For the last few days, right wing news sites have been obsessed with a new court filing from Special Counsel John Durham, claiming that it proves that the Clinton campaign "spied" on Donald Trump. For example:
Fox News: "Clinton campaign paid to 'infiltrate' Trump Tower, White House servers to link Trump to Russia, Durham finds"
Washington Examiner: "Durham says Democrat-allied tech executive spied on Trump’s White House office"
The Federalist: "Special Counsel: Democrats Framed And Spied On Trump While He Was President"
New York Post: "Clinton campaign paid tech workers to dig up Trump-Russia connections: Report"
All of those propaganda sites have published/aired multiple stories with similar claims. In other words, this has been the BIG story in the right wing media bubble over the last few days. Of course, the former guy had to get in on the action by issuing this statement:
The latest pleading from Special Counsel Robert [sic] Durham provides indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia. … In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death.
For the nuts and bolts of what's going on, you might recall that Durham issued a flimsy indictment charging Michael Sussmann with lying to the FBI during a meeting in which he shared information that had been uncovered about a possible internet connection between Russia's Alpha Bank and the Trump campaign. Specifically, Durham charged that Sussmann lied when he failed to disclose that he was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
The most recent court filing from Durham is ostensibly about the possibility that Sussmann’s current counsel - Latham and Watkins, LLP - may have potential conflicts of interests. But in the midst of that filing, the special counsel decided to drop a little bombshell (for the sake of clarity, I'm going to insert names that are publicly known).
The Government’s evidence at trial will also establish that among the Internet data technology executive Rodney Joffe and his associates exploited was domain name system (“DNS”) Internet traffic pertaining to (i) Spectrum Health, (ii) Trump Tower, (iii) Donald Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and (iv) the Executive Office of the President of the United States (“EOP”). Joffe's employer, Neustar, had come to access and maintain dedicated servers for the EOP as part of a sensitive arrangement whereby it provided DNS resolution services to the EOP. Joffe and his associates exploited this arrangement by mining the EOP’s DNS traffic and other data for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump.
The Indictment further details that on February 9, 2017, the defendant provided an updated set of allegations – including the Alpha Bank data and additional allegations relating to Trump – to the CIA. The Government’s evidence at trial will establish that these additional allegations relied, in part, on the purported DNS traffic that Joffe and others had assembled pertaining to Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s New York City apartment building, the EOP, and Spectrum Health. In his meeting with the CIA, the defendant provided data which he claimed reflected purportedly suspicious DNS lookups by these entities of internet protocol (“IP”) addresses affiliated with a Russian mobile phone provider, YotaPhones. The defendant further claimed that these lookups demonstrated that Trump and/or his associates were using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House and other locations.
If you're like me, information about domain name systems goes right over your head. Here's how Charlie Savage described what happened after talking to Joffe and his associates:
A military research organization had asked Georgia Tech researchers to help scrutinize a 2015 Russian malware attack on the White House’s network. After it emerged that Russia had hacked Democrats, they began hunting for signs of other Russian activity targeting people or organizations related to the election, using data provided by Neustar...
The meeting with the C.I.A. involved odd data the researchers said indicated there had been communications with Yota servers in Russia coming from networks serving the White House; Trump Tower; Mr. Trump’s Central Park West apartment building; and Spectrum Health, a Michigan hospital company that also played a role in the Alfa Bank matter. The researchers...had prepared a “white paper” explaining the analysis, which Mr. Sussmann later took to the C.I.A.
In other words, Neustar and Georgia Tech researchers were doing the job they were hired to do. And when they found suspicious activity, their lawyer (Sussmann) took the information they had collected to the CIA.
There are tons of inconsistencies in the way this is being reported by right wing news sites. For example, in responding to Durham's recent court filing, Sussman's lawyers included this:
[A]lthough the Special Counsel implies that in Mr. Sussmann’s February 9, 2017 meeting, he provided the CIA with EOP data from after Mr. Trump took office, the Special Counsel is well aware that the data provided to the CIA pertained only to the period of time before Mr. Trump took office, when Barack Obama was President. Further—and contrary to the Special Counsel’s alleged theory that Mr. Sussmann was acting in concert with the Clinton Campaign—the Motion conveniently overlooks the fact that Mr. Sussmann’s meeting with the CIA happened well after the 2016 presidential election, at a time when the Clinton Campaign had effectively ceased to exist.
But perhaps most intriguing to me is that this information about YotaPhones and Sussman's meeting with the CIA has been public knowledge for a while now. Interestingly enough, it initially came to light during a House Intelligence Committee meeting on December 18, 2017 when Kash Patel, an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, interviewed Sussmann.
Patel: Okay, fair enough. What was your contact [with CIA] about?
Sussmann: So the contact [with CIA] was about reporting to them information that was reported to me about possible contacts, covert or at least nonpublic, between Russian entities and various entities in the Untied States associated with the — or potentially associated with the Trump Organization.
Patel: And when did that contact [with CIA] occur, month and year?
Sussmann: February 2017.
Patel: Where did you get that information from to relay to [CIA]?
Sussmann: From a client of mine.
If this meeting with the CIA was so explosive, why didn't Patel gather information about it and blow the whistle on the "spying" while he was working at the NSA and DOD during the Trump administration?
But then, when Durham released his 27-page "talking indictment" against Sussmann last fall, Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman talked to the internet researchers involved about how the special prosecutor had cherrypicked what they'd said in emails to make it sound like they doubted their own conclusions about the Alpha Bank story. Included in their report on September 30, 2021 was this little gem:
In addition, the Alfa Bank suspicions were only half of what the researchers sought to bring to the government’s attention, according to several people familiar with the matter.
Their other set of concerns centered on data suggesting that a YotaPhone — a Russian-made smartphone rarely seen in the United States — had been used from networks serving the White House, Trump Tower and Spectrum Health, a Michigan hospital company whose server had also interacted with the Trump server.
Mr. Sussmann relayed their YotaPhone findings to counterintelligence officials at the C.I.A. in February 2017, the people said.
So why did Durham include this old news in his most recent court filing? It's clear that - much like the misleading information he included in the Sussmann indictment - he wanted to incite exactly the kind of reaction he got from right wing news outlets. That is precisely the point Sussmann's lawyers made in their response to the court. After dispatching quickly with the conflict of interest angle, they wrote this:
Unfortunately, the Special Counsel has done more than simply file a document identifying potential conflicts of interest. Rather, the Special Counsel has again made a filing in this case that unnecessarily includes prejudicial—and false—allegations that are irrelevant to his Motion and to the charged offense, and are plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool.
The fact is that Durham isn't conducting a legal investigation. I doubt any of this will ever actually lead to court proceedings. He's in the business of mounting a propaganda campaign in an attempt to not only discredit the Mueller investigation, but to shift the focus from Trump and Putin to a nefarious conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton. It leads one to question why someone who previously had a decent reputation would do such a thing.