied to the FBI?

Durham describes the fraud scheme as the “joint venture” involving the Clinton campaign, its lawyers, a group of Internet researchers, and the so-called “information” firm Fusion GPS.

Left: Attorney Michael Sussmann who was charged with lying to the FBI during the Trump-Russia investigation leaves the federal court in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Right: Special counsel John Durham. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016

Ex-Clinton lawyer Sussmann tries to block witness who could debunk Trump-Russia link

Prosecutors say the Clinton campaign acted through Elias, the notoriously plugged-in Democrat who served as top counsel for the campaign and the DNC, and Sussmann, a former top Justice Department cyber-security lawyer, who represented the DNC when its servers were allegedly hacked by Russia.

Sussmann had an important tech client, Neustar, and thus represented one of its top executives, Rodney Joffe. A Clinton supporter who expected to land a top government cybersecurity gig if Hillary were elected, Joffe networked with a group of Internet researchers at other tech companies and Georgia Tech University. Because of various contractual arrangements, including with the government, the researchers had privileged access to Internet data, including “Domain Name System” (DNS) records that essentially show when servers and email addresses contact each other.

National Review, Opinion: Durham Barred from Introducing Trove of Fusion GPS Emails at Sussmann Trial, Andrew C. McCarthy (senior fellow at National Review Institute), May 14, 2022. If the emails are probative, the jury should see them.

Justice Department special counsel John Durham has won a hollow victory in his false-statements prosecution of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann.

Federal District Judge Christopher (“Casey”) Cooper decided on Thursday that Fusion GPS, the information firm that provided opposition-research on Donald Trump for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, must surrender many of the emails Fusion has been withholding from Durham. Yet Judge Cooper also ruled that prosecutors may not introduce the emails against Sussmann in the trial, which is set to begin on Monday.

It is an oddball ruling, but as we’ll see, the prosecution’s position on the emails is also baffling.

washington post logoWashington Post, Sussmann trial to test credibility of controversial figures from 2016, Devlin Barrett, May 12, 2022. The first trial resulting from Special Counsel John Durham’s probe will explore claims and counter-claims of Trump-Clinton race.

After five years of accusations, investigations and recriminations, a federal jury will soon grapple with one of the legal hangovers of the 2016 presidential campaign: the trial of a politically connected lawyer charged with lying when he brought the FBI a tip about possible connections between Donald Trump’s company and a Russian bank.

The trial of Michael Sussmann centers on the narrow legal question of whether he lied when he claimed — less than two months before the 2016 election — that no client had spurred him to bring the tip to authorities, and whether that information was relevant to how FBI agents investigated the matter.

But the case, which begins Monday in federal court in downtown Washington, may also serve as a kind of Rorschach test for those still smarting over the 2016 election and eager to see political opponents suffer legal consequences for what happened.

The charge was brought by special counsel John Durham, a holdover from the Trump administration who has spent years probing whether U.S. agencies unfairly investigated the former president’s first campaign. The two-week trial will delve into the murky world of campaign research, lawyers and the role the FBI played in that election, as Trump and Hillary Clinton vied for the presidency, and federal agents pursued very different investigations surrounding each of them.

“What this case is really about is opposition research. And that may look unseemly, but that’s the rough-and-tumble world of national political campaigns,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at George Washington University Law School. “That doesn’t make it a criminal offense, and that’s the difference here. There’s a lot of sleazy stuff that goes on in the world that isn’t criminal, and I don’t see how these allegations rise to that level.”

Elon Musk says he would reverse Trump twitter ban

While much is at stake for Sussmann, a former Justice Department prosecutor who in 2016 worked at a white-shoe law firm that had long represented Democratic campaign organizations, the trial will also be a test of Durham’s credibility. He was appointed in 2019 to probe possible misconduct in the way U.S. agencies pursued allegations of Russian election interference and ties to the Trump campaign.

Trump and his supporters frequently say Durham’s work has revealed damning information about how the Republican standard-bearer was unfairly targeted by the Clinton campaign and the FBI, while Democrats accuse Durham of spending years chasing baseless accusations, only to bring a handful of weak cases.

The charge against Sussmann is the first Durham case to go to trial. A Washington-based researcher faces trial later this year for allegedly lying to the FBI about how he collected allegations against Trump. In 2020, a former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to illegally changing a government record.

Robert Mintz, another former federal prosecutor, said the trial next week “will be the first real test” of Durham’s work. By going to trial, he said, Sussmann has “thrown down the gauntlet and challenged the significance of the prosecution and the wisdom of bringing the case.”
Special counsel John Durham. (U.S. Justice Department/AP)

Analysis: The new gambit -- claiming key Russia probe data was 'made up'

On Sept. 19, 2016, Sussmann met with James Baker, who at the time was the FBI’s top lawyer, and told him about computer data suggesting some kind of communication between Trump’s company and Alfa Bank.

In a text message setting up the meeting, Sussmann claimed he was not representing any particular client in bringing the matter to the FBI’s attention. Durham’s office charges that claim was a lie — one that led the FBI to take the tip more seriously than it otherwise would have, had it known Sussmann was representing two clients: the Clinton campaign, and a tech firm executive involved in assembling and analyzing the data, Rodney Joffe. Prosecutors have said they intend to call Baker, as well as a number of current and former FBI officials, to discuss how agents investigated the allegation.

Within weeks of getting the tip, FBI officials determined there was nothing illegal or problematic about the data Sussmann had brought them. Those allegations of possible secret computer links between Trump and Russia did surface, however, in news reports shortly before the election. Generating such coverage was a key goal of those working with Sussmann, prosecutors say.

“The strategy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew DeFilippis said in court Monday, “was to create news stories … to get the government to investigate it … and to get the press to report the government was investigating.”

New York Post, Judge orders Steele dossier firm Fusion GPS to turn over 22 emails to John Durham, Ben Feuerherd and Bruce Golding, May 12, new york post logo2022. A federal judge ordered Fusion GPS to turn over emails related to its work with former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann.

christopher cooperFusion GPS improperly withheld the 22 emails from Durham by claiming they were protected by attorney-client privilege and “work-product” privilege, Washington, DC, federal Judge Christopher Cooper, right, ruled.

The move came at the request of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, according to the 11-page decision.

But the emails, which largely consist of internal communications between Fusion employees, aren’t protected from disclosure because they “appear not to have been written in anticipation of litigation but rather as part of ordinary media-relations work,” Cooper said.

“It is clear that Fusion employees also interacted with the press as part of an affirmative media relations effort by the Clinton Campaign,” he wrote.

“That effort included pitching certain stories, providing information on background, and answering reporters’ questions.”

Cooper ordered Fusion GPS — which hired ex-British spy Christopher Steele to compile reports that purportedly tied Trump to Russia, most of which have been discredited — to turn over the emails to Durham’s team on Monday, when jury selection for Sussmann’s trial is set to start.

FBI logoSussmann is charged with lying to the FBI on Sept. 19, 2016, when he claimed to not be “acting on behalf of any client” while turning over reports and data he said showed a secret back channel between a Trump Organization server and Russia’s Alfa Bank.

The information was later debunked by the FBI, which found “that the email server at issue…had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients,” according to Sussmann’s indictment.

The emails that Fusion GPS has to turn over for possible use against Sussmann are among 38 that Cooper reviewed at Durham’s request, despite the objections of the company, Clinton’s campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe, who gave Sussmann the Alfa Bank data.

They’re also among around 1,500 emails that Fusion GPS withheld after being slapped with a subpoena by Durham.

May 11

New York Post, Ex-Clinton lawyer Sussmann tries to block witness who could debunk Trump-Russia link, Ben Feuerherd and Bruce Golding, May 11, new york post logo2022. A former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer wants to prevent an expert witness from debunking computer research that purportedly showed a secret back channel between former President Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaign.

In court papers filed Wednesday, defense lawyers for Michael Sussmann said special counsel John Durham apparently plans to use testimony from FBI agent David Martin “to cast doubt on the specific data and conclusions that Mr. Sussmann presented to the FBI.”

Durham also appears poised to have Martin discuss the “materiality” — or decision-making importance — to the FBI of Sussmann’s allegedly false claim that he wasn’t acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and a tech-executive client at the time, the defense said.

Sussmann’s lawyers said the moves would “fall outside the bounds of what the Court ruled it would allow and instead veer into impermissible testimony.”

“Such testimony should be excluded,” they wrote.

The filing also said that Durham “appears to be attempting to get in through expert opinion precisely the type of testimony that the court has precluded from fact witnesses.”

As an example, the defense cited potential testimony from Martin about “spoofing,” in which the origin of computer communications can be disguised and “made to appear falsely to originate from a particular IP address.”

 

igor danchenko john durhamEmptywheel, Investigative Commentary on Igor Danchenko Durham indictment: Wall Street Journal -- Bigger Dupes of John Durham or Alexsej Gubarev? Emptywheel, May 11, 2022. The Wall Street Journal claims they’ve cracked the Steele dossier!

In a 4,300-word romantic comedy, they claim that, “many of the dossier’s key details originated with a few people gossiping after they had been brought together over a minor corporate publicity contract.” There are several incorrect aspects of this fairy tale.

First, WSJ claims that, “the indictment [of global consultant Igor Danchenko, shown above at left with federal prosecutor John Durham] pointed to Mr. Dolan as an important source for the dossier.”

Even assuming the allegations in the indictment were accurate (some are not), that’s not what the indictment claims. It alleges that Dolan was the source for the perhaps most verifiably true claim in the dossier (which is not surprising given that Dolan told the FBI he simply repeated a news story). It suggests, as part of uncharged materiality claims, that Dolan may have played a part in but does not charge that he was the direct source for three other reports. That doesn’t make him “an important source” (though I’m sure Durham is happy he duped some reporters into making that claim).

Here’s how WSJ credulously takes the most spectacular of those materiality claims and repeats it, all without explaining that in the FBI interviews they otherwise cite repeatedly, Danchenko attributed the kompromat claim to Sergey Abyshev, who confirmed that he and Ivan Vorontsov met with Danchenko on that trip to Moscow.

...

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the WSJ journalists who claim to have cracked the dossier make several false claims about the Mueller investigation.

...

Crazier still, it takes a special kind of incompetence to assert, as fact, that, “Mueller reported no evidence that the campaign conspired” with GRU, basing that claim on a report on Bill Barr’s letter to Congress that a judge subsequently ruled lacked candor. Mueller found evidence that the campaign conspired with Russia, just not enough to charge.

....

I mean, seriously, it’s 2022. No legitimate journalist has an excuse for sounding like a Seth Rich truther, as WSJ’s two journalists do.

May 10

New York Post, Ex-Hillary lawyer wants jurors in Dem-centric DC to know he’s Trump foe, Ben Feuerherd, Steven Nelson and Bruce Golding, May 10, new york post logo2022. Former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann wants to make sure the jurors at his upcoming trial in heavily Democratic Washington, DC, know he was working against former President Donald Trump — even before they hear any evidence in the case.

In court papers filed ahead of jury selection set for Monday, Sussmann’s lawyers asked federal Judge Christopher Cooper to include an explicit reference to Trump in his preliminary instructions for the trial.

Sussmann’s lawyers also asked Cooper to refer to special counsel John Durham’s prosecutors as “the special counsel” instead of “the government,” which is the preference of Durham, who was appointed by then-Attorney General Bill Barr in October 2020.

In 2016, DC voters favored Clinton over Trump, 90.9% to 4.1%, and Democrats in the nation’s capital now outnumber Republicans, 76.5% to 5.4%, according to an April 30 tally posted online by the DC Board of Elections.

Tom Fitton of the conservative group Judicial Watch said Sussmann’s requests amounted to an attempt to tilt the playing field against Durham. “The goal of the defense suggests this is a political operation,” he said Tuesday.  “That’s what’s behind this jury instruction. The goal is to turn this into a political trial between Trump and the Clinton people.”

Lawyers for Sussmann declined to comment.

Sussmann is charged with a single count of lying to the FBI by allegedly denying that he was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe when he turned over since-debunked computer research that purportedly showed a secret backchannel between a Trump Organization server and Russia’s Alfa Bank.

In court papers filed late Monday, defense lawyers asked Cooper to summarize Sussmann’s indictment instead of reading it verbatim to the jury before opening statements.

They also requested that the judge note that Sussmann is accused of “conveying particular allegations concerning Donald Trump” when he describes the alleged crime at issue.

May 9

washington post logoWashington Post, Lawyer charged with lying to FBI may call ex-NYT reporter as witness, Devlin Barrett, May 9, 2022. The May 16 trial is part of special prosecutor John Durham’s probe of the 2016 FBI investigation into Russian election interference.

Lawyers for Michael Sussmann, an attorney with ties to the Democratic Party who is about to go on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI in the heated final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, say they plan to call a former New York Times reporter as a witness to help show Sussmann is not guilty.

Justice Department log circularSussmann allegedly told the top lawyer at the FBI in September 2016 that he had information to share about possible cyber links between Republican nominee Donald Trump’s business and a Russian bank. He faces a single count of lying to the FBI because he allegedly claimed he was not bringing them the information on behalf of any client, but was doing so at the behest of two of his clients: Hillary Clinton’s campaign team and a technology executive named Rodney Joffe.

The trial is scheduled to begin next week in D.C. federal court. Sean M. Berkowitz, a lawyer for Sussmann, said in court Monday that the defense team plans to call former Times reporter Eric Lichtblau to testify about his communications with Sussmann and Joffe.

Berkowitz said in court that after speaking with lawyers for the Times, his team does not expect the news organization to object to Lichtblau testifying about those topics. But he said the Times did have concerns about the possibility that Lichtblau would be asked about independent research he did on computer topics related to Sussmann’s efforts. Reached for comment by phone, Lichtblau referred questions to his lawyer, who declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Times also declined to comment.

In court, Berkowitz said he expected lawyers for the Times to file something with the court about the issue at some point this week.

michael horwitz headshotBerkowitz also said he plans to call Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, left,, who examined the FBI’s handling of investigations into Hillary Clinton and a former campaign adviser to Donald Trump, and issued reports sharply critical of the FBI’s work in both those cases.

Berkowitz said he will call Horowitz as a witness to talk about how Sussmann provided “information to the inspector general that also involved Mr. Joffe.”

The Sussmann trial will be a closely watched legal confrontation pitting John Durham, a holdover special counsel from the Trump administration, against a longtime Democratic lawyer. The former president and his supporters have trumpeted the case against Sussmann as evidence the FBI abused its investigative powers and mistreated the Republican candidate for president, while Democrats have argued that Durham is chasing conspiracy theories about the “Deep State.”

John Durham has a stellar reputation for investigating corruption. Some fear his work for Barr could tarnish it.

Sussmann has pleaded not guilty. In a motion to dismiss the case, he argued that even if he did as Durham alleged, that would not be a federal crime, because the question of who his clients were was irrelevant to the FBI. As part of their evidence, Sussmann’s lawyers said they have reviewed more than 300 FBI emails that show the bureau understood Sussmann worked for Democratic campaign entities.

Durham’s team contends that if the bureau had known Sussmann was working on behalf of two clients with political interests, agents might have asked more questions about the source of his information or taken different investigative steps.

The information Sussmann presented to the FBI was computer data showing possibly nefarious computer connections between the Trump Organization, which is the former president’s business entity, and a Russian financial institution known as Alfa Bank. The FBI investigated the matter but ultimately concluded the computer data did not show anything illegal or problematic.

Durham was tapped by then-Attorney General William P. Barr in 2019 to review the FBI’s 2016 investigation of Trump’s campaign and whether it conspired with Russia. Barr named him a special counsel soon before leaving office.

Legal Schnauzer, Dubious past actions by Trump-appointed Special Counsel John Durham raise questions about the prospects for justice in Michael Sussmann trial, Roger Shuler, May 8, 2022. Perhaps the most politically charged criminal trial of the 2000s is fast approaching, and a citizen might like to think the prosecutor bringing the case is the kind of honorable, bipartisan sort fit for such a task.

But Special Counsel John Durham, appointed by Trump Attorney General William Barr, has incidents in his past that suggest he might not be the right guy to oversee the case against Hillary Clinton-aligned attorney Michael Sussmann, who is charged with lying to the FBI.

That's from investigative reporting by Andrew Kreig at the Justice Integrity Project (JIP). And it suggests the Sussmann trial might produce plenty of political fireworks -- based in the RussiaGate scandal of the 2016 presidential election and even touching on the U.S. attorneys firings of the George W. Bush era. But will the jury trial, set to begin May 16, produce justice? Kreig's reporting produces serious doubts about that. From Kreig's post at JIP, under the headline "On Eve of 'RussiaGate' Trial, Questions Loom About Special Counsel Durham":

With final preparations under way for one of the most politically explosive federal prosecutions in years, U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel John H. Durham’s record reveals legal error that undercuts his image as a straight-shooting seeker of justice.

In a 2008 ruling that has never been reported by a major news outlet, a New York federal appeals court vacated bribery, wire fraud and racketeering convictions because a team led by Durham, then the Deputy U.S. Attorney in Connecticut (and Acting U.S. attorney for supervising the prosecution), illegally withheld evidence that could have helped federal defendant Charles Spadoni defend himself in a corruption case.

In another case, a Connecticut federal judge overturned a conviction in 2003 because of what she ruled in a 57-page decision was Durham's repeated prosecutorial misconduct at trial, a sanction that authorities stated is extremely rare in the federal system.

Is this the kind of conduct the public should expect from the prosecutor in a case that likely will touch on international relations and national security? Kreig's timely reporting suggests the answer is no.

May 7

Politico, Judge spares Clinton camp in Sussmann ruling, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, May 7, 2022. The decision issued Saturday afternoon limits evidence politico Customand testimony prosecutors can offer against attorney Michael Sussmann at a jury trial set to get underway later this month.

A federal judge has turned down a request from Special Counsel John Durham for a ruling that a lawyer facing trial on a false statement charge was part of a wide-ranging “joint venture” involving Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Democratic operatives, private investigation firm Fusion GPS and christopher coopervarious technology researchers.

The decision issued Saturday afternoon by U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper, right, limits evidence and testimony prosecutors can offer against attorney Michael Sussmann, below left, at a jury trial set to get underway later this month.

michael sussmann perkins youngerThe ruling spares the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee the potential embarrassment of a federal judge finding they were part of a coordinated effort to level since-discredited allegations that candidate Donald Trump or his allies maintained a data link from Trump Tower to Russia’s Alfa Bank. The Clinton campaign disseminated that claim amid a broader effort to call out Trump’s ties to Russia at a time when U.S. intelligence agencies had revealed efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.

Durham has charged Sussmann — whose firm at the time, Perkins Coie, represented the Clinton camp and Democratic National Committee — with lying to the FBI in September 2016, when he approached the bureau’s top lawyer James Baker with what he described as evidence of links between Trump Tower and Alfa Bank.

Prosecutors say Sussmann presented his tip to Baker as simply a good-faith attempt to protect national security, when he was actually acting on behalf of the campaign and tech researchers he represented. Cooper said that permitting prosecutors to lay out evidence of such a broad, political conspiracy would amount to a “time-consuming and largely unnecessary mini-trial,” considering Durham has not charged Sussmann with conspiracy but only with a “narrow” false statement to the FBI.

Sussmann is one of just three people charged by Durham, left, since he began his probe three years ago. The others are Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to doctoring emails used to justify a surveillance warrant against Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and Igor Danchenko, the primary source john durham Custombehind former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump “dossier.”

Prosecutors often argue that statements that would otherwise be impermissible hearsay under federal trial rules should be admitted because they were uttered by members of a conspiracy and show those individuals working together. However, the rules also allow admission of such statements when the alleged joint venture wasn’t necessarily illegal.

hillary clinton buttonIn Sussmann’s case, prosecutors asked Cooper to rule in advance of trial that Sussmann was “acting in concert toward a common goal” with the pro-Clinton operatives, researchers and others. Such a ruling would have given the government attorneys more latitude to introduce emails against Sussmann, but the judge said the scope and membership of the alleged anti-Trump venture was too uncertain to make such a finding.

“The Court will exercise its discretion not to engage in the kind of extensive evidentiary analysis that would be required to find that such a joint venture existed, and who may have joined it,” wrote Cooper, an appointee of former President Barack Obama. “While the Special Counsel has proffered some evidence of a collective effort to disseminate the purported link between Trump and Alfa Bank to the press and others, the contours of this venture and its participants are not entirely obvious.”

Attempting to link Sussmann to such a conspiracy — particularly when he isn’t charged with it — would “essentially amount to a second trial on a non-crime,” he said.

alpha bank logo russiaIn Cooper’s 24-page ruling, he also says he will permit prosecutors to question witnesses about the scope of an effort by technology researchers to study links in so-called Domain Network Service or DNS data between Trump Tower and the Russian bank. However, the judge said he will not permit Durham’s team to introduce evidence that a technology executive, Rodney Joffe, allegedly had doubts about the accuracy of some of the data.

In addition, Cooper said he is unlikely to permit evidence that Joffe “accessed some of the data in breach of certain cybersecurity-related contracts he or his companies had with the U.S. government.”

“Evidence of improper data collection by Mr. Joffe or others done without Mr. Sussmann’s knowledge is, at best, only marginally probative of his supposed motive to lie to the FBI,” Cooper wrote. “Moreover, whether Mr. Joffe, who is not on trial, violated the terms of any of his contracts with the government—let alone committed a crime—is the type of collateral issue that risks confusing the jury and distracting from the pertinent issues in the case.”

It’s unclear whether Joffe himself will testify. Sussmann had urged Cooper to force prosecutors to grant Joffe immunity, claiming that Durham had dangled the threat of prosecuting Joffe in order to pressure him the plead the Fifth rather than testify for Sussmann. Cooper declined to do so, saying he wouldn’t take such an extraordinary step, but he noted that the limits he has placed on the government’s lines of questioning about Joffe’s work might ease his concerns about self-incrimination.

Cooper spent part of his ruling explaining why he wouldn’t permit the government to introduce highly technical data about the data gathered by Joffe and his researchers, unless Durham provides more evidence Sussmann was aware of the technicalities and any obvious flaws in it when he presented it to the FBI.

April 27

Justice Integrity Project, Commentary: Sussmann Prosecutors Seek Legally Dubious "Tactical Advantage" At Trial, Defense Claims, Andrew Kreig, April 27, 2022. Defense lawyers for cyberlaw attorney Michael Sussmann argued in a pre-trial hearing today in federal court that federal prosecutors seek unfair advantage in presenting evidence at his upcoming false statement trial.

The trial judge, U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper, said he would issue rulings shortly in advance of the trial scheduled to begin May 16 in Washington, DC.

Among the issues raised, defense counsel said Special Prosecutor John H. Durham's team has left open the possibility of prosecuting a key defense witness, cyber expert Rodney Joffe, formerly an executive of Neustar, therefore likely preventing him from testifying without a grant of immunity even though any relevant conduct by the witness occurred in February 2017, thereby exceeding a presumed statute of limitations. Prosecutors responded that they need to keep their options open and a court should not be able to force prosecutors to make decisions, including granting Joffe immunity.

christopher steele ex MI6 spy express croppedAlso, defense lawyers requested the judge to block prosecution efforts to introduce at trial large quantities of emails subpoened from Sussmann's former law firm, Perkins Coie, or to introduce the name of former British intelligence Russian desk spy chief Christopher Steele at trial. Defense counsel said neither the emails nor Steele had anything directly relevant regarding the false statement allegation, with Sussmann having met Steele, right, just once in a non-substantive context.

Russian FlagProsecutors invoked the concepts of conspiracy law to assert that they wanted to show the law firm, the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and various independent researchers were all part of a conspiracy to make false allegations against Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee and later president.

Defense counsel responded that prosecutors were seeking "tactical advantage" on legally dubious grounds because there is nothing inherently illegal about varied people communicating with each other when they have no common goal, much less one that's illegal. The counsel said prosecutors were seeking a "mini-trial within a trial" to expand the indictment's narrow claim that Sussmann falsely told the FBI he wasn't representing a client (a claim Sussmann denies) into a more elaborate trial of the veracity of Trump denials that Russians influenced his election.

Joffe and Steele, who is not expected to be a witness, got involved because of their suspicions that Russian interests were involved in disseminating materials stolen from Clinton campaign or Democratic National Committee computers. Defense counsel said that Steele had been a consultant to the FBI on various matters and his communications with the agency did not arise from any activity involving Sussmann.

Hartford Courant, U.S. Senate confirms Vanessa Avery as Connecticut’s first Black female U.S. Attorney, Edmund H. Mahony, April 27, 2022. Avery replaces former U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, who left office following the election of President Joseph P. Biden and U.S. Attorney Leonard C. Boyle, whom the district court judges appointed to serve in the transition.

April 19

Politico, Trump suit against Clinton could sustain secrecy on origins of dossier, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, April 19, 2022. Lawyers contend the former president’s new court foray backs their claims of attorney-client privilege.

The sprawling lawsuit that former President Donald Trump filed recently against former rival Hillary Clinton could, perversely, boost Clinton allies’ ongoing legal efforts to shield details of their anti-Trump political efforts from public scrutiny.

marc eliasLawyers for private investigation firm Fusion GPS argued in court filings released Tuesday that Trump’s newly filed racketeering suit bolsters their effort to conceal specifics of the firm’s work with the 2016 Clinton campaign via attorney-client privilege. Trump and his allies have long targeted Fusion, which commissioned the controversial Steele Dossier making salacious and at times unsupported allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia.

Now, top Clinton allies argued in legal papers Tuesday, the details of confidential discussions about the dossier should remain secret in part because Trump’s famous litigiousness — underscored by his new, factually questionable lawsuit — was at the heart of Democrats’ decision to hire Fusion in the first place.

The Clinton campaign and the DNC have long maintained that the dossier prepared for Fusion by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was part of legal work done by the campaign’s general counsel, Marc Elias, left. However, Elias has never publicly explained what work that was or precisely how Fusion GPS fit into it.

April 13

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge lets Durham case against Democrat-connected lawyer go to trial, Matt Zapotosky, April 13, 2022. The judge rejected Michael michael sussmann perkins youngerSussmann’s motion to dismiss the case.

A federal judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss Special Counsel John Durham’s criminal case against Democratically connected lawyer Michael Sussmann, right, paving the way for the matter to head to trial.

The six-page ruling was highly technical, and the judge did not offer a resounding endorsement of the special counsel’s case. But it was an undeniable win for Durham, and sets the stage for a high-profile courtroom showdown next month.

Sussmann was charged in September with lying to the FBI. By Durham’s account, Sussmann claimed he was approaching the bureau’s general counsel in 2016 with potentially damaging information about then-candidate Donald Trump on his own, when in fact he was doing so on behalf of a tech executive he represented and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

john durham CustomJohn Durham, left, has a stellar reputation for investigating corruption. Some fear his work for Barr could tarnish it.

Sussmann has pleaded not guilty in the case and argued in a motion to dismiss the case that even if he did as Durham alleged, that would not be a federal crime.

The motion hinged on whether the purported lie Sussmann told the bureau — that he was not representing any client — was “material,” or relevant, to what the bureau did. Sussmann argued it was not and asserted that charging tipsters who might hide their motive from federal law enforcement could have a chilling effect on those who might otherwise approach with information.

christopher cooperJudge Christopher R. Cooper, right, indicated it was possible Sussmann’s arguments might ultimately prove right, but legal precedent required the matter to first go to trial.

“Indeed, all the cases Sussmann cites where courts have found alleged false statements to be immaterial were decided after a trial and on appeal from post-trial motions …,” the judge wrote. “So, while Sussmann is correct that certain statements might be so peripheral or unimportant to a relevant agency decision or function to be immaterial … as matter of law, the Court is unable to make that determination as to this alleged statement before hearing the government’s evidence.”

Durham’s team argued Sussmann’s lie was relevant. Had the bureau known that Sussmann was approaching on behalf of two clients with political interests, they might have asked more questions about the source of his information or taken different investigative steps, a Durham prosecutor said at a recent court hearing.

The information Sussmann presented was computer data showing possibly nefarious computer connections between the Trump Organization, which is the former president’s business entity, and a Russian financial institution known as Alfa Bank. The FBI investigated the matter but ultimately could not prove the computer data showed anything nefarious.

April 6

ny times logoNew York Times, More Evidence Bolsters Durham’s Case Against Democratic-Linked Lawyer, Charlie Savage, right, April 6, 2022 (print ed.). Separately, defense charlie savagelawyers asked a judge to block the Trump-era special counsel from making the Steele dossier a focus of next month’s trial; New Filing by Counsel Might Strengthen Case In Trump-Era Inquiry; The lawyer, Michael Sussmann, right, is accused of lying to the F.B.I.

The Trump-era special counsel scrutinizing the Russia investigation has acquired additional evidence that may bolster his case against a Democratic-linked lawyer accused of lying to the F.B.I. at a September 2016 meeting about Donald J. Trump’s possible ties to Russia, a new court filing revealed.

In the politically high-profile case, the lawyer, Michael Sussmann, is facing trial next month on a charge that he falsely told an F.B.I. official that he was not at the meeting on behalf of any client. There he relayed suspicions data scientists had about odd internet data they thought might indicate hidden Trump-Russia links.

The new filing by the special counsel, John H. Durham, says that the night before Mr. Sussmann’s meeting, he had texted the F.B.I. official stating that “I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the bureau.”

Russian FlagThe charge against Mr. Sussmann, which he denies, is narrow. But the case has attracted significant attention because Mr. Durham has used filings to put forward large amounts of information, insinuating there was a conspiracy involving the Hillary Clinton campaign to amplify suspicions of Trump-Russia collusion. Mr. Durham has not charged any such conspiracy, however.

The disclosure of the text to the F.B.I. official in question, James A. Baker, then the bureau’s general counsel, was part of a flurry of late-night filings on Monday by prosecutors and the defense centering on what evidence and arguments the judge should permit in the trial.

At the same time, the filings suggest that the special counsel may use the trial to continue to examine larger efforts linked to the Clinton campaign that raised suspicions about potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — including the so-called Steele dossier.

The dossier is a notorious compendium of opposition research about purported Trump-Russia ties, since revealed to be thinly sourced and dubious. It was written by Christopher Steele, a subcontractor for Fusion GPS, a research firm that Mr. Sussmann’s former law firm, Perkins Coie, had hired to scrutinize such matters.

hillary clinton buttonMr. Sussmann, a cybersecurity specialist, had worked for the Democratic Party on issues related to Russia’s hacking of its servers. One of his partners at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, a campaign law specialist, was representing the Clinton campaign and hired Fusion GPS.

Mr. Durham’s new filing refers to the dossier and Mr. Steele — including a meeting with Mr. Sussmann that Mr. Steele has said involved the suspicions about the odd internet data — and Mr. Sussmann’s legal team said that Mr. Durham appears to be planning to bring up the dossier at the trial even though the indictment does not mention it.

Mr. Sussmann’s defense lawyers accused Mr. Durham of promoting a “baseless narrative that the Clinton campaign conspired with

March 11

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge seeks to defuse legal fight that raised Trump’s ire, Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, March 11, 2022 (print ed.). An obscure legal filing that sparked a political tempest was just ‘a sideshow,’ the judge declared.

A federal judge on Thursday sought to calm a political tempest whipped up by a recent court filing in a case arising out of the 2016 presidential election, telling prosecutors working for Special Counsel John Durham, left, that the new details they revealed would have “come out in the wash anyway.”

john durham CustomThe standoff sparked furious accusations and counter-accusations of political chicanery, but U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper called the legal question “a sideshow” to the upcoming trial of lawyer Michael Sussmann, an expert in cybersecurity who has long represented Democrats.

 In response to a court filing by Durham last month, Sussmann’s legal team accused the prosecutor’s office of using a pedestrian pretrial legal question about potential conflicts of interest to make misleading assertions. Trump and his allies immediately seized on those assertions to accuse Democrats and former officials of misconduct and “spying.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Cooper said he didn’t understand why Durham’s team included those details in the filing, but assumed the decision was made in good faith, noting “much, if not all, of the challenged material is likely to come out anyway” before or at trial.

Sussmann’s lawyer had asked the court to strike from the record those parts of Durham’s filing. The judge declined to do so, though he also cautioned prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis that he should be careful going forward about what he includes in court papers.

“Striking it will not unring the bell and will probably make the bell even louder,” Cooper said. “Keep in mind,” he told DeFilippis, “that the pleadings in this case are under a microscope. … Be mindful of that as we go forward.”

Feb. 18

PressRun, Commentary: The media and Durham’s corrupt “spying” investigation, Eric Boehlert, right, Feb 18, 2022. Ken Starr II. Fox News has lost its eric.boehlertmind. Again.

Looking for a partisan outrage to promote as Covid cases plummet and the U.S. economy continues to soar, Fox News, Trump and the ferocious Right Wing Noise Machine have gone all-in claiming Hillary Clinton’s campaign six years ago “spied” on the Republican candidate. The dreamt-up allegation comes courtesy of special counsel John Durham’s dishonest handiwork and his Trump-sanctioned investigation into Russiagate and the hollow claims that Trump had been the target of a massive deep state conspiracy.

fox news logo SmallThe current caper has more holes than the GOP’s Benghazi production, but it’s sucking up lots of Beltway oxygen and generating right-wing hysteria which is the whole point — to create a spectacle of Democrat lawbreaking. (Trump’s demanding Durham’s defendant be executed.)

hillary clinton buttonThe good news is the mainstream media are not blindly repeating bogus claims about Clinton “spying,” for the simple reason that nobody has offered any proof.

The bad news is the same elite news outlets are stepping lightly around the real story at the center of the right-wing mob — the unethical nature of Durham’s work and how he’s clearly working with the far right to try to manufacture controversy where none exists.

In the ABC News report, it wasn’t until the ninth paragraph that that network spelled out, “nowhere in Durham's filing does he state that lawyers for the Clinton campaign paid a tech company to "infiltrate" servers belonging to Trump Tower and later the White House.” That crucial debunking should have been found in the first paragraph, if not the headline.

Durham is Ken Starr II, and the press still hasn’t learned any lessons.

Here’s a quick example of the type of joke investigation Durham is overseeing. Last year, his shining moment was indicting Democratic michael sussmann perkins youngercybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussman, right, on a single count of making a false statement to an FBI agent, five years after the fact. (The indictment had nothing to do with FBI misconduct, which was supposedly under investigation.)

Durham’s indictment, which is based on the testimony of one witness who has contradicted himself, claims Sussmann committed perjury by denying he was working for the Clinton campaign at the time he brought his information about Trump’s Russian ties to the FBI in 2016. The false statement claim is a laughably small crime to serve as the centerpiece of Durham’s $4 million investigation, which has produced two indictments. (By contrast, Robert Mueller indicted 34 people as part of his Russia probe.)

As blogger Marcy Wheeler details, Durham’s allegation is based on the central claim that Sussman had secretly “coordinated with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign.” When Sussman’s lawyers in a court filing last October demanded to know with whom Sussman had directly plotted with on the Clinton campaign, Durham refused name anyone. That’s because at the time, Durham had not interviewed anyone with the Clinton campaign to see if Sussman had coordinated with them.

It’s amateur hour. “There’s tons of instances of where Durham demonstrably failed to do basic investigative work before charging Sussmann five years after a claimed lie,” notes Wheeler, who’s been picking apart Durham’s shoddy work for years.

Feb. 17

washington post logoWashington Post, Amid high-profile dispute with prosecutors, lawyer charged by Durham asks court to toss his case, Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 17, 2022. The lawyer charged by Special Counsel John Durham with lying to the FBI when he passed along information about then-candidate Donald Trump has asked a judge to dismiss the case — saying that even if he did what Durham alleged, it was not a crime.

Attorneys for Michael Sussmann, argued in a motion to dismiss on Thursday that Durham’s case was virtually unprecedented and, if allowed to proceed, might dissuade other tipsters from coming forward. Durham, they asserted, has not charged Sussmann with giving false information to the FBI, but rather, with lying about whether he was approaching the bureau on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“This is a case of extraordinary prosecutorial overreach,” Sussmann’s lawyers wrote. “The law criminalizes only false statements that are material — false statements that matter because they can actually affect a specific decision of the government.”

john durham CustomA spokesman for Durham, left — appointed in 2019 to review the FBI’s investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia — declined to comment.

alpha bank logo russiaAt the core of Sussmann’s indictment is a September 2016 meeting in which he gave the FBI data showing possibly nefarious computer connections between the Trump Organization, which is the former president’s business entity, and a Russian financial institution known as Alfa Bank.

By Durham’s account, Sussmann claimed he was not sharing the information on behalf of any clients, but was in fact acting on behalf of two: a tech executive and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The FBI investigated the matter but ultimately could not prove the computer data showed anything nefarious.

Feb. 14

ny times logoNew York Times, News Analysis: Court Filing Started a Furor in Right-Wing Outlets, but Their Narrative Is Off Track, Charlie Savage, right, Feb. 14, 2022. charlie savageWhen John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel investigating the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference, filed a pretrial motion on Friday night, he slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump.

But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news — the latest example of the challenge created by a barrage of similar conspiracy theories from Mr. Trump and his allies.

Upon close inspection, these narratives are often based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation. They also tend to involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims. Yet Trump allies portray the news media as engaged in a cover-up if they don’t.

john durham CustomThe latest example began with the motion Mr. Durham, left, filed in a case he has brought against Michael A. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to the Democratic Party. The prosecutor has accused Mr. Sussmann of lying during a September 2016 meeting with an F.B.I. official about Mr. Trump’s possible links to Russia.

The filing was ostensibly about potential conflicts of interest. But it also recounted a meeting at which Mr. Sussmann had presented other suspicions to the government. In February 2017, Mr. Sussmann told the C.I.A. about odd internet data suggesting that someone using a Russian-made smartphone may have been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

michael sussmann perkins youngerMr. Sussmann, right, had obtained that information from a client, a technology executive named Rodney Joffe. Another paragraph in the court filing said that Mr. Joffe’s company, Neustar, had helped maintain internet-related servers for the White House, and that he and his associates “exploited this arrangement” by mining certain records to gather derogatory information about Mr. Trump.

Citing this filing, Fox News inaccurately declared that Mr. Durham had said he had evidence that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid a technology company to “infiltrate” a White House server. The Washington Examiner claimed that this all meant there had been spying on Mr. Trump’s White House office. And when mainstream publications held back, Mr. Trump and his allies began shaming the news media.

“The press refuses to even mention the major crime that took place,” Mr. Trump said in a statement on Monday. “This in itself is a scandal, the fact that a story so big, so powerful and so important for the future of our nation is getting zero coverage from LameStream, is being talked about all over the world.”

There were many problems with all this. For one, much of this was not new: The New York Times had reported in October what Mr. Sussmann had told the C.I.A. about data suggesting that Russian-made smartphones, called YotaPhones, had been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

The conservative media also skewed what the filing said. For example, Mr. Durham’s filing never used the word “infiltrate.” And it never claimed that Mr. Joffe’s company was being paid by the Clinton campaign.

Most important, contrary to the reporting, the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era. According to lawyers for David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist who helped develop the Yota analysis, the data — so-called DNS logs, which are records of when computers or smartphones have prepared to communicate with servers over the internet — came from Barack Obama’s presidency.

“What Trump and some news outlets are saying is wrong,” said Jody Westby and Mark Rasch, both lawyers for Mr. Dagon. “The cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”

Feb. 13

New York Post, Editorial: Eyes turn to Hillary Clinton, not Trump in the Russiagate scandal, Editorial Board, Feb. 13, 2022. Democrats are calling for new york post logoClinton to be investigated for her role in Russiagate.

Russiagate, the collective delusion that Donald Trump was secretly a Russian agent aided and abetted by the Kremlin, the topic of uncountable inches of Washington Post and New York Times copy and the entire primetime lineup of MSNBC, was a dirty trick by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Not just part of it. All of it. One of the most diabolical, successful misinformation campaigns ever concocted.

We already knew that the Steele dossier was garbage. Christopher Steele was paid indirectly by the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt, which he did by turning to other Clinton operatives, laundering every outlandish rumor about Trump he could find into an “investigative” document.

He shopped it to the FBI, which couldn’t verify his sources or any of his stories, but the agency dragged out the investigation to cast maximum suspicion on the new president. In the meantime, Steele found willing accomplices in the media to push his propaganda. The dupes at BuzzFeed even decided to print the whole pack of lies, with the flimsy rationale of “Well, why not?”

We got to the point where New York magazine was running a cover story that was one long piece of fan fiction that Trump was secretly a real-life version of “The Americans,” a sleeper agent now seated in the highest office in the land. The Times and Washington Post won a freaking Pulitzer!

A made-up story

Now another piece of Russia, Russia, Russia is kaputski. A computer server operated by Trump’s company was secretly communicating with a Russian firm, claimed Slate magazine and endless Twitter threads of would-be tech experts.

But as outlined in his latest indictment, special counsel John Durham believes that was just a story made up by tech executive Rodney Joffe, who desperately wanted a job with the Clinton administration. He monitored and cherry-picked privileged Internet data he had access to, and molded it to look like something nefarious.

 

2021

Dec. 23

washington post logoWashington Post, Since October 2020, special counsel John Durham has spent $3.8 million probing Russia investigation, Matt Zapotosky, Dec. 23, 2021 john durham o portrait 2 cropped(print ed.). Special counsel John Durham’s review of the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government has cost U.S. taxpayers about $3.8 million since October 2020, according to a Justice Department report released Wednesday.

From April through September, Durham reported a tab of about $2.36 million, including about $1.89 million his team spent and about $471,000 recorded by other Justice Department offices as being in support of his work.

Nov. 19

OpEdNews, Analysis: The Steele Dossier and the J. Mayer Analysis: Revisited, Steven Jonas, right, Nov. 18, 2021. Oh my. The "Steele Dossier" has resurfaced, by the stephen jonasmagic hand of that Barr/Trump creation designed to supposedly "set things right about Trump and the investigations of him," John Durham.

And so, I decided to go back and take a look at some of what I wrote about Steele Dossier at the time it all was the rage (figuratively and literally). In what I thought is well-summarized in a column in which I reviewed an in-depth study of the Dossier, its origins, and sources, written by the very careful The New Yorker journalist, Jane Mayer.

Let me first say that, unlike many of my friends on the Left, some of them quite good friends, I fully believe that Trump and the Trumpites colluded with the Russians to help them win the election. Indeed I have believed that that could have been possible from the time the first rumors about the possible compact began to appear in the summer of 2016, and certainly when David Corn's first article on the matter, in the context of the "Steele Dossier," was published in October, 2016.

Nov. 17

steele nyt headline

ny times logoNew York Times, Guest Essay: How Did So Much of the Media Get the Steele Dossier So Wrong? Bill Grueskin (Mr. Grueskin is a professor of professional practice and former academic dean at Columbia Journalism School. He has held senior editing positions at The Wall Street Journal, The Miami Herald and Bloomberg News), Nov. 15, 2021. 

On Jan. 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News published a photo rendition of a 35-page memo titled “U.S. Presidential Election: Republican Candidate Donald Trump’s Activities in Russia and Compromising Relationship With the Kremlin.”

Those who were online that evening remember the jolt. Yes, these were just allegations, but perhaps this was the Rosetta Stone of Trump corruption, touching everything from dodgy real estate negotiations to a sordid hotel-room tryst, all tied together by the president-elect’s obeisance to President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Sure, the memo provided little hard evidence or specific detail, but, BuzzFeed said, it had “circulated at the highest levels of the U.S. government” and had “acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers and intelligence officials.” This, along with tantalizing tidbits like “Source A confided” or “confirmed by Source E,” gave it a patina of authenticity, especially to those unaware that spycraft often involves chasing unverified information down dead ends. Any caveats — even BuzzFeed’s own opening description of the allegations as “explosive but unverified” — could be dismissed as a kind of obligatory cautiousness.

christopher steele ex MI6 spy express croppedThat memo, soon to become known as the “Steele dossier” when a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele was publicly identified as its author, would inspire a slew of juicy, and often thinly sourced, articles and commentaries about Mr. Trump and Russia.

Now it has been largely discredited by two federal investigations and the indictment of a key source, leaving journalists to reckon how, in the heat of competition, so many were taken in so easily because the dossier seemed to confirm what they already suspected.

Many of the dossier’s allegations have turned out to be fictitious or, at best, unprovable. That wasn’t for want of trying by reporters from mainstream and progressive media outlets. Many journalists did show restraint. The New York Times’s Adam Goldman was asked by the Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple about two years ago how reporters should have approached an unverified rumor from the dossier. He responded, “By not publishing.”

Proof via Twitter, Investigative Commentary: Major media must stop enabling far-right lies about the Steele dossier and the Trump-Russia scandal, Seth seth abramson graphicAbramson, left, Nov. 17, 2021. Both these lies and those enabling them give aid and comfort to a neofascist insurrection. This thread debunks the New York Times oped above, Guest Essay: How Did So Much of the Media Get the Steele Dossier So Wrong?, by former Columbia Journalism School dean Bill Grueskin (30-part Twitter thread):

There's no proof in this article [by Grueskin], nor could there be, of how media "got the Steele dossier so wrong" — as the media never reported that *any* part of the dossier had been conclusively confirmed, never misreported its origins and wrote on the dossier far less than is now claimed.

Indeed, the supposed smoking gun with respect to media reporting on the Steele dossier is that one news outlet received a leak from a source close to the Mueller investigation indicating that Mueller had found *some* evidence that *one* claim in the dossier might be accurate.

It turns out that that leak—not the outlet's reporting that it'd received a leak—was incorrect, and Mueller found no evidence to substantiate that component of the dossier. This component remains neither confirmed nor denied, though Trumpists lie and say it has been disproven.

1/ As I know from hard experience, columnists often don't get to write their own headlines. But what this means is that someone at the New York Times either wrote or specifically approved this headline, which is not just a lie but an easily disproven one, at that. And here's why:

2/ There's no proof in this article, nor could there be, of how media "got the Steele dossier so wrong"—as the media never reported that *any* part of the dossier had been conclusively confirmed, never misreported its origins and wrote on the dossier far less than is now claimed.

3/ Indeed, the supposed smoking gun with respect to media reporting on the Steele dossier is that one news outlet received a leak from a source close to the Mueller investigation indicating that Mueller had found *some* evidence that *one* claim in the dossier might be accurate.

4/ It turns out that that leak—not the outlet's reporting that it'd received a leak—was incorrect, and Mueller found no evidence to substantiate that component of the dossier. This component remains neither confirmed nor denied, though Trumpists lie and say it has been disproven.

5/ The same Trumpists who say that this component of the dossier—a claim about Michael Cohen and Prague—has been "disproven," and say so on the basis of Cohen's denials and his alibi for a tiny sliver of the time-period in question, *also* say Cohen is a *liar* and a *scoundrel*.

6/ So what do the journalists that "got the Steele dossier so wrong" say of the Cohen-Prague claim? The truth—no more, no less. Which is that it remains neither proven nor disproven, but that Steele told the FBI his dossier was 30% incorrect, and this *could* be part of that 30%.

7/ The simple fact is this: though media bent over backwards—with the exception of a single outlet, the fringe, left-leaning, non-mainstream Mother Jones—to *not* report on the dossier before the 2016 election, Trumpists are angry that its existence was ever reported on at *all*.

8/ More than that, we *know* what Trumpists wanted media to do: lie to voters about the dossier. How do we know? Because Trumpists *celebrate* a late October 2016 NYT article in which the FBI denies the existence of any evidence in its possession—e.g. the dossier—on Trump-Russia.

9/ So even as media made sure the raw, unconfirmed intel in the Steele dossier would play *no part* in the 2016 election—then reported on the dossier's *existence* without saying any of it had been proven, and reporting on its origins—*critics* wanted a *disinformation campaign*.

10/ Here comes the first twist in this thread: I agree with the NYT headline. I fervently believe major media got Steele's dossier "so wrong." Media got the dossier "so wrong" by refusing to report on how much of it had been confirmed or corroborated and misreporting its origins.

11/ It took a fringe digital rag, The Daily Caller—not major media!—to reveal that the Ritz-Carlton Moscow allegation (the "pee tape" allegation) was fully briefed by Fusion GPS in fall 2015 (not a typo) via funding from *GOP sources* and *before Steele was contracted by Fusion*.

12/ Are you hearing the information I just wrote for the first time? Probably. That's because major media "got the Steele dossier so wrong" by falsely reporting it was the indirectly DNC-funded Orbis that unearthed the "pee tape" issue in 2016, not the GOP-funded Fusion in 2015.

13/ Moreover, Fusion GPS's Glenn Simpson testified under oath—something almost no Trumpist will do (and those who do perjure themselves)—that at the time Fusion contracted with Steele and Orbis in June 2016, Steele *didn't know* who was funding him or who his ultimate client was.

14/ Steele himself has since testified—again (notice a trend?) voluntarily and under oath—that what Simpson testified to was true: Steele didn't know his funder or his client when he took on the work. Yet those who say media "got the Steele dossier so wrong" claim otherwise. Why?

15/ There's never been any evidence Steele or Simpson perjured themselves on this point—yet the very people who claim to be so concerned that media "got the Steele dossier so wrong" routinely say Steele *explicitly agreed with the DNC and Clinton campaign* to find dirt on Trump.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: The Steele dossier: A guide to the latest allegations, Glenn Kessler, Amy B Wang and Marianna Sotomayor, Nov. 17, 2021. On Jan. 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News took the unusual step of publishing what it described as memos containing “specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump [campaign] aides and Russian operatives.”

This dossier, alleging a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, was assembled by a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, working under contract for a private investigation firm at the behest of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Many of the memos, which suggested deep sourcing within Russia, had quietly circulated in media and law enforcement circles for months before BuzzFeed made them public.

Nov. 4

 

igor danchenko john durham

Foreign affairs analyst and consultant Igor Danchenko, above left, who's been described as the Steele dossier's primary researcher, was arrested as part of an investigation by John Durham, above right, the special counsel appointed by Trump’s Justice Department to investigate the origins of the Russia probe.

New York Post, Editorial: The real ‘collusion’ was the creation of ‘RussiaGate’ out of absolutely nothing, Editorial Board, Nov. 4, 2021. They all knew – new york post logoand did nothing to stop the Russia collusion hoax.

If you haven’t been paying attention to all the ins and outs of RussiaGate and the so-called “collusion” scandal, that’s all you need to know about Thursday’s arrest of Russian analyst Igor Danchenko.

The Hillary Clinton campaign hired a bunch of shady operatives to put together a collection of lies and innuendo about Donald Trump and shop it to the FBI. It was the ultimate political dirty trick, one that was aided and abetted by the media long after Trump took office.

Igor Danchenko, the guy who supposedly gathered all the spurious “dirt” in the infamous Steele dossier, is accused of lying at least five times to investigators, special counsel John Durham alleges. Those lies were to cover up the fact that he really had no sources for his claims — or, in some cases, the sources were Clinton associates.

How’s that for a vicious circle? Clinton officials feed their Russian stooge disinformation, it gets laundered through British spy Christopher Steele, and the FBI uses it as the basis for wiretapping the future president’s team.

Nov. 1


 

wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigative Commentary: Durham's phony investigation a waste of scant DOJ resources, Wayne Madsen, left, syndicated wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallcolumnist, author of 21 books, former U.S. Navy Intelligence officer and NSA analyst, and former featured public affairs commentator on both Russian and American broadcast news networks, Nov. 1, 2021.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, below right, who has become the least popular member of President Biden's Cabinet, is continuing to allow a holdover special prosecutor from the Trump administration to engage in a costly and time-consuming "investigation" of absolutely nothing rising to a level of criminality.

merrick garlandOn October 19, 2020, just a few weeks prior to the 2020 election, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham was secretly appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr as special counsel to investigate Trump's alleged "Russia Hoax." Durham was originally tasked by Barr in April 2019 to investigate the Justice Department's ongoing internal probe of federal law enforcement surveillance activities of the Trump campaign for connections to Russia. Trump falsely insisted that the investigation was a "witch hunt."

Durham has been permitted by Garland to continue with a fool's errand of an investigation that has resulted in two dubious indictments. It is clear that Durham's targets now include the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, the Robert Mueller investigation of that campaign, and anything else that Durham (and his puppeteer Trump) decides is worthy. Garland has failed to show any desire to order Durham to wrap up his investigation or be shown the door.

Essentially, Durham has become a new Ken Starr. Starr was the independent Whitewater counsel who began an investigation into Bill Clinton's involvement in an Arkansas real estate deal and ended with a dubious probe of Clinton for receiving a blowjob in the Oval Office from White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Durham is operating under a mandate to "broadly examine the government's collection of intelligence involving the Trump campaign's interactions with Russians." Durham has now turned the investigation on to top Democrats.

In November 2019, Durham succeeded in obtaining a guilty plea by FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith for altering an email request for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant for Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. The FISA request was part of the FBI's CROSSFIRE HURRICANE probe of the 2016 Trump campaign.

michael horwitz headshotIn December 2019, the Justice Department's Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, right, concluded in a 400-page report on CROSSFIRE HURRICANE that the investigation had a proper criminal predicate.

In a highly-unusual move, Barr and Durham immediately denounced the IG report's findings. However, Durham has obtained no evidence that the IG report was incorrect. Nevertheless, Durham, an extreme right-winger with ties to the fascist Roman catholic Opus Dei order, continued with his own witch hunt against top intelligence officials of the Obama administration, including CIA director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. New York magazine reported that Durham also launched criminal probes of former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, the latter being Trump's 2020 presidential opponent.

Finding no criminality on the part of Brennan, Clapper, Obama, or Biden, Durham turned his attention to the Clinton Foundation. Eventually, Durham began investigating Perkins Coie law partner Michael Sussmann. On September 16, 2021, Durham was able to return an indictment of Sussmann for falsely telling the FBI that he was not representing the 2016 Clinton campaign when he told them about the suspicious nature of communications between network servers of Russia's Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. Durham was splitting hairs in the indictment. While Sussmann had represented the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the case of its email servers being hacked in 2016, he was not an official of the Clinton campaign, as alleged by Durham's twisted logic contained in his indictment.

marc eliasIt was clear that Durham's political target is another Perkins Coie partner, election attorney Marc Elias, left, who had also commissioned Fusion GPS to conduct 2016 opposition research of the Trump campaign. Elias continues to be the primary attorney challenging Trump charges of election fraud in various states, as well as new GOP-enacted state laws designed to restrict voter suffrage, particularly among ethnic minorities. Another Durham political target is Jake Sullivan, the current national security advisor, who was Clinton's national security aide during the 2016 campaign.

Durham's indictment of Sussmann was also directed at four computer scientists -- David Dagon and Manos Antonakakis of George Tech; Rodney Joffe, formerly an executive of Neustar; and Zetalytics chief data scientist April Lorenzen -- who provided forensic evidence of a link between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. Durham's indictment, which labeled Lorenzen as "Originator-1," Antonakakis as "Researcher-1," Dagon as "Reseacher-2," and Joffe as "Tech Executive-1," actually states that they did not like Donald Trump, a clear indication that Durham has unethically, and, perhaps, illegally misused his office.

Durham's "over his skis" indictment charged that the scientists had "exploited" their access to Internet data to concoct a conspiracy between the Trump alpha bank logo russiaOrganization and Alfa Bank. In fact, as reported by WMR on March 29, 2021, the actual conspiracy was between Barr and his Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski. Knowing full well of the Trump-Alfa Bank connection, Barr placed Benczkowksi, someone who had no prosecutorial experience, in charge of the Criminal Division to protect Trump and Alfa Bank. It just so happened that at his previous law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, Benczkowski's client had been Alfa Bank.

WMR also reported that "connected to the Alfa Bank server, which Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner wanted to secure with a Russia-supplied encryption betsy devos twittersystem, was Spectrum Health of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The chairman of the board of Spectrum Health is Richard DeVos, Jr., the husband of Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, left, and brother-in-law of Mrs. DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince of Blackwater infamy. Alfa Bank has a business relationship with Amway, the firm co-founded by Richard DeVos, Sr., the father of Betsy DeVos’s husband." It was later discovered that a YotaPhone, a Russian-made smart phone not generally available in the U.S. market, was connected to transmissions from servers at the White House, Trump Tower in New York, and Spectrum Health in Michigan.

Durham has been using the Justice Department to conduct a far-right and conspiracy theory-laden crusade against Trump's political foes. It is Durham who has misused his special prosecutor position for his own political goals and interests.

 Oct. 1

Justice Department logo

New York Magazine via MSN.com, Opinion: John Durham’s Attempt to Discredit Trump’s Russiagate Enemies Is Falling Apart, Jonathan Chait, Oct. 1, 2021. When Donald Trump’s attorney general appointed John Durham to investigate what Trump insisted was a deep-state conspiracy against him, a question hovered: What exactly was Durham thinking? Durham had a respectable résumé as a prosecutor in a career that did not seem to lead straight into a role as Trump’s Roy Cohn.

Was he simply accepting the role out of diligence and the understanding that, if he found no crimes, he could put Trump’s absurd charges to rest? Or — unlikely but possible — would he uncover real proof of a criminal conspiracy at the FBI to undermine Trump? Or had Durham undergone the same Fox News–induced brain melt that has turned figures like Barr, Giuliani, and many others into authoritarian conspiracy theorists?

In the wake of Durham’s first and perhaps only indictment, we can safely rule out the first two explanations.

Durham’s indictment does not even allege that the FBI committed any wrongdoing. Instead, it charges that the FBI was lied to — by Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who passed on leads about Trump’s ties to Russia that the bureau was unable to verify. Durham’s indictment claims Sussmann committed perjury by denying he was working for the Clinton campaign at the time he brought his information about Trump to the FBI in 2016.

The first weakness in the indictment is that even if every word Durham writes is true, the charge he has amounts to a very, very small molehill. Interested parties uncover crimes all the time. There’s just no reason to believe that Sussmann’s relationship with a law firm working for Clinton would have made any difference to the FBI — which was already investigating Trump’s ties to Russia and which wound up discarding Sussmann’s lead anyway as a dry hole.

Second, the evidence that Sussmann lied to the FBI is extremely shaky. As Benjamin Wittes notes, the sole basis for charging Sussmann with perjury is the recollection by FBI official Jim Baker. Baker testified to Congress that he remembered very little about his conversation with Sussmann, i.e.:

Baker: [I]n that first interaction, I don’t remember him specifically saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client.

Jordan: Did you know at the time that he was representing the DNC in the Clinton campaign?

Baker: I can’t remember. I have learned that at some point. I don’t — as I think I said last time, I don’t specifically remember when I learned that. So I don’t know that I had that in my head when he showed up in my office. I just can’t remember.

Jordan: Did you learn that shortly thereafter if you didn’t know it at the time?

Baker: I wish I could give you a better answer. I just don’t remember.

Yes, the “Jordan” who dug out the evidence that seems likely to undermine Durham’s case is Trump superfan Jim Jordan. Wittes concludes, “It is hard for me to understand how a criminal case against Sussmann can proceed in the face of this testimony.”

The perjury charge is merely the window dressing in the indictment. The meat of it — the part that has Trump defenders excited — is a narrative laid out by Durham attempting to paint Sussmann and the experts he worked with as liars who smeared Trump. That narrative part does not describe actual crimes, of course. Prosecutors can write whatever they want in their indictment. This one is like a Sean Hannity monologue wrapped around a parking ticket.

And even the “speaking indictment” portion of Durham’s charge is falling apart now. Today, both CNN and the New York Times reported that Durham selectively quoted from emails in order to furnish a completely misleading impression that Sussmann’s researchers lied.

Sept. 20

Former Olympian McKayla Maroney testifies about coach's abuse and FBI indifference (Pool photob by Saul loeb of Reuters).

Former Olympian McKayla Maroney testifies about coach's abuse and FBI indifference (Pool photo by Saul Loeb of Reuters).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Two miscarriages of justice reveal a sickening disparity, Ruth Marcus, right, Sept. 20, 2021. Two individuals allegedly made false ruth marcus twitter Customstatements to federal investigators. One now faces trial on a felony charge. The other does not. I defy you to read about their cases and conclude that justice is served in either instance, or that it is being applied even-handedly.

Let’s start with the person who has been let off the hook, because the decision is so infuriating and underscores so dramatically the unfairness of the other prosecution. W. Jay Abbott was the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office in 2015, when it received reliable reports that USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar had sexually abused multiple gymnasts.

One of Nassar’s victims, McKayla Maroney, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week about describing how Nassar had repeatedly molested her to one of Abbott’s agents, only to have the agent reply, “Is that all?”

FBI logoWhat happened next? For months, nothing, as far as the FBI was concerned. Abbott’s office was supposed to refer the allegations to the FBI’s Lansing, Mich., office, the city where Nassar worked. But that never happened — and Nassar went on to abuse at least 70 more young athletes until he was arrested by Michigan state police 16 months later.

During that time period, Abbott met and corresponded repeatedly with the head of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, about a tantalizing job prospect, heading up security for the entire U.S. Olympic Committee.

When the Justice Department’s inspector general interviewed Abbott, since retired, about the bureau’s handling of the Nassar case, he “made multiple false olympics logo 2018 winterstatements” about both the conduct of the investigation and his job talks, in violation of the federal false statements law, the inspector general concluded in a searing report released in July.

Abbott claimed he had spoken with FBI counterparts in Detroit and Los Angeles about the Nassar allegations; both agents denied such conversations, and there was no documentation they occurred.

The inspector general “found no evidence” to support Abbott’s claims — and further concluded that “Abbott’s false statements were knowing and intentional.”

But Abbott also insisted to the inspector general that he had never applied for or taken other steps to secure the Olympics job. This was, according to the inspector general, untrue, deliberately so, and stretched across two sworn interviews, including after Abbott was confronted with evidence to the contrary.

“Abbott, by his own admission, was concerned that applying for a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee posed a conflict of interest with the FBI’s handling of the Nassar investigation, which was a high profile, sensitive matter,” the report noted. “Under this circumstance and given the risk involved, we found it highly unlikely that Abbott forgot about his ultimate decision to apply for the job.”

The inspector general asked the Justice Department’s criminal division to prosecute Abbott for false statements. It declined in September michael sussmann perkins younger2020. The lesson? You can lie to federal investigators with impunity.

The second case, with an opposite outcome, involves Michael Sussmann, right, a Washington lawyer who represented the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and a tech company executive during the 2016 election. Sussmann, a former Justice Department official with expertise in cybersecurity, sought a meeting with FBI general counsel James Baker to pass on information about digital connections between a computer linked to the Trump Organization and a Russian bank with ties to the Kremlin.

Justice Department special counsel John Durham, left, appointed by former attorney general William P. Barr to probe whether there was FBI or intelligence john durham Customcommunity wrongdoing relating to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, obtained the indictment announced last week, the second criminal charge arising from his two-year probe.

It alleges Sussmann told Baker at the meeting, on Sept. 19, 2016, that he wasn’t doing work on those allegations “for any client.” That led Baker “to understand that Sussmann was acting as a good citizen merely passing along information, not as a paid advocate or political operative,” when in fact, according to the indictment, Sussmann was acting on behalf of the tech executive and the Clinton campaign.

Sussmann’s “lie was material” — meaning that it could have affected the investigation — because it “misled” FBI officials “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 and technical analysis,” the indictment alleges.

As former federal prosecutor Randall D. Eliason has noted, this single false statement, before a single witness, is about as weak as a case can get. Whatever he told them, FBI officials knew full well that Sussmann represented Democrats and the Clinton campaign.

Justice Department log circularBaker didn’t take notes of the meeting. The evidence of Sussmann’s alleged misstatement, such as it is, comes from handwritten notes of the conversation made by another FBI official later that day. Sussmann also billed the meeting to the Clinton campaign, according to the indictment, an assertion his lawyers contest.

Where, you might ask, is Attorney General Merrick Garland in all this? In an exquisitely difficult position. Even though Durham is a Barr-appointed special counsel, Garland retains the power to supervise his investigation. But stepping in to prevent Durham from seeking this flimsy indictment risked generating a political uproar, with unsettling echoes of Barr’s heavy-handedness. Now, it is too late.

While Abbott collects his government pension, Sussmann, who has resigned from his law firm, faces ruin. These twin miscarriages of justice, each wrong on its own, are sickening when taken together.

Sept. 17

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial Board: John Durham’s zombie Russia investigation produces an iffy indictment. Is this all there is? Editorial Board, Sept. 17, 2021. After more than two years and the persistent goading of former president Donald Trump, special counsel John Durham, the lawyer Trump-era attorney general William P. Barr tapped to probe the Justice Department’s 2016 Russia investigation, finally did something on Thursday. He indicted attorney Michael Sussmann for allegedly lying to the FBI.

This, to put it mildly, is not the confirmation of some broad 2016 deep-state conspiracy against Mr. Trump that the former president apparently desired.

The danger of special counsel investigations is that, given unlimited time and resources, they often find some bad action tangentially related to their original inquiry that may have had little or no substantial negative impact. Mr. Durham has uncovered alleged wrongdoing that has little to do with whether federal officials tried to sabotage the Trump campaign.

Wonkette, Analysis: Special Counsel John Durham Blows His Measly Load Trying To Make Serverghazi Happen Again, Liz Dye, right, Sept. 17, 2021. For years the liz dye twitterwingers have promised special counsel John Durham was preparing to rain down hell on the Deep State and do LOCK HER UPS to Hillary Clinton and all the dastardly Democrats in DC.

In 2019, Attorney General Bill Barr tasked the former US Attorney for Connecticut with cobbling together evidence of a Justice Department conspiracy to frame Donald Trump for cahootsing with Putin to steal the election. But aside from one conviction of a low-level DOJ attorney for falsifying an email related to Season 1 dipshit Carter Page, it's been crickets.

john durham CustomUntil yesterday when John Durham, left, did the home team proud by bringin' it to those Deep State conspirators for their evil attempt to bring down saintly Donald Trump by making him look like he was in bed with Mother Russia.

Just kidding! Durham indicted an outside lawyer on a single count of lying to the FBI. PFFFFFFFT.

Yesterday the special counsel announced the culmination of three years of work: one measly charge against attorney Michael Sussman for failing to disclose that he was working for the Clinton campaign and the DNC when he met with FBI general counsel James Baker to hand over information about the "Alfa Bank server" in Trump Tower that was mysteriously pinging back and forth with a server in Russia. As if anyone in DC, down to the busboys at Busboys and Poets, is unaware that Sussman's former law firm Perkins Coie is associated with major Democratic causes.

wsj logoWall Street Journal, Editorial: Durham Cracks the Russia Case, Editorial Board, Sept. 17, 2021. The special counsel’s indictment tells the real story of 2016 collusion. John Durham on Thursday indicted a Clinton campaign lawyer from 2016 for lying to the FBI, but this is no ho-hum case of deception. The special counsel’s 27-page indictment is full of new, and damning, details that underscore how the Russia collusion tale was concocted and peddled by the Clinton campaign.

Mr. Durham charged Michael Sussmann, an attorney at the Perkins Coie law firm that represented the Clinton campaign. Mr. Sussmann is accused of making false statements to then-FBI general counsel James Baker in a Sept. 19, 2016 meeting when he presented documents purporting to show secret internet communications between the Trump Organization and Russia-based Alfa bank.

The indictment says Mr. Sussmann assured Mr. Baker he was not doing this work “‘for any client,’ which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that SUSSMANN was acting as a good citizen merely passing along information, not as a paid advocate or political operative.” This was false, says the indictment, which documents how Mr. Sussmann was working with other Democrats (including fellow Perkins Coie lawyer Marc Elias ) and billing his time to the Clinton campaign.

Sept. 16

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump-Era Special Counsel Secures Indictment of Lawyer for Firm With Democratic Ties, Charlie Savage, Sept. 16, 2021. The defendant, Michael Sussmann, is accused of lying to the F.B.I. in a meeting about Trump and Russia. He denies wrongdoing. John H. Durham is the special counsel the Trump administration appointed in 2019 to scour the Russia investigation for any wrongdoing.

A prominent cybersecurity lawyer was indicted on a charge of lying to the F.B.I. five years ago during a meeting about Donald J. Trump and Russia, the Justice Department announced on Thursday.

ny times logoNew York Times, Durham Is Said to Seek Indictment of Lawyer at Firm With Democratic Ties, Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and William K. Rashbaum, Sept. 15, 2021. The lawyer, Michael Sussmann, is accused of lying to the F.B.I. in a 2016 meeting about Trump and Russia. He denies wrongdoing.

April 14

ny times logoNew York Times, Subpoenaing the Brookings Institution, Durham Focuses on Trump-Russia Dossier, Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman, Updated April 14, 2021. The special counsel scrutinizing the Russia inquiry, a Trump-era leftover, appears to be retreading ground that an inspector general explored in 2019.

Exiled from Twitter, former President Donald J. Trump issued a sarcastic statement recently inquiring about the ongoing public silence from John H. Durham, the special counsel who has been investigating the Trump-Russia inquiry since May 2019.

“Where’s Durham?” said Mr. Trump, who repeatedly predicted before last year’s election that Mr. Durham’s investigation would prove a deep-state conspiracy against him. “Is he a living, breathing human being? Will there ever be a Durham report?”

Mr. Durham ignored the complaint publicly, and the scope of his inquiry remains opaque. But one aspect has come into focus recently, according to people familiar with the investigation: Mr. Durham has keyed in on the F.B.I.’s handling of a notorious dossier of political opposition research both before and after the bureau started using it to obtain court permission to wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser in 2016 and 2017.

In addition to questioning witnesses who may have insight into the matter, Mr. Durham has obtained documents from the Brookings Institution related to Igor Danchenko, a Russia researcher who worked there a decade ago. Mr. Danchenko later helped gather rumors about Mr. Trump and Russia for that research, known as the Steele dossier, according to people familiar with the request.

By asking about the dossier, Mr. Durham has come to focus at least in part on re-scrutinizing an aspect of the investigation that was already exposed as problematic by a 2019 Justice Department inspector general report and led to reforms by the F.B.I. and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

March 15

Politico, Appeals court rejects academic’s libel suit over claims of affair with Flynn, Josh Gerstein, March 15, 2021. A federal appeals court handed another legal defeat Thursday to a Russian-born academic who claims she was libeled by press accounts that she says insinuated she had an affair with former National Security Adviser and Defense Intelligence Agency chief Michael Flynn.

stefan halper 2010The academic, Svetlana Lokhova, sued several news organizations in 2019 over the reports and also named as a defendant Stefan Halper, shown at right in a 2010 file photo, a U.K.-based former professor who was a central figure in the FBI investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The ruling upheld an earlier district court decision throwing Svetlana Lokhova’s suit out in its entirety.

A ruling issued by the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday upheld an earlier district court decision throwing Lokhova’s suit out in its entirety.

The appeals court said most of the articles Lokhova claimed were libelous were too old to be included in the suit she filed two years ago. Under Virginia’s one-year statute of limitations for defamation claims, the only publications that were fairly subject to the suit were a Washington Post story and some tweets sent by MSNBC National Security Contributor Malcolm Nance.

The Post reported that at a 2014 dinner, Halper and a colleague “were disconcerted by the attention the then-DIA chief showed to a Russian-born graduate student…according to people familiar with the episode.”

Writing for the appeals court, Judge Stephanie Thacker said that language could not fairly be read as an attack on Lokhova.

Flynn and Lokhova have denied any affair.

 

2020

Aug. 19

The Atlantic, Analysis: Russiagate Was Not a Hoax, Franklin Foer, Aug. 19, 2020. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence confirmed what the Mueller report Franklin Foer could not.

atlantic logo horizontalRereading the Mueller report more than a year after its publication is an exercise in disappointment. One gets the feeling that Robert Mueller didn’t press his inquiry to its end. Instead of settling the questions that haunt the 2016 campaign, he left them dangling, publishing a stilted document riddled with insinuation and lacunae. He rushed his work, closing up shop before finishing his assignment.

While Mueller received all the hype, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence kept its head down. Yesterday, having avoided cable speculation almost entirely, the SSCI released the fifth and final volume of a report on Russia’s attempt to sway the last election in Donald Trump’s favor. It finally delivered what Mueller either could not or would not: a comprehensive presentation of the evidence in the matter of “collusion.” The report confirms that Russiagate is no hoax. Whether or not the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with the Kremlin, Trump has no grounds for proclaiming vindication, much less that he’s the victim of a witch hunt.

mark warnerCredit largely goes to Mark Warner, left, the ranking Democrat on the SSCI, who shrewdly orchestrated the proceedings. Cultivating a close relationship with the SSCI’s Republican chair, Richard Burr, he worked to keep the investigation deliberately low-key. (The committee did the bulk of its work behind closed doors, without leaks.) As a result, the committee on the whole miraculously avoided the politicization that tainted the broader debate over Russian interference. Each of its findings won bipartisan approval prior to publication. Instead of rushing forward, the committee left the incendiary question of collusion for last.

The thousand-page fifth volume doesn’t definitively settle the question, in part because the SSCI was unable to procure a full record of events. The White House engaged in gamesmanship, invoking executive privilege to deny witnesses and block access to a paper trail. A slew of important witnesses invoked the Fifth Amendment. Others, such as Paul Manafort, lied relentlessly to investigators. The election of 2016 is one of the most closely studied events of recent memory, yet even the best-informed students of Russian interference don’t have a comprehensive understanding of it.

When Mueller’s prosecutors appeared in court, in February 2019, they implied that the most troubling evidence they had uncovered implicated Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman. This wasn’t a surprising admission. Throughout their filings, Mueller’s team referred to Manafort’s Kyiv-based aide-de-camp, Konstantin Kilimnik, as an active Russian agent. Manafort had clearly spoken with Kilimnik during the campaign, and had even passed confidential campaign information to him, with the understanding that the documents would ultimately arrive in the hands of oligarchs close to the Kremlin.

One of the great disappointments of the Mueller Report is that it fails to provide narrative closure after building so much anticipation for the Kilimnik story line. Mueller did not fully explain why Manafort’s relationship with his Ukraine-based adviser so bothered his prosecutors. Why had Manafort passed along the documents? And what did the oligarchs want with them?

The committee fills in the gaps somewhat. It reports that Manafort and Kilimnik talked almost daily during the campaign. They communicated through encrypted technologies set to automatically erase their correspondence; they spoke using code words and shared access to an email account. It’s worth pausing on these facts: The chairman of the Trump campaign was in daily contact with a Russian agent, constantly sharing confidential information with him. That alone makes for one of the worst scandals in American political history.

New York Post, Twitter hires former FBI lawyer James Baker to join legal team, Thornton McEnery, Jaclyn Hendricks and Emily Jacobs, June 16, 2020. new york post logoTwitter has tapped former FBI general counsel James Baker, a central player in the Russia collusion investigation, to serve as counsel to the tech giant.

“Thrilled to welcome @thejimbaker to @Twitter as Deputy General Counsel,” Twitter’s chief legal officer, Sean Edgett, posted Monday.

Edgett continued, “Jim is committed to our core principles of an open internet and freedom of expression, and brings experience navigating complex, global issues with a principled approach.”

During his time with the FBI, Baker found himself involved with the early stages of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, specifically the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application against Carter Page.

Page was a campaign aide to Trump in 2016, when federal agents used the unverified Trump dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele to convince the FISA court to grant them a warrant to spy on Page.

That warrant, as well as the circumstances surrounding it, are being looked at by US Attorney John Durham, who was appointed by Attorney General William Barr to review federal surveillance abuses.

Baker has stood by his conduct during his time at the FBI and with regard to the Russia probe.

Speaking to Yahoo News in May 2019, the former general counsel said he would “welcome scrutiny” of his conduct.

“I plan to fully cooperate with the department to help them figure out what happened. Because I believe what happened was lawful, at least based on every piece of information that I have,” he said at the time.

 

2019

Nov. 22

washington post logoWashington Post, Justice Dept. watchdog finds political bias did not taint top officials running the FBI’s Russia, Ellen Nakashima, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Nov. 22, 2019. The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is expected to find in a forthcoming report that political bias did not taint top officials running the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016, while at the same time criticizing the bureau for systemic failures in its handling of surveillance applications, according to two U.S. officials.

michael horwitz headshotThe much-anticipated report due out Dec. 9 from Inspector General Michael Horowitz, right, will allege that a low-level FBI lawyer inappropriately altered a document that was used during the process to renew a controversial warrant for electronic surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, the officials said. The Justice Department log circularinspector general referred that finding to U.S. Attorney John Durham, and the lawyer involved is being investigated criminally for possibly making a false statement, they said.

But Horowitz will conclude that the application still had a proper legal and factual basis, and, more broadly, that FBI officials did not act improperly in opening the Russia investigation, according to the officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive report.

The report generally rebuts accusations of a political conspiracy among senior law enforcement officials against the Trump campaign to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton while also knocking the bureau for procedural shortcomings in the FBI, the officials said. On balance, they said, it provides a mixed assessment of the FBI and Justice Department’s undertaking of a probe that became highly politicized and divided the nation.

Nov. 4

National Review, Opinion: The Last Trusted Prosecutor in Washington, Jim Geraghty, Nov. 4, 2019. John Durham is the legendary lawman digging into how the intelligence probe of Donald Trump started.

John Durham may be the most consequential and least known figure in Washington right now.

william barr new oIn May, U.S. attorney general William Barr, right, selected Durham, a longtime prosecutor with a résumé so sterling it nearly glows, to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and whether it was properly predicated. Some Trump fans believe there was a vast effort by a “deep state” of high-ranking intelligence and law-enforcement officials to smear Trump or hinder his campaign by creating a perception of corrupt ties to Russia. In late October, the New York Times quoted unnamed sources who said that Durham’s probe had officially become a criminal investigation, meaning he now has the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury, and to file criminal charges.

Since he is an attorney general appointed by President Trump, almost every decision from William Barr is criticized by Democrats as a partisan abuse of law-enforcement powers. But the appointment of Durham received no backlash, and in fact received praise far and wide.

Who is Durham, this rare-as-a-unicorn figure who can reassure lawmakers, talking heads, and court-watchers on both sides of the aisle, in an era when everything seems destined to turn into a loud partisan food fight?

richard blumenthal portraitTo say Durham is tight-lipped is an understatement; he lets his courtroom arguments speak for him and rarely talks to reporters at all. Those who have covered him for years — or, more accurately, tried to cover him — say that when he does run into reporters, he is cordial but uninformative, and almost never on the record. In Durham’s questionnaire for the Senate while awaiting confirmation to be a U.S. Attorney, he was asked to list his written work. He answered that he had never written or published any books, articles, reports, or letters to the editor. (The Senate confirmed him unanimously, with home-state senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), right, calling him “a fierce, fair prosecutor” who “dedicated his life to public service and the pursuit of justice.”) Durham is nicknamed, inevitably, “the Bull,” and his reputation makes clear he doesn’t take any of it from anyone.

‘A Passion for Anonymity’

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey, left, who appointed Durham to investigate the destruction of videotapes of CIA waterboarding, says he was recently contacted by a reporter in michael mukaseyConnecticut who wanted to write a profile on Durham, whom the reporter said he knew. “I called John to check the accuracy of that claim, and he confirmed that he knew the reporter but made it clear and specific that he had no use for personal profiles,” Mukasey said. “He thinks about the work, period — not about how it will be received in this or that quarter, or what caricatures people with a motive or a bias may draw of his work or of him. It is for that reason that I think he will be unaffected by the pressure of how his work will be received and how he will be portrayed — indeed, how some in the media have already started to portray him.” Mukasey said Durham reminded him of the title of Franklin Roosevelt adviser Louis Brownlow’s autobiography, A Passion for Anonymity.

The only time Durham has offered public remarks on his work was in a March 2018 lecture at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Conn. Durham was introduced by his friend of three decades and frequent prosecutorial partner, Leonard C. Boyle, the deputy chief state’s attorney in Connecticut, and Boyle observed, “At least three members of the press are here tonight, because they probably realize that this may be their only chance to hear John speak about his work, other than in a courtroom. He’s notoriously shy about speaking about himself.”

But in his subsequent remarks, Durham made it sound like his reticence to speak publicly wasn’t mere shyness so much as deliberate strategy to serve justice: “One thing that I try to bear in mind, and try to encourage in new young prosecutors, particularly those who are making their bones or cutting their teeth, is an awareness of the incredible power that is wielded by law enforcement, and perhaps federal law enforcement in particular. Issuing a subpoena can destroy somebody’s reputation. It can damage their business, hurt their families. It is an awesome power that we have, that should only be used in appropriate instances. . . . It is as important for the system as for prosecutors to protect the secrecy of proceedings, not because we want them to be secret, but because we’re not always right. Maybe accusations that are lodged against somebody are untrue, and again we can destroy a person if that information gets out.”

Oct. 24

ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Dept. Is Said to Open Criminal Inquiry Into Its Own Russia Investigation, Katie Benner and Adam Goldman, Oct. 24, 2019. Officials are said to have shifted from an administrative review of the Russia investigation to a criminal inquiry. The move is likely to raise alarms that President Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies.

william barr at dojJustice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr, left, to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, right, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges.

john durham CustomThe opening of a criminal investigation is likely to raise alarms that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies. Mr. Trump fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director under whose watch agents opened the Russia inquiry, and has long assailed other top former law enforcement and intelligence officials as partisans who sought to block his election.

Mr. Trump has made clear that he sees the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies. That view factors into the impeachment investigation against him, as does his long obsession with the origins of the Russia inquiry. House Democrats are examining in part whether his pressure on Ukraine to open investigations into theories about the 2016 election constituted an abuse of power.

Mr. Barr’s reliance on Mr. Durham, a widely respected and veteran prosecutor who has investigated C.I.A. torture and broken up Mafia rings, could help insulate the attorney general from accusations that he is doing the president’s bidding and putting politics above justice.

Oct. 4

time logo ogTime, Meet John Durham, The Man Tasked With 'Investigating the Investigators,'Tessa Berenson, Oct. 4, 2019. Donald Trump’s fixation on the Mueller investigation and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election is filled with dubious characters, pitched Twitter spats and bombastic TV personalities.

President Donald Trump officialBut the man at the Justice Department in charge of investigating the origins of the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign is longtime federal prosecutor John Durham — a man known for his modesty and restraint.

“John is a straight shooter,” says Stephen Robinson, who was the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut from 1998 to 2001 and had Durham as his deputy. “He is very careful, thoughtful, he’s methodical. It’s rare in today’s world, but he’s a person who runs away from the camera.”

Durham, who became the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut in 2018, has been tasked with “exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Sept. 25.

His mandate, the Justice Department also said, is to determine whether “intelligence collection activities by the U.S. government related to the Trump 2016 Presidential Campaign were lawful and appropriate.” The investigation was launched in April.

Durham has a “small team” under him on this matter, according to a Justice Department official. But he also enjoys the direct support of the Trump administration.

Attorney General William Barr has traveled extensively as part of the investigation to introduce Durham to foreign counterparts, including to officials in Italy and the United Kingdom. Barr has also enlisted Trump to call other foreign leaders about the matter.

Durham would never “start an investigation with anything other than an open mind,” says Anthony Cardinale, a Boston lawyer who has known Durham for decades. “Particularly I don’t think he’s the kind of person [who] if somebody said to him, for example, ‘This is the result we want you to reach,’ I don’t he’d take the job.”

Barr chose Durham for this role because of “his credentials,” says a Justice Department official. “He has a rock-solid reputation as an investigator.”

This isn’t Durham’s first time leading a high profile, sensitive investigation.

FBI logoIn 1999, then-Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Durham to investigate Boston police and FBI agents’ connections to infamous mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Durham uncovered evidence of corrupt law enforcement officials who had been giving information to the gangsters, and helped convict one former FBI agent on federal racketeering charges.

CIA LogoIn 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Durham to investigate the destruction of CIA video tapes of detainee interrogations. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder expanded Durham’s mandate in 2009 to also investigate the legality of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques with detainees. Durham opened criminal investigations into the deaths of two detainees.

Durham spent two years on the tapes investigation, closing it in 2010 without recommending any criminal charges. His final report remains classified. He closed the torture investigation in 2012, also without filing any criminal charges.

Durham’s broad investigation fits into a complicated constellation of people inside and outside the government looking into both allegations of surveillance of Trump’s 2016 campaign and, separately but perhaps relatedly, whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.

These Are the Key U.S. and Ukrainian Players in the Trump Impeachment Inquiry

President Donald Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in the wake of a recent whistleblower complaint alleging that he asked Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz recently completed an internal review about the FBI application for a warrant for surveillance on Trump campaign aide Carter Page during the 2016 election. That report will be declassified and released imminently, according to a Justice Department official.

A separate investigation by the U.S. Attorney in Utah, John Huber, which had been examining the FBI’s surveillance of Page, and other FBI conduct, has been “subsumed” into Durham’s, according to the Justice Department official.

The Whistleblower Complaint Raises Big Questions About Attorney General Barr—and Trump

Outside official government channels, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is also very publicly investigating Ukraine’s role in 2016 election interference — the questionable results of which the former Mayor of New York often reports on cable news.

Partly as a result of these competing endeavors, Durham’s investigation is under intense political scrutiny.

“This investigation of the investigators is a politically motivated distraction,” Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in a statement on May 14 about Durham’s assignment. “And it threatens to degrade the career professionals — like John Durham — who devote their lives to law enforcement. This is an example of another very professional public servant tasked with a very unprofessional and unbecoming job.”

Blumenthal and the other Democratic Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy have both praised Durham as a “fierce and fair prosecutor.”

Durham’s own reputation for thorough, nonpartisan work has remained intact over decades as a federal prosecutor targeting corruption. And people who know him expect him to handle this investigation honestly, despite the heated political environment.

“He is not naïve,” says Robinson. “He understands the political implications of the work that he’s been asked to do and the potential impact it could have. He’s not going to wilt under that.”

Oct. 1

wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), For Trump neo-fascisti, all roads lead to Rome, Wayne Madsen, Oct. 1, 2019. In the past week, three far right personalities in the Donald Trump camp, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallincluding two Cabinet secretaries, have journeyed to Rome in order to engage in political chicanery to attack former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on foreign interference in the 2016 election and Democratic attempts to investigate foreign involvement in the 2020 election.

As news broke in Washington about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky -- in which Trump made the delivery of U.S. weapons to Ukraine contingent on Zelensky’s government assisting Trump to dig up political dirt on potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden – Barr was in Rome.

The Attorney General, who has become Trump’s “Roy Cohn” -- a reference to the venal New York mob lawyer who represented Trump and his father, Fred Trump – traveled to Rome with John Durham, the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut appointed by Barr to investigate the FBI’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane, the investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign’s links to Russia.

mike pompeo portraitAfter Barr returned to Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, who was discovered to have been a party to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, flew to Rome. In Pompeo’s party was former White House aide Sebastian Gorka, a Hungarian neo-Nazi who now works for the right-wing Salem Radio Network as a program host.

As the old saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome.” In this case, Rome has also served as a nexus for the alt-right activities of former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Gorka’s one-time boss at Breitbart News. Also present in Rome is Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker and Trump television surrogate Newt Gingrich, who serves as the U.S. ambassador to Vatican City.

Italy is not as welcoming a place for fascists like Bannon, Gorka, Pompeo, and Barr as it was just a few weeks ago. Bannon’s fellow neo-fascist, Matteo Salvini of the Lega party, lost his job as Interior Minister after his party’s coalition with the populist Five Star Movement collapsed in early September. Five Star opted for a coalition with the center-left Democratic Party. The coalition’s Economy Minister is Roberto Gualtieri, a former member of the Italian Communist Party. Salvini’s replacement as Interior Minister is Luciana Lamborghese, a former police prefect of Milan and Venice. Given Milan’s role in the controversial U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program involving kidnapping Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, Lamborghese would not be keen on cooperating with her U.S. counterpart, Barr, in digging up political dirt on Trump’s opponents.

Italy was to have been ground zero for a fascist training academy led by Bannon and his international neo-fascist group called “The Movement.” However, when Pope Francis caught wind of Bannon’s interactions with the theo-fascist Opus Dei sect of the Roman Catholic Church, former Pope Benedict XVI, and arch-conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke to oust Francis as pontiff, Francis had Italian and Vatican authorities pull the plug on Bannon’s lease of the Certosa de Trisulti monastery as a training and education center for fascists from around the world. Barr is a member of Opus Dei, which maintains a heavy degree of influence over conservative Catholics in Washington, DC, including Newt and Callista Gingrich; Abu Dhabi-based mercenary leader Erik Prince, whose sister, Betsy De Vos, is Trump’s Education Secretary; and Trump 2016 campaign foreign policy adviser and liaison to Ukrainian mercenary groups and Saudi intelligence, Joseph Schmitz. These include Trump’s so-called Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. It is not known who Barr met with while staying at Marriott Gran Flora Hotel in Rome, but Bannon has been frequently traveling between the United States and Rome over the past year.

As for Pompeo and Gorka, Rome is not their only stop during their European venture. It is now known that Trump and Barr have tried to enlist other countries, in addition to Ukraine, in their political operation against Biden and the Democratic Party. These include the government of Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Britain and right-wing Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Australia. Johnson is the first baptized Catholic to occupy Number 10 Downing Street. Morrison is Australia’s first Pentecostal prime minister and he shares his evangelical fundamentalist faith with Pompeo, an evangelical Presbyterian, which is a doctrinaire splinter sect from mainstream Presbyterianism. It is also known that Trump and Barr have enlisted the assistance of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the operation targeting the Bidens.

It is noteworthy that following Italy, Pompeo and Gorka are traveling to Montenegro and North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia. Montenegro is the location of expensive villas owned by a number of Russian oligarchs affiliated with Trump. Trump’s convicted and currently imprisoned former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked for oligarch Oleg Deripaska in Montenegro in support of a 2006 referendum on independence from Serbia. Deripaska has maintained his super-yacht at Porto Montenegro on Boka Bay. The port’s marina, which is now owned by Dubai, is home to several billionaires and their yachts. Montenegro and North Macedonia are also the home of several mafia organizations, some of which are known to carry out cyber-attacks, phishing expeditions, and political information warfare on social media. During the 2016 campaign, several cyber-disinformation boiler shops and bot farms were pinpointed in North Macedonia.

These include the Podgorički Klan in Montenegro and "CyberPython” in North Macedonia. These criminal organizations have links to other cyber-criminal groups in Serbia, Kosovo, the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Italy.

Greece, the last country on Pompeo’s and Gorka’s itinerary, recently suffered a cyber-attack on its top-level domain registrar, ICS-Forth, the Institute of Computer Science of the Foundation for Research and Technology. By hijacking the registrar, hackers were able to launch follow-on cyber penetrations of computer systems and networks in the United States, Lebanon, Turkey, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The trips by Barr, Durham, Pompeo, and Gorka to Italy appear as an attempt to round up cyber guns for hire as much as it is to enlist foreign law enforcement and intelligence services in their crusade to ensure that Trump has at least a second term, if not a lifetime term in office.

 

2018

May 14

djt william barr doj photo march 2019

washington post logoWashington Post, Barr taps U.S. attorney to review origins of Russia probe, Matt Zapotosky and Felicia Sonmez, May 14, 2019 (print ed.). The investigation is designed to ensure the U.S. government’s “intelligence collection activities” related to the Trump campaign were “lawful and appropriate.” Attorney General William P. Barr has tapped John H. Durham, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

john durhamBarr picked Durham, right, in recent weeks to work on the review, which is designed to ensure the U.S. government’s “intelligence collection activities” related to the Trump campaign were “lawful and appropriate,” a person familiar with the decision said.

Barr had confirmed the review publicly, though the person leading it was not previously known. Durham’s selection was first reported by the New York Times.

Durham was confirmed as a U.S. attorney in February 2018 and had previously earned a reputation as a dogged career prosecutor tapped by previous attorneys general for other high-profile roles.

ny times logoNew York Times, Scrutiny of Russia Investigation Is Said to Be a Review, Not a Criminal Inquiry, Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos, May 14, 2019. The federal prosecutor assigned to the review, John H. Durham, has no subpoena power and cannot compel witnesses to testify. The federal prosecutor tapped to scrutinize the origins of the Russia investigation is conducting only a review for now and has not opened any criminal inquiry, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The prosecutor, John H. Durham, the United States attorney for Connecticut, is broadly examining the government’s collection of intelligence involving the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians, the person said. The additional details about the scope and limits of his role emerged a day after The New York Times reported that Attorney General FBI logoWilliam P. Barr had put Mr. Durham in charge of scrutinizing the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation during the 2016 election.

While Mr. Durham has conducted criminal investigations into allegations of high-level wrongdoing by law enforcement and national security officials, including the F.B.I.’s handling of organized crime informants and the C.I.A.’s torture of detainees, his new review does not rise to that level, the person said.

The distinction means that Mr. Durham for now will not wield the sort of law enforcement powers that come with an open criminal investigation, such as the ability to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify. Instead, he will have the authority only to read documents the government has already gathered and to request voluntary witness interviews.

March 10

New London Day, U.S. Attorney Durham tells mob tales during rare lecture, Karen Florin, March 10, 2018. Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham details his role as a special prosecutor in the Whitey Bulger case at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Bob Thiesfeld/courtesy of The Cool Justice Report)

United States Attorney John H. Durham has kept such a low profile while handling some of the country's most infamous criminal investigations that he once made New Republic magazine's list of Washington's "most powerful, least famous people."

Durham "made his bones," as he would say, prosecuting mobsters, corrupt federal agents and former Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland. He's been tapped by United States attorneys general to investigate topics as touchy as alleged torture and coverups during CIA investigations.

The 67-year-old Groton resident, nominated as Connecticut's top federal prosecutor by President Donald Trump and endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike, has confined most of his public speaking to within the four walls of federal courtrooms.

As the state's U.S. attorney, Durham takes on administration duties over the state's 68 federal prosecutors and 50-odd staff members who work in courthouses in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford. He plans to continue trying cases and has a murder trial coming up later this year.

A week after being sworn in, Durham, perhaps realizing that his new role calls for higher visibility, delivered a lecture at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, a formerly all-female school that is going all co-ed this year and ratcheting up its criminal justice program.

For about an hour this past Monday, he regaled an audience with an insider's view of the widely publicized investigations that brought down mobsters James "Whitey" Bulger, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi and their corrupted FBI handler, Special Agent John Connolly Jr. It was a case that extended into Connecticut, where gambling venues for the sport jai alai were infiltrated by Bulger's Winter Hill Gang.

Justice Department log circularBodies had been piling up in Boston throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and by 1999, after it became clear that members of Boston's FBI bureau had been compromised by the Irish and Italian mafia, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh called on Durham and others from Connecticut to help.

"It was quite the scandal that was going up there in Boston," Durham told the audience at St. Joseph's. "We were asked to go up there because we had some familiarity with the New England LCN (La Cosa Nostra) and knew some of the judges and the investigators and so forth. So the Justice Task Force was formed to investigate corruption involving the FBI and others."

Durham's longtime partner in crime-fighting, Deputy Chief State's Attorney Leonard C. Boyle, introduced the U.S. attorney to the university gathering as the person members of the Connecticut bar call when stumped by a legal question. Boyle said Durham has "an extreme work ethic" and is working all the time, whether in the office or at home.

Boyle said Durham has an uncanny ability to identify the smallest of facts in a case "and weave it together into a tapestry of detail," but joked that Durham's skill does not extend to his attire. Durham has a tendency to mismatch his suit jackets and trousers, Boyle said, and it's only when he's standing in a courtroom, addressing a jury, "when he realizes that particular day he wore the gray striped jacket with the Navy-blue pants."

Boyle seemed as amazed as anyone that his friend had agreed to the speaking engagement, since Durham is "notoriously shy about speaking about himself or what he does."

The University of St. Joseph's affiliation with the Catholic church may have helped.

"Other than an overwhelming commitment to the cause of justice, the two great devotions of John's life are his Catholic faith and his family," Boyle said. The Courant has reported several times that Durham also is an avid Red Sox fan.

Durham and his wife, Susan, have four sons — two of them prosecutors — and eight grandchildren.

Durham's lecture, delivered along with a PowerPoint presentation entitled "The Use of Informants: A Cautionary Tale," contained hints of his own restrained approach to investigations. Using criminals to gather information about other criminals is a necessity in cases where the average citizen is justifiably scared but, at best, is a "double-edged sword," Durham said.

In the Boston case, Bulger and Flemmi, both working as "Top Echelon" informants for the FBI, corrupted their handlers, and during the course of his trial, Flemmi asserted he had been told by FBI supervisor John Morris, "You can commit any crime as long as you don't 'clip' anybody," Durham said.

"The reality was that both Bulger and Flemmi were notorious, really bad actors in Boston when they were recruited by the FBI as informants in Boston," he said.

Durham said the FBI had plenty of regulations in place when the two men were signed up as informants in the late 1960s, including that they could not commit crimes, but the mobsters acted as if "they had the keys to the kingdom," bribing their handlers and using leaked information to further their control of narcotics trafficking, loan sharking and extortion in the city. The men also were responsible for about 20 murders, according to news reports.

In the aftermath of the case, regulations were put into place that require prosecutors to sign off on the use of informants.

Informants should be used as an investigative starting point, Durham said, and the information they provide should be corroborated through other means or used to convince a judge to authorize wiretaps in which a defendant's own words (during secretly recorded telephone conversations) can be used to build a case against them.

Durham's Boston team, including Boyle and FBI agents from outside of the city, worked the case for about a year before indicting Flemmi and Connolly, who had retired by then from the FBI, for racketeering and obstruction of justice. Bulger, at the time, was a fugitive from justice.

Flemmi pleaded guilty to racketeering and 10 murders and is serving a life sentence.

john connollyConnolly, right, nicknamed, "Zip," went to trial in 2002, and Durham, who prosecuted, said it was a "unique" proceeding in which the defendant was allowed to sit with his wife in the courtroom gallery. The prosecution team had made "the very difficult decision," after consulting with the U.S. attorney general and victim's families, to use as a witness John Martarano, a mob hitman who had confessed to killing 20 people.

The media followed the case closely, and while Durham saved his comment for the courtroom, he collected some of the colorful headlines generated during the Connolly trial and used them in his PowerPoint presentation. One described the once-defiant FBI agent "cowering" in the courtroom, and the Boston Herald's headline, after Connolly was convicted, said simply, "Zip Zapped."

Connolly served 10 years in that case and later was charged with providing information to Flemmi and Bulger that led to the 1982 murder in Miami of jai alai executive John Callahan. Now 77, Connolly is serving a 40-year prison sentence in Florida.

Bulger, captured in 2011 after 16 years as a fugitive and tried two years later, is serving a life sentence.

Bulger's Winter Hill Gang was decimated as a result of the federal prosecutions, Durham said, and La Cosa Nostra is "nothing like it was."

There's still plenty of work for federal authorities, though. Durham said one of the consequences of breaking up organized crime operations is that the concentration of criminal activity becomes much more diffuse.

Back in Connecticut, Durham's office prosecutes some of the state's most violent crimes and high-level narcotics cases, financial fraud and public corruption, as well as cases involving national security.

Full audio, John H. Durham: U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, in a March 5 lecture at the University of St. Joseph, speaks about his involvement in investigation that led to the takedown of James “Whitey” Bulger and associates.

 

2017

 

Russia’s official news agency photographed President Trump’s meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday. The American press was denied access. Credit Alexander Shcherbak/TASS, via Getty Images  

Russian Flag

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador, Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, May 15, 2017. President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

 

2016

Aug. 5

U.S. Department of Justice, Former FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Sentenced for Perjury and Obstruction of Justice During Bulger Trial, Staff report, Aug. 5, 2016. A former Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the FBI’s Boston Office was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Boston in connection with perjury and obstruction of justice regarding his testimony at the 2013 trial of James “Whitey” Bulger.

Robert Fitzpatrick, 76, of Charlestown, R.I., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor, IV to 24 months of probation and a fine of $12,500. In May 2016, Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty to six counts of perjury and six counts of obstruction of justice.

Fitzpatrick, in his capacity as ASAC of the Boston Division, had overall supervisory responsibility of the organized crime program in Boston between 1981 and 1986—a time period in which Bulger, while an active FBI informant, was involved in eight murders.

Fitzpatrick, who is the author of Betrayal, Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought To Bring Him Down, was called to testify at the Bulger trial on July 29 and July 30, 2013. In pleading guilty, Fitzpatrick admitted that he lied when he testified at Bulger’s trial that he tried to end Bulger’s relationship with the FBI and target Bulger for prosecution but was overruled by higher authorities in the FBI.

Specifically, Fitzpatrick admitted that contrary to his sworn testimony at the Bulger trial:

  • his assignment to Boston in 1980 as ASAC was not a special mission ordered by the Assistant Director of the FBI because there were problems in the office, but rather a routine reassignment;
  • Bulger never said, “I’m not an informant” or otherwise denied being an informant when he met with Fitzpatrick;
  • Fitzpatrick never tried to close Bulger as an FBI informant;
  • Fitzpatrick was demoted from ASAC because he falsified official FBI reports in connection with a shooting incident, not because he reported corruption;
  • Fitzpatrick did not arrest mob boss Gennaro Angiulo; and
  • Fitzpatrick did not find or recover the rifle James Earl Ray used to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN in 1968.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Ronald G. Gardella, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, New York Field Office, made the announcement today. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary R. Hafer and Fred M. Wyshak of Ortiz’s Public Corruption and Special Prosecutions Unit.

May 9

Boston Globe, Former FBI agent pleads guilty to perjury in ‘Whitey’ Bulger case, Shelley Murphy Globe Staff, May 9, 2016. Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick portrayed himself for years as a whistle-blower who tried to end the agency’s corrupt relationship with notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

It’s a story he repeated when testifying for the defense at Bulger’s 2013 trial — except there he embellished the tale, telling jurors that when he met Bulger in 1981 to determine whether the FBI should keep him on as an informant, the gangster stunned him by saying, “I’m not an informant.”

On Monday, Fitzpatrick admitted it was all a lie. Now 76 and in ailing health, Fitzpatrick took the stand in federal court in Boston and pleaded guilty to six counts of perjury and six counts of obstruction of justice for his testimony at Bulger’s trial.

 

2014

whitey bulger stephen flemmi

Boston mob leader and convicted murderer James "Whitey" Bulger is shown in a mug shot at left along with his second-in-command, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, also a murderer.

New England Cable News (NECN), Whitey Documentary Making Boston Debut, Alysha Palumbo, Jan. 30, 2014.  James “Whitey” Bulger may not have taken the stand during his murder trial, in which he was found guilty of eleven murders, but he’s getting his side of the story out there now – in a CNN documentary premiering locally tonight at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. “I never, never, never cracked. And the Boston FBI, no way,” said Bulger in the film. Bulger, speaking on the phone to his attorney J.W. Carney, insists, as he did during the trial that he was never an FBI informant for John Connolly. Steven Davis, the brother of one of Bulger’s alleged victims, Debra Davis, says he saw the film at Sundance and was impressed with the documentary, but also surprised that the focus was more on Bulger and government corruption than the victims’ relatives. Davis says he hopes the audience who watches the film tonight remembers this is about more than Hollywood lights and storylines. “The public thinks this is a big show,” said Davis. “There’s a lot of hurting souls out there, and I’m one of them.”

The aftermath of the Aug. 12th racketeering verdict has had some of the repercussions I predicted in this space last April (see “Bulger’s immunity defense: what appearance of justice requires,” April 17, 2013). Judge Denise Casper did not take my advice, alas. She confirmed, in her own opinion, the earlier-issued opinion of Judge Richard Stearns, released shortly before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Stearns’ recusal.

Stearns denied Bulger’s request that he be allowed to present the jury with his central defense: that he had been granted immunity for the crimes charged. O’Sullivan, then-head of the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, orally delivered that immunity grant, Bulger claimed, sometime before December 1984. The immunity deal allegedly covered both past and future crimes committed until O’Sullivan left office. This extraordinary grant of immunity was supposedly bestowed upon the gangster in return for Bulger’s protection of O’Sullivan from the Italian mob.

To recap: The Bulger racketeering case had been randomly assigned to Stearns, who had previously held high positions in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. Another, earlier-filed Mark L. Wolf1995 Bulger indictment had been randomly assigned to Judge Mark Wolf, left, who, in a detailed and damning 661-page opinion in 1999, had explored the government’s corrupt relationship with Bulger and his henchmen, triggering a massive FBI scandal.

When Bulger was captured on June 22, 2011, the government dismissed the case pending in front of Wolf. The dismissal of the Wolf indictment in favor of the case to be tried by Stearns appeared, at least to me, to be designed in part to protect the DOJ from further inconvenient revelations that Wolf might elicit. This, in my view, put the credibility of the trial in question from the very beginning.

Public confidence was dealt an additional blow when Stearns then had to be ordered off the case. The 1st Circuit panel, in a memorable opinion written by none other than retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, sitting by designation, held that the appearance of justice required Stearns’ recusal.

“The period covered by the special relationship between the defendant and the FBI overlapped both the dates of the activity alleged in the defendant’s indictment and the years that Judge Stearns held supervisory positions in the federal prosecutor’s office,” Souter wrote in March 2013.

Souter went further. He also noted that when O’Sullivan testified as a witness at a congressional hearing in December 2002 that followed the public disclosure of Bulger’s relationship with the feds, O’Sullivan “was asked why the Government had sought no indictments of [Bulger] and Flemmi along with the others that were handed up,” and “O’Sullivan spoke of their minimal participation.” When the committee confronted O’Sullivan with a memo he had written, “which made it clear that the gang-leader informants were in no way minimal participants,”

O’Sullivan had no satisfactory answer, and, noted Souter, “the committee’s report branded his initial testimony as ‘false,’ not merely mistaken.”

That comment by Souter is crucial in assessing the credibility of Bulger’s claim that he had an extraordinary immunity agreement with O’Sullivan.

Judge Casper then inherited the case by random draw. One of her first actions was to independently confirm the decision by her recused predecessor to turn down Bulger’s motion that he be allowed to take his immunity defense to the jury.

Stearns’ opinion denying Bulger’s motion seemed less than completely categorical with regard to the strength of the precedents. He admitted that Bulger’s proposal was in some sense unprecedented: “the issue has never been presented as starkly as it is in this case.”

Yet despite the paucity of controlling legal authority on the precise question, Stearns wrote that the “import is clear: an immunity agreement cannot as a matter of public policy license future criminal conduct.”

And, he concluded: “A license to kill is even further beyond the pale and one unknown even in the earliest formulations of the common law.”

Though this bizarre situation might have presented a case of first impression, Stearns expressed no doubt and ruled flatly against Bulger.

Casper then argued that vacating Stearns’ decision was unnecessary because the 1st Circuit had “found no actual bias on Judge Stearns’ part,” but she nonetheless, presumably out of an abundance of caution, purported to review the issue herself and affirmed that “such agreement, at least as to prospective immunity, is unenforceable as a matter of law.”

She went on to muddy the already opaque legal waters just a bit by suggesting that Bulger might consider testifying under the rubric of “related defenses.”

But those defenses each contained at least one required element that Bulger’s counsel had not indicated Bulger could satisfy, and so Casper effectively ended his effort to tell his story to the jury.

At the panel discussion following the screening of “Whitey,” I posed a question to Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly, who had bravely agreed to participate on the panel. Why was it, I asked Kelly, that the prosecution team was so adamant in opposing Bulger’s request that he be allowed to testify as to his claimed immunity conferred by O’Sullivan? If it was legally invalid, Casper would have so instructed the jury after the close of the evidence. Assertion of the defense would have involved Bulger’s taking the stand, likely subjecting him to a withering cross-examination. Without any documentation to verify Bulger’s claim of immunity from O’Sullivan, Bulger’s chances would have been vanishingly slim. And on the off-chance Bulger were acquitted in federal court in Boston, he would still face pending state capital murder indictments in Florida and Oklahoma, both death penalty states.

Kelly’s response to my question was more or less expected from a prosecutor. He said that since, in his view, the law supported his position that the immunity claim was not admissible, he wanted it kept out of the trial, period.

But cutting off the immunity defense inevitably gave the trial a sense of suspicious incompleteness, of not providing the jurors or the public with the full picture.

In particular, the question persists of how it was that Bulger, despite his myriad and well-known crimes committed over decades, was not the subject of indictment until a new generation took over in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.

Surely Bulger’s being protected by O’Sullivan seems like one possible explanation. Whether it is a plausible explanation would depend on the jury’s assessment of Bulger’s credibility, as well as the reputation and credibility of O’Sullivan. The jury got to judge neither.

It is true, of course, that a trial is a mechanism for determining the guilt or innocence of an accused individual on a specific charge, not an historical or journalistic exercise. But given some at least small amount of ambiguity in the case law governing the admissibility of Bulger’s claimed immunity agreement, and given the judge’s power to instruct the jury on the admissibility question after the close of evidence, surely the public interest, as well as the interests of justice and the appearance of justice, would have been better and more wisely served had Casper allowed Bulger to testify as to his alleged deal. In a case rife with cover-up upon cover-up, a sense would have prevailed that, at long last, the facts were allowed to see the light of day and justice was finally done.

2013

Associated Press via Washington Post, Bulger verdict brings closure for some victims’ families and eternal angst for others, Staff report, Aug. 12, 2013.The guilty verdicts against James “Whitey” Bulger brought catharsis and closure to relatives of the 11 victims in whose killings he was convicted of playing a role, but for the families of the eight people whose deaths couldn’t be definitively linked to the Boston mob boss, peace will be harder to come by.

Essential Books about Mafia Revelations and the Boston Mobs and Mafia

The Valachi Papers, Peter Maas, Putnam, 1968. This lives up to its reputation as,“The First Inside Account of the Mafia." As one reviewer has said: "No one outside the organization had any idea that five crime 'families' existed in New York or that the organization was divided into "families" until Valachi came along. Or that there was a national commission. Valachi exposed the Mob and put it in the spotlight for all to see. It's been there ever since aThe Godfather covernd we have Joe to thank for this. And Peter Maas for turning his memoirs into a wonderful book." Maas, a longtime crime writer who broke the Valachi story, had to overcome a Justice Department injunction to publish the book based on 1,180-pages of typed notes from Valachi.

In 1969, Mario Puzo, an Italian immigrant living in New York City and writing for men's magazines, published The Godfather. Puzo's book led to the iconic film series by that name starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, among others. In 1973, My Life in the Mafia by Vincent Teresa (with Newsday investigative reporter Thomas C. Renner) provided the first-post Valachi book by another informer (albeit not a "made" member). The well-told portrait published by Doubleday is about New England operations of the Patriarca Family. The Friends of Eddie Coyle by federal prosecutor George Higgins made the best-seller lists as a debut novel in 1973 portraying a low-level arms dealer in Boston's Irish mob. The book became a highly regarded movie starring Robert Mitchum.

The Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia (Harper Collins, 1997) stands out among the many books and movies that have poured forth since then at the national level. Its author was master story-teller Peter Maas, who earlier wrote the best-seller Serpico in part because he wanted to distance himself from Mafia-writing to memorialize an Italian-Amerian, New York policeman Frank Serpico, who heroically fought internal corruption amongst law enforcers. Gravano was second in command to New York's John Gotti, and became the highest-ranking Mafia member ever to defect. "Breathtaking" said New York magazine's reivewer. The tale puts the reader right with Gotti and Gravano watching a Christmas Eve street scene in mid-town Manhattan as their four hitmen, each wearing a black fur Russian hat to distract attention, fatally shot Gotti's predecessor, Paul Castellano, as he stepped from a restaurant.

In New England, While the Music Lasts was William M. Bulger's autobiography, published by Houghton Miflin in 1996 to many positive reviews. Publisher's Weekly wrote:

Bulger was born in South Boston in 1934, the son of Irish-Catholic working-class parents. While working his way through law school, he was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1960. He found the leadership of the house inadequate and fought it so he could get his bills, most prominently his child-abuse legislation, passed. He tells wonderful stories about the famous 1962 U.S. senate race between Ted Kennedy and Eddie McCormack (he was for McCormack); his brother's prison record for bank robbery; and the legendary (at least in Massachusetts) stinginess of JFK. Bulger goes on to explain his role in the Boston busing controversies "over alleged segregation in our schools"; his election to the state senate in 1970; and his selection as senate president of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He recently was appointed to the Presidency of the University of Massachusetts. Bulger's superb storytelling ability makes this memoir not only entertaining but a primer on how local politics works.

Black Mass

Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, Public Affairs Press, 2000. Publisher's Weekly reviewed this Edgar-award-winning New York Times best-seller this way:

"A triumph of investigative reporting, this full-bodied true-crime saga by two Boston Globe reporters is a cautionary tale about FBI corruption and the abuse of power. Gangster James "Whitey" Bulger ruled Boston's Irish mob, and his wary collaboration with the Italian Mafia, which he detested, was the cornerstone of the city's balkanized criminal underworld. (His younger brother, Billy Bulger, was the iron-fisted president of the state senate and later president of the University of Massachusetts.) Few suspected that Whitey Bulger and his partner, crime boss Stevie Flemmi, were both FBI informants; their squealing helped the FBI to put a score of mobsters in jail and wipe out the Angiulo crime family.

Here O'Neill and Lehr (Pulitzer winner and Pulitzer finalist, respectively, and coauthors of The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family maintain that overzealous FBI Agent John Connolly, who was Whitey's handler, and Agent John Morris, Flemmi's handler, "coddled, conspired and protected the mobsters in a way that for all practical purposes had given them a license to kill." FBI agents looked the other way while Bulger and Flemmi went on a 1980s crime spree that, according to witnesses, included extortion, bank robberies, drug trafficking and a string of unsolved murders. This complex, dramatic tale climaxes with a 1998 federal hearing that found that Connolly and Morris had essentially fictionalized FBI internal records to downplay the stoolies' crimes while overstating their value to the Bureau....This in-depth look at the FBI's war against the Mafia includes the first-ever secret recording of a Mafia induction ceremony, complete with pricking of fingers and blood oaths. Brothers Bulger

Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob (Steerforth) by Edward “Eddie Mac” MacKenzie was a 2004 book written by MacKenzie, the Bulger Street Soldiergang enforcer, following his release from prison. Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr was a major writer also, but on the side of exposing the Bulger family via his column, top-rated Boston radio show. He vowed to try to join the University of Massachusetts board of directors in 2005 to help oust Billy Bulger as university president. His book, The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century, was published by Warner Books in 2006. Carr has followed up with Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano: Whitey Bulger's Enforcer and the Most Feared Gangster in the Underworld, published in April. Several members of Boston gangs have published books recently also.

In some ways, the most remarkable of all the books treating the Bulgers, partly because it was published as late as 2010, might be Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character (Wheatmark) by Washington lobbyist Michael Kerrigan. The author says his book:

[V]alidates the belief that it is possible for public servants to achieve success in the political arena without lying, cheating, or stealing along the way. It is the author's hope that this book will deepen the reader's appreciation for all in political life who conduct themselves honorably as well as encourage future aspirants of good character to consider public service. This book shows a rising generation the extent to which their own future will depend on the character traits they build in the present. By studying the exemplary characters showcased within, students of politics will be able to imitate their virtuous habits of life, thought, and action.

The book illustrates how there are always at least two sides to any story and that idealism is still alive, even in Washington. Kerrigan's book, portrayed below, extols as one of his ten featured heroes of American civic life none other than Boston's William M. Bulger.

2012

Dec. 12

jeremiah osullivan boston herald CustomBoston Herald, William Weld unable to rule out Whitey immunity claim, Laurel J. Sweet, Dec. 10, 2012. WHAT’S REAL DEAL? As an ex-U.S. attorney, William Weld says he never heard of an alleged immunity deal that James ‘Whitey’ Bulger received from the late Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, at right.

Former Gov. William F. Weld, who was U.S. attorney at the height of James “Whitey” Bulger’s crime reign in Boston, said he never heard of any immunity deal for the aging mobster — but he’s unable today to dismiss it.

Bulger, 83, and slated to be tried in June for 19 counts of murder, claims that while terrorizing the city in his dual role of top-secret informant for the FBI, he was granted immunity from prosecution by the late Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, head of the New England Organized Crime Strike Force.

Weld, who was U.S. attorney from 1981 to 1986, said, “Jerry and I were very close. I know nothing about that (alleged deal). And I met frequently with O’Sullivan, every week, as the case against the Angiulos was building.”

Weld said he was kept in the dark about the full range of Bulger’s criminal activities.

“I was nowhere near that. Oh, Lord, no,” Weld, 67, told the Herald in an exclusive interview last week.

Bulger and partner-in-crime Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi were instrumental in helping the FBI crush the late Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo, his family and Bulger’s and Flemmi’s rivals in the North End-based Mafia. O’Sullivan served as acting U.S. attorney in 1989, six years before Bulger went on the lam, sparking an international manhunt that would last 16 years.

“The strike forces were semi-independent of the U.S. attorney’s office,” Weld said. “We didn’t tell O’Sullivan what to do in the development of a case.”

Weld said “the one thing” about Bulger he recalls attempting to investigate was in 1983, when his office and the Drug Enforcement Administration “wanted to target Whitey Bulger for running a marijuana operation out of Southie. Those were the days when Justice in Washington was very keen for the DEA and FBI to cooperate more fully. The word on the street, which we knew to be false, was that Whitey kept the drugs out of Southie. Maybe he kept them out of the block where he lived.” But Weld said the investigation unraveled when the FBI balked at participating.

Weld said he reached out to James Greenleaf, then special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field offices, and said, “ ‘Hey, we’d like to do this. You guys want to participate?’

“… About 10 days later — maybe even longer than that, maybe two weeks — he said, ‘OK, I’ve got some info for you.’ So he came over and he said, ‘We’re just not going to be able to participate.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ I didn’t argue the point because obviously the message he was carrying was not … some thought had obviously gone into it by the FBI.”

Weld said he hasn’t yet heard if he’ll be called as a witness at Bulger’s trial.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe what I just said would be of interest to somebody.”

Boston.com, Defense lawyers name Jeremiah O’Sullivan as federal agent who granted James ‘Whitey’ Bulger immunity to commit crimes, Milton J. Valencia and Travis Andersen, Oct. 25, 2012. Lawyers for James “Whitey’’ Bulger have identified the late federal prosecutor Jeremiah O’Sullivan as the federal agent who allegedly gave the notorious gangster immunity to commit his reign of terror.

Attorney J.W. Carney Jr., of Boston, made the bombshell allegation in a court filing late Wednesday in which he again called for a US District Court judge to recuse himself from presiding over the case. He said the judge has an apparent conflict of interest as a former prosecutor who worked at the same time as O’Sullivan, a former US attorney who died in 2009 at age 66.

Carney said he may call U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns and other former prosecutors as witnesses to testify about the leeway that the leadership within the US attorney’s office gave Bulger, and their failure for years to charge him with any crimes, which he said would speak to the immunity agreement that Bulger claims he had.

Stearns was a former federal prosecutor and chief of the criminal division during part of Bulger’s alleged reign of terror, in the 1970s and 1980s. The judge was not part of the New England Organized Crime Strike Force that had an apparent relationship with Bulger at the time, however, and he has maintained he did not know that Bulger was the target of any investigation.

Carney argued that there was no line dividing work between the Strike Force and the US attorney’s office, and so prosecutors from both units shared and were aware of investigations.

The judge refused an initial request to recuse himself in July, citing the high standards that must be met for a judge to have to recuse himself for conflict of interest concerns.

“I have no doubt whatsoever about my ability to remain impartial at all times while presiding over the case,’’ the judge said in his ruling, maintaining that he had no knowledge “of any case or investigation’’ in which Bulger was “a subject or a target.’’

But Carney said Bulger’s reputation was well known, or should have been, particularly among leaders in the US attorney’s office.

He also said that the notorious gangster, now 83, will testify to support his claim. He said Bulger will provide “a detailed account of his receipt of immunity by O’Sullivan,’’ who was a member of the strike force and at one point its chief.
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In one example, Carney said, Bulger will discuss an occasion in which O’Sullivan allegedly ordered that Bulger be removed from a list of targets in a horse race-fixing scheme in the early 1980s.

Brian T. Kelly, one of the prosecutors in the case, wrote a letter to Carney on Friday in which he said the government has provided defense counsel with ample materials pertaining to O’Sullivan, as requested, calling it typical procedure in the case.

He offered on his own, however, that “the First Circuit has already held that O’Sullivan was unaware of any promise of immunity.’’

He added, “O’Sullivan himself testified under oath before Congress that he never extended immunity to either James Bulger or Stephen Flemmi.’’

Carney added that, in addition to Stearns, he would call other US Department of Justice leaders to testify as to why Bulger was never charged by the federal government. Those leaders would included FBI director Robert Mueller, who served as a federal prosecutor and chief of the criminal division in Massachusetts in the early 1980s, and with whom Stearns has a close relationship.

Carney said he will introduce evidence from a courthouse ceremony where Mueller characterized Stearns as a “friend and mentor,’’ and in which Stearns called the FBI director’s speech “the greatest tribute that a friend could pay.’’

Justice Department logoBulger’s lead lawyer questioned whether Stearns could remain impartial in deciding whether he and Mueller could be called as a credible witness to testify about the immunity agreement, which has emerged as Bulger’s main point of defense in a trial that could trigger the death sentence.
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“Federal law mandates in this situation that Judge Stearns recuse himself from this case,’’ Carney said in a 24-page motion filed late Wednesday. “The law – and common sense – says that a person cannot be both judge and witness. …To do so otherwise will put an irreparable taint on the public’s view of the fairness of the defendant’s trial, and allow citizens to believe that the infamous cover-up of misconduct by past members of the Department of Justice, the United State’s attorney’s office, and the FBI is continuing.’’

Carney noted that Bulger was not accused of any crimes in a federal indictment until after Stearns, Mueller, and O’Sullivan left office, and he argued that their testimony will focus on why that did not happen. That should be up to a jury to decide, he said.

Bulger was once of America’s Most Wanted until his arrest in June 2011 after 16 years on the lam. He is accused in a federal racketeering indictment of participating in 19 murders.

He is also the notorious gangster at the center of one of the most scandalous periods in the history of the FBI. A series of hearings in Boston in the 1990s exposed a corrupt relationship between him and his FBI handlers. During that time, he was allegedly allowed to carry out crimes including murders in exchange for working as a cooperating witness against the New England Mafia.

Carney has claimed Bulger was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation, though legal analysts have questioned whether anyone could have had a right to kill, as Bulger claims.

Federal prosecutors, who have argued that Stearns does not have to recuse himself, also deny that Bulger had any claim of immunity.

O’Sullivan suffered a heart attack and several strokes in 1998 when he was slated to testify about Bulger and Flemmi before US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf. O’Sullivan was in a coma for a month.

In 2002, O’Sullivan was called before Congress during the Government Reform Committee’s investigation of the Boston FBI. He denied ever protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution for serious crimes.

O’Sullivan acknowledged dropping the pair from a 1978 race-fixing case against the Winter Hill Gang, of Somerville, because he said he considered them small-time players and was focused on gang leader Howie Winter.

Grilled by the committee, O’Sullivan said he could not go against the FBI in those days. “They will try to get you. They will wage war on you,’’ he said.

Fitzpatrick, Robert and Jon Land. robert fitzpatrickBetrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down. (Forge / Tom Doherty Associates, 2012)

“This is a stupendous read, as electrifying as Mystic River but even more horrifying for being absolutely true. Betrayal is a page-turner of the highest order. You will not be able to put this book down—guaranteed.”
---Douglas Preston, New York Times bestselling author of Impact

“A rapid-fire tale told with a passion that is a testament to the agent with the courage to wage the decades-long battle to get to the truth.”
---Lorenzo Carcaterra, New York Times bestselling author of Sleepers

“Jon Land elegantly captures the voice of FBI chief Robert Fitzpatrick as he battles his fellow agents to get to the truth behind the blood-soaked reign of gangster Whitey Bulger. Terrifying in scope and scathing in message, Betrayal is a must-read.”
---Robert K. Tanenbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Outrage

“Jon Land writes great fiction, and Betrayal reads like the best of it. The fact that it’s true makes the story all the more riveting. . . . A sobering indictment of our law enforcement system and one man’s relentless quest to see justice done.”
---Robert Leuci, subject of the New York Times bestselling biography Prince of the City

About the Author

ROBERT FITZPATRICK spent twenty-plus years as an FBI agent and chief in a career highlighted by his involvement in the Martin Luther King, Jr. killing and the ABSCAM investigation in Miami that resulted in the indictments of numerous public officials. He played a key role in the famed “Mississippi Burning” investigation and recovered the rifle that was used in the MLK assassination and that ultimately led to the arrest of James Earl Ray.

JON LAND is the critically acclaimed author of thirty novels, including the bestselling series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, and Strong at the Break. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

....

John Durham, though, had only John Connolly in his crosshairs, and it should have been like shooting fish in a barrel. As it was, though, the lengthy trial resulted in more charges being dismissed than upheld, due in large part to the fact that much of the testimony presented against Connolly came from convicted hit man John Mar torano, as well as Frank "Cadillac" Salemme himself. Both had al• ready cut deals with the government and were even less credible than Connolly himself. In truth, Salemme would actually perjure himself to get Connolly. The former crime boss was an advocate of "what goes around comes around," and it was his turn to get even. Stephen Flemmi, too, from a witness chair not far removed from the jail cell where he was serving an abbreviated sentence thanks to a plea bargain, wasted no time in cutting Connolly down to size.

In May 2002, Connolly was convicted of racketeering, obstruc tion of justice, and lying to an FBI agent. The jury, though, failed to find him guilty of bribery or of receiving a two-carat diamond ring from Bulger. This in spite of the fact that Connolly had many times shown the ring off and made no secret of its origin as stolen prop erty. Even agents on the OC squad heard the rumors of the infa• mous ring and winced each time Connolly ran it up the pole.

Connolly was ultimately sentenced to ten years in federal prison, stoically stewing there while prosecutors began to build a case against him in the 1982 murder of John Callahan in Miami. As that Florida trial was about to begin in 2008, I was interviewed by David Boeri for an article he was writing for Boston Magazine. In "The Martyrdom of John Connolly" (September 2008), Boeri expertly handled much of what transpired subsequent to John Connolly's 2002 conviction with a scathing, eye-opening aplomb that stressed Durham' myopic vision of the problems he'd been brought in to deal with.

"Nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise," Durham insisted in the wake of Connolly's conviction, seeming to indicate a plan, at least an intention, to pursue other guilty parties.

Nothing could be further from the truth. More than a decade later now, no additional arrests or prosecutions have taken place, in spite of the fact that I and a number of other law enforcement officials laid out all the evidence of corruption and leaking for Durham. We basically served up everything he needed on a silver platter, which he apparently ignored then and has continued to ignore since.

I indicated to Boeri for his article that the Department of Justice threw Connolly under the bus. Clearly no fan or close friend of the man either then or now, I continue to stand by that statement. Connolly was the fall guy, the most convenient to go after and nothing more. But his conviction on charges that only scratched the surface of what he was truly guilty of did little to address the scope and magnitude of the corruption I'd found in Boston. Durham never charged the top leadership,including James Greenleaf or Jeremiah O'Sullivan, with a single thing. Whitey, after all, was John Connolly's guy. Connolly had long proclaimed that to be so and had ridden Bulger's coattails to a decorated career and cushy retirement. But now he was finally paying the price for it. Of course, O'Sullivan had been a willing partner ever since the 1979 Race Fix case, in which he'd let Bulger and Flemmi skate even though he knew they were guilty. That should have made them beholden to him; instead the reverse turned out to be the case.

Justice Department logoDurham's laserlike focus on Connolly, in my mind, made him appear little better than O'Sullivan and the Department of Justice that oversaw his Strike Force. Durham gave everyone else involved in or enabling Boston's culture of corruption a pass, just as O'Sullivan had given Bulger and Flemmi a pass.

"In short," David Boeri wrote me in an e-mail months before publication of his article for Boston Magazine, "Durham protected the FBI and the very team he relied upon -the State Police and DEA agents who arrested, interrogated, and handled the major witnesses rebelled against him and consider him a fraud. They believe he could have and should have prosecuted other FBI agents. But that he chose not to investigate further."

In hearings held in 2002 and 2003, though, the House Committee on Government Reform picked up the ball Durham had dropped. In November 20, 2003, the committee approved and adopted a report entitled "Everything Secret Degenerates: The FBI's Use of Murderers and Informants." "The 1979 Ciulla race-fixing prosecution memoran dum provides extremely important information about how prosecutorial discretion was exercised to benefit FBI informants James 'Whitey' Bulger and Stephen Flemmi," the report said in part. It demonstrates that former U.S. Attorney Jeremiah O'Sullivan's testimony before the Committee is subject to question. Perhaps more important, it shows that a 1997 FBI Office of Professional Responsibility conclusion that prosecutorial discretion had never been exercised by the federal government on behalf of James Bulger and Stephen Flemmi was not correct." .

Also included in the committee's report was a scathing indictment of the work of Paul Rico and Dennis Condon. Rico and Condon were the ones who'd handled informant Joseph "the Animal" Barboza, going so far as to falsely imprison four innocent men in the 1965 murder of Teddy Deegan to keep Barboza from taking the heat.

"I must tell you this, that I was outraged-outraged-at the fact that if [the exculpatory documents] had ever been shown to me, we wouldn't be sitting here," testified the lead prosecutor in the Deegan case. "I certainly would never have allowed myself to prosecute this case having that knowledge. No way.... That information should have been in my hands. It should have been in the hands of the defense attorneys. It is outrageous, it's terrible, and that trial shouldn't
have gone forward."

In October of 2003, the very same week that testimony was given, police authorities from both Miami and Tulsa arrested Paul Rico at his Florida home on charges associated with his involvement

whitey bulger mugs 1953

James "Whitey" Bulger, Boston mob leader and murderer protected by the FBI and federal prosecutors because of his "informant" status, shown in a 1953 mug shot.

tj english author photodaily beast logoDaily Beast, Book Review: Robert Fitzpatrick’s Memoir Reveals Attempts to Stop Whitey Bulger, T.J. English (right, with bio below), Jan. 27, 2012. Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick tells his story of trying to stop the FBI from protecting crime lord Whitey Bulger.

In the two decades that James “Whitey” Bulger served as a secret FBI informant while extorting citizens, peddling cocaine, and killing people to protect his Boston-based criminal empire, there is only one federal agent who tried seriously to shut him down: Robert Fitzpatrick.

For his efforts, Fitzpatrick was frustrated at every turn, not by Bulger and his fellow gangsters, but by his own, the FBI.

robert fitzpatrickAfter being introduced to Bulger in 1981, Fitzpatrick warned his regional supervisor that Whitey was “sociopathic … untrustworthy … likely to commit violence” and suggested that he be “closed” as an informant. Not only were his memos and recommendations ignored, some in the FBI sought to discredit Fitzpatrick and destroy his reputation.

The aggrieved former G-man finally has the opportunity to tell his side of the story in Betrayal, an explosive memoir of his years as assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office. The book has the feel of an ongoing therapy session, as Fitzpatrick seeks to make sense of a sprawling conspiracy of agents, cops, judges, criminals, and politicians who for decades enabled Bulger and made it possible for his campaign of corruption and terror to infect an entire city. Currently, Bulger awaits trial on 19 counts of murder, after having been on the lam for 16 years.

It is a sickening story, one that Fitzpatrick and his co-author, Jon Land, allow to unfold slowly, like a toxic oil spill that envelopes and destroys the surrounding ecosystem—in this case, the entire criminal justice system of the state of Massachusetts.

It is now common knowledge that Special Agent John Connolly, Bulger’s primary handler in the Bureau who is presently in prison on murder charges (and shown below in prison garb via an NBC News photo), and john connolly prison suit nbc Customformer state senator William “Billy” Bulger, Whitey’s powerful politician brother, formed a support system that made it possible for the Bulger era to sustain itself.

But in Betrayal, Fitzpatrick broadens the conspiracy, detailing the culpability of a vast matrix of enablers, including, most notably, the late Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, who, as lead prosecutor for the state’s Organized Crime Strike Force, undermined potential prosecutions of both Whitey and Billy Bulger, and Lawrence Sarhatt and James Greenleaf, successive special agents in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, who buried reports, including Fitzpatrick’s recommendation that Bulger be “closed” as an informant.

Fitzpatrick does not attempt to portray himself as a hero; the dominant tone of the book is one of frustration and astonishment as the author, who was sent to Boston by FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. with the expressed task of evaluating Bulger’s “suitability” as a top-echelon informant, encounters malfeasance and corruption at every level.

Early in the book, he describes being a young boy at the infamous Mount Loretto orphanage in Staten Island, N.Y., where he encountered bullies and institutional abuse. Late at night, he sought solace by laying in the dark and listening to the popular radio program This Is Your FBI. Fitzpatrick’s belief in the FBI as both an avenue of personal salvation and an institutional force for justice haunts the book, as the reality of corruption and careerism crushes his idealism much the same way Bulger strangled, shot, and mutilated his murder victims.

Fitzpatrick came to Boston well suited to deal with subterfuge and corruption. He had gone undercover in the Deep South in the mid-Sixties in an attempt to penetrate and bring down white supremacist organizations. In the 1970s he’d been one of the lead agents on the ABSCAM investigation, a sting operation involving corrupt public officials that led to numerous high-profile arrests, including the indictment of a sitting U.S. senator.

In Boston, Fitzpatrick spent nearly a decade trying to unravel what he calls “the Bulger arrangement.” As a veteran G-man who had trained budding agents on the proper cultivation of criminal informants at the FBI academy in Quantico, VA, he recognized all the telltale signs of a disaster in the making. He saw that Connolly and his supervisor, John Morris, were too close to Bulger. Also, as Fitzpatrick noted to anyone who would listen, the Bulger situation violated one of the most basic tenets of informant cultivation; the proper strategy with informants is to get someone mid-level who can help take down the boss and therefore an entire organization. You cannot have an organized crime kingpin as an informant, because it is inevitable that person will choose to manipulate the information they reveal to their handlers as a way of staying in power.

When it became apparent to Fitzpatrick that his warnings about the Bulger relationship were being ignored, he sought to build his own cases against the mob boss. He developed informants like Brian Halloran, a sad-sack career thug who worked for Bulger, and John McIntyre, a naïve Irish Republican Army (IRA) sympathizer who partnered with Bulger on a scheme to send guns to Northern Ireland in exchange for shipments of marijuana and cocaine. Agents in Fitzpatrick’s own office leaked information to Bulger about the informants; Halloran and McIntyre were both brutally murdered by Bulger, as were other informants whose identities were compromised and revealed to local gangsters by Connolly and Morris.

In the end, Fitzpatrick’s reputation within the Bureau as a potential whistleblower and general “pain in the ass” began to wear him down. It took a personal toll on him and his wife. Fitzpatrick began to get the sense that Bulger and his gangster partner Steve Flemmi, who was also a longtime FBI informant, were more important to the local office than he was. “Apparently Bulger and Flemmi were the FBI’s ‘guys’ while I, somehow, wasn’t,” writes Fitzpatrick. “While busting [the Mafia] remained every bit a top priority in Washington, my efforts and accomplishments were being demeaned by a groupthink mentality that led to a scenario of ‘us versus them,’ with me inexplicably linked with ‘them.’”

When Fitzpatrick, frustrated and disillusioned, resigned from the Bureau in 1987, the full dimensions of Bulger’s partnership with the FBI was not yet known, even to the agent. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when Bulger went on the lam after being tipped off by his FBI contacts that he was about to be arrested, that the truth started to come out. In a series of hearings and depositions, the Bulger cohorts who were left behind turned “rat” and testified in court. In a groundbreaking hearing presided over by Federal Judge Mark Wolf, Fitzpatrick testified, and for the first time the story of his efforts to rectify the Bureau’s sinister alliance with Bulger began to take shape.

In January 2000, after Whitey’s righthand man provided details on a series of murders, including where the bodies were buried, Fitzpatrick stood in the rain alongside Dorchester gulley as the remains of John McIntyre, his one-time informant, were dug up. “As I stood on that embankment,” writes Fitzpatrick, “steaming over confirmation of what I’d suspected ever since John McIntyre had disappeared in 1984, I never imagined I was looking at the means to achieve my long sought vindication.”

Fitzpatrick’s vindication would come in court, where he testified as part of a civil lawsuit brought by the McIntyre family — and other families of Bulger’s victims — against the FBI and the U.S. government for having underwritten Bulger’s murderous criminal career. In 2006, the McIntyre family was awarded $3.1 million in damages. All told, litigation from cases related to the Bulger debacle would result in damages of more than $20 million.

Betrayal provides the most complete overview to date of the culture of corruption that made Bulger possible. Fitzpatrick names names and offers an appendix filled with FBI memos, letters, and excerpts from depositions and court proceedings. The cumulative effect is a devastating reaffirmation of the findings of a U.S. congressional committee that declared the Bulger-FBI relationship to represent “one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement.”

The final chapter on Bulger has not yet been written. Whitey is scheduled to stand trial sometime in 2012, and Fitzpatrick will likely be called to testify. In this sordid saga of homicidal gangsters and dirty federal agents, Fitzpatrick’s perspective — and his book — offers a rare beacon of light.

T. J. English is a noted journalist, a screenwriter, and the author of the New York Times bestsellers Havana Nocturne, Paddy Whacked, and The Savage City, as well as of The Westies, a national bestseller, and Born to Kill, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. He has written for Vanity Fair, Playboy, and Esquire, among other publications. His screenwriting credits include episodes of the television crime dramas NYPD Blue and Homicide, for which he was awarded the Humanitas Prize. He lives in New York City.

2011

July 2

Justice Integrity Project, CIA Torture Investigator Plays Powerful But Mysterious Role, July 2, 2011. John Durham is the career federal prosecutor who made news June 30 when the Justice Department acted on his recommendation to narrow a probe of CIA mistreatment of detainees from 101 to two cases.

Our Justice Integrity Project revealed last July that a federal appeals court found in 2008 serious misconduct by a team of federal prosecutors supervised by Durham. Thus, the 2008 Bush and then Obama administration appointments of Durham and his prominent Connecticut colleague, Nora Dannehy, to lead major national investigations of misconduct by other federal officials smacks of politics and whitewash.

June 24

washington post logoWashington Post, Publicity campaign led to mobster’s arrest, FBI says, Jerry Markon, June 24, 2011.  For 16 years, the FBI had pursued James “Whitey” Bulger, chasing the elusive Boston mobster across five continents. On Tuesday, agents tried a new approach: They blasted photos of Bulger’s longtime girlfriend, Catherine Elizabeth Greig, across television screens and Twitter. Federal officials in Boston say a tip led the FBI to begin surveillance on former mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger's apartment in Santa Monica, Calif.

CNN’s In the Arena, Lehr: Gangster 'Whitey' Bulger, feared leg-breaker and enforcer, killed his way to the top, Jay Kernis. June 24, 2011. Answering today’s OFF-SET questions is Dick Lehr, co-author with Gerard O’Neill of “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob.” 

The book was a New York Times bestseller and won the Edgar Award. Both authors were reporters at The Boston Globe. Lehr is also a professor of journalism at Boston University. Question: Why do you think it took so long to capture Whitey Bulger? To me, big reasons are Bulger's age -- he's an old man now, and when you look at him you don't see the cold-blooded killer that he was during his rule of Boston's underworld. Then there's his self-discipline; he's not flamboyant and would be the last person to draw attention to himself.

 

Ten Characters Cover

 

Film TreatmentThe Departed

Jack NicholsonThe Departed, a 2006 film loosely modeled on Whitey Bulger's disappearance, starred Jack Nicholson, left, as a Bulger-like figure. The movie was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by William Monahan, also starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg, among others. It won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Wahlberg was nominated for Best Supporting Actor but lost to Alan Arkin. The film takes place in Boston, Massachusetts, where Irish Mob boss Francis "Frank" Costello plants Colin Sullivan as an informant within the Massachusetts State Police. Simultaneously, the police assign undercover cop William "Billy" Costigan to infiltrate Costello's crew. When both sides realize the situation, each man attempts to discover the other's true identity before his own cover is blown.  Click here for video

r on YouTube.

 

2010

Nieman Watchdog, New Questions Raised About Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials in U.S. Attorney Firings, Andrew Kreig, July 25, 2010. Four days before Nora Dannehy was appointed to investigate the Bush administration’s U.S. attorney firing scandal, a team of lawyers she led was found to have illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case. Andrew Kreig writes that this previously unreported fact calls her entire investigation into question as well as that of a similar investigation by her colleague John Durham of DOJ and CIA decision-making involving torture.

In September 2008, the Bush Justice Department appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, right, to investigate allegations that Bush officials in 2006 nora dannehy doj photoillegally fired nine U.S. attorneys who wouldn’t politicize official corruption investigations.

But just four days before her appointment, a federal appeals court had ruled that a team of prosecutors led by Dannehy illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case in Connecticut. The prosecutors’ misconduct was so serious that the court vacated seven of the eight convictions in the case.

The ruling didn’t cite Dannehy by name, and although it was publicly reported it apparently never came up in the news coverage of her appointment.

But it now calls into question the integrity of her investigation by raising serious concerns about her credibility -- and about whether she was particularly vulnerable to political pressure from within the Justice Department.

Now, almost two years later, Dannehy has provided arguably the most important blanket exoneration for high-level U.S. criminal targets since President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra convicts post-election in late 1992.

The DOJ announced on July 21 that it has “closed the case” on the nine unprecedented mid-term firings because Dannehy found no criminal wrongdoing by DOJ or White House officials.

But the official description of her inquiry indicates that she either placed or acceded to constraints on the scope of her probe that restricted it to the firing of just one of the ousted U.S. attorneys, not the others -- and not to the conduct of the U.S. attorneys who weren't ousted because they met whatever tests DOJ and the White House created.

Dannehy’s probe, my reporting suggests, was compromised from the beginning.

michael mukaseyShe was appointed by Bush Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, left, on Sept. 29, 2008. On Sept. 25, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City found misconduct in a 2003 trial she had led.

The court found that the prosecution suppressed evidence that could have benefited the defendant, Connecticut businessman Charles B. Spadoni. Spadoni, right, had been convicted of bribing former state Treasurer Paul Silvester to invest $200 million of state pension money with charlesspadonihis firm.

But the appeals court found that prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense an FBI agent’s notes of a key interview they conducted with Silvester's attorney. In doing so, the court ruled, “the government deprived Spadoni of exculpatory evidence going to the core of its bribery case against him.”

The court reversed Spadoni’s convictions on seven counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, leaving intact only an obstruction of justice conviction.

Prosecutors found by a court to have committed misconduct typically face some sort of internal investigation within the Justice Department. Whether there was any such investigation, and why or why not, is not publicly known.

john durham CustomAs it happens, the Spadoni case also raises concerns relative to the ongoing federal probe of potential Bush administration wrongdoing in covering up torture that is being led by John H. Durham, right, another prosecutor from Connecticut. Durham supervised Dannehy’s decade-long prosecution of Spadoni.

CIA LogoHe also was appointed by Mukasey in 2008. Durham’s initial charge was to investigate suspected destruction of torture tapes by CIA personnel. In 2009, Holder expanded that probe to other decision-making, including by DOJ personnel.

Until now, neither DOJ nor anyone else has linked Dannehy and Durham by name to the prosecutorial misconduct against Spadoni, as far as I can determine. The court decision doesn’t cite specific actions by the two. But it clearly refers to their case, and the information is readily available online in Lexis and in any good law library.

In April, as the acting U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, Durham signed a DOJ filing denying the merit of the appeals court finding of prosecution misconduct, while calling for Spadoni’s continued prosecution for the remaining charge of obstruction of justice for deleting computer files in advance of a potential subpoena.

I sought additional comment beyond the court filings from Dannehy, Durham and Thomas Carson, DOJ’s spokesman for its Connecticut office. Carson wrote me, “We have no further comment, as the matter is still pending."

 

2003

Connecticut Law Tribune, Attorney's Trial Tactics Impugned, Kellie A. Wagner, June 23, 2003. Judge tosses conviction.

Admonishing Deputy U.S. Attorney John Durham's trial tactics, as well as her own failure to maintain courtroom decorum, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond janet bond artertonArterton has taken the extraordinary step of overturning a weapons charge conviction largely on account of prosecutorial misconduct.

In granting defendant Anthony Washington's request for a new trial las month, Arterton (right) rebuked Durham for undermining the defense's key witness, while personally vouching for those who took the stand on the prosecution’s behalf, maligning defense counsel and his arguments; and aluding to highly prejudicial facts not in evidence.

The second-highest ranking federal prosecutor in the state, Durham also repeatedly interjected his personal views during closing remarks, through phrases such as "I believe" and "I would suggest to you," after vilifying defense counsel for doing the same, according to Arterton.

"The prosecutor ...proceeded to do exactly what he stated he would not," Arterton wrote in her 57-page decision of Durham first telling the jury that defense counsel Roger Sigal's arguments were improper before littering his own summation with first-person pronouns.

Durham could not be reached for comment by press time. But U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor said his office will be filing a motion for reconsideration in the matter.

Though he declined to reveal the specifics of the government's objections, O'Connor acknowledged the rarity of a conviction being uprooted due to prosecutorial misconduct at the federal level, stating there have only been one or two such rulings in the past 20 years.