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Brittain Shaw’s Privileged Attempt to Misrepresent Eric Lichtblau’s Privilege

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In the first words of her opening argument in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham prosecutor Brittain Shaw argued that this case is all about Sussmann’s privilege, his purported ability to exploit high level ties at DOJ to seed what she claims would be a smear campaign against the guy who was, in fact, hiding secret communications with the Kremlin and soliciting hacks of his opponent.

The evidence will show that this is a case about privilege: the privilege of a well-connected D.C. lawyer with access to the highest levels of the FBI; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that he could lie to the FBI without consequences; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that for the powerful the normal rules didn’t apply, that he could use the FBI as a political tool.

The really painful irony of this case, though, is that Sussmann is being significantly hamstrung because of privilege, attorney-client privilege, because it is limiting his ability to present evidence about what really happened.

When Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that a subset of emails that had been protected under privilege were not, after all, he explained that, the documents, “do not strike the Court as being particularly revelatory.” Even so, Sussmann and Fusion can’t, ethically, simply offer up emails over which the Democrats are claiming privilege. There’s good reason to believe if they could, they could show that significant parts of Durham’s conspiracy theory have been based on imagining that Democrats were hiding the worst possible plotting behind privilege claims, when in fact the reality was much more mundane.

Take two exhibits from the trial as an example. Durham is making much of a September 15, 2016 email from Marc Elias to top people on the campaign. Its subject line was “Alfa article.” But it appears to be sharing an article about “testimony of an oil trader.” If Sussmann could share it, it might simply show that Elias had seen an article about corruption and seen some tie with the Alfa Bank allegations. He can’t, because Elias is the one who made that connection.

Meanwhile, two exhibits Sussmann introduced into evidence show Robby Mook — who is not a lawyer — sharing Sidney Blumenthal “intelligence” with him that the Trump campaign was freaking out because they had gotten advance word of a NYT article about Trump’s ties with Russia.

The Trump campaign is having “a major league freak-out,” according to a Republican source who has been reliable in the past. What is causing the Trump “freak-out” is anticipation of an investigative story to be published by the New York Times. The subject is described as “Russia” and “a disaster.” “That is completely the story of everything going on since Thursday,” insists the source. The Times story, says the source, accounts for Tramp’s extraordinarily defensive aggressive reactions–his declaration that he will sue the New York Times, his personal tweeting attack on Maureen Dowd as “wacky” and a neuSidney rotic dope,” (though the source says “that’s just him anyway”), his call for the assassination of HRC, and the campaign’s push to the media of the flat-out lie that I was behind birtherism in 2008. On Saturday night, Trump tweeted: “My lawyers want to sue the tailing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.” Trump did not specify why the Times might be guilty of”irresponsible intent,” which in any case lacks any legal weight. Earlier on Saturday, he tweeted that the Times was “a laughingstock rag.” The atmosphere inside the campaign is described as chaotic, frenetic and “spontaneous.” Bannon and Bossie are said to be grasping at anything to throw back in order to distract from and fend off the coming story. Journalistic sources have independently said that reporters at the Times are working on a Tromp-Russia story.

It wouldn’t be a high profile political trial, I guess, if Sid Blumenthal didn’t make a showing. Note that Mike Flynn’s Mueller interviews show him responding to some Sid Blumenthal stuff in precisely this period, so it’t clear Sid was talking to Republicans.

Anyway, that part — Blumenthal sharing with Mook — was not privileged. And that part makes it clear that Elias was right to be concerned about Trump suing if the Hillary campaign made factual observations about his ties with Russia. It also may (though this is uncertain) back Sussmann’s understanding that Eric Lichtblau was close to publishing the Alfa story, so close that Trump’s moles at the NYT had alerted him to it. But whatever Mook said about it to Elias, the campaign’s lawyer guarding against lawsuits, is privileged, as whatever Elias said to Sussmann and the Fusion guys when he forwarded Mook’s comment would be.

Whatever was said may have influenced Sussmann’s decision to go to the FBI, though, as this was shortly before he texted Jim Baker and asked to meet.

In his testimony, Elias stated that he had not given Sussmann permission to go to the FBI with the Alfa Bank story. He doesn’t think he knew until shortly afterwards, though could have learned before (the Blumenthal story may serve to explain a call that Sussmann knows prosecutors plan to dramatically reveal).

You testified that you became aware that Mr. Sussmann went to the FBI. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And your testimony was that you think that you were told right after, although there’s a possibility it was right before?

A. Yes.

Q. Your best recollection is which of those?

A. Is after.

Q. Okay. Did you tell him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did he seek your permission to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did you authorize him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Are you aware of anyone at the Clinton Campaign that authorized Mr. Sussmann to go to the FBI to share the possibility of The New York Times story?

A. Not that I’m aware of. No.

Q. Did you consent to his going to the FBI?

A. No, not that I remember. No.

Elias even explained what a colossally bad idea it would be for a candidate whose campaign had been badly damaged by Jim Comey to go to the FBI.

A. First of all, the FBI had in my view not been particularly helpful in investigating or doing anything to prevent the leaks of the emails. The exfiltration is one thing, you know, the stealing of the emails. But the publication of the emails, it was not just this one time. I mean, we were dealing with multiple publications of emails. And it was not just this one client.

And I think my sense was that the FBI was not for a variety of reasons going to do anything that was going to be — like stop bad things from happening, which would be one reason to go for the FBI.

The second, which is more unique to the Clinton Campaign, is that I think he was then the FBI director, but James Comey had taken public stances in around that time period that were in my view unfair and putting a thumb on the scale against Secretary Clinton.

So I’m not sure that I would have thought that the FBI was going to be — give a fair shake to anything that they viewed as anti-Trump or pro-Clinton.

And then the final thing is that if The New York Times was going to run this story, like that’s the goal. Right? The New York Times runs the story. If you get the FBI involved, any number of things could prevent that from happening. Right?

In the most extreme instance, the FBI can go to the publication and say: Please don’t. But the second is, the newspaper itself might then want to do further reporting on the FBI investigation and delay its story. Right?

So, like, even in a world in which, like, the FBI is being helpful — not being helpful; even in a world in which the FBI is doing stuff, the media may not run the story because they want to get the full picture because they view the FBI piece of it as an essential piece of the story.

It’s certainly possible that, given this advance warning of a Trump shit-storm, Sussmann decided it would be best to give FBI a head’s up. Sussmann, however, can’t ethically share the communications between Elias and him, even if it would help him. That’s how privilege works.

With that in mind, consider what Shaw said in Durham’s bid to keep Eric Lichtblau off the stand (this appears to have been filed two days after Judge Cooper ordered it, but one of the Durham lawyers has had a family emergency so they may have gotten an extension).

After explaining that prosecutors need to question Lichtblau about things the scope of which have been specifically excluded in the trial, a footnote claims that they won’t violate Judge Cooper’s rules about such things (they have, serially, during the trial).

The government should be permitted to cross-examine Lichtblau about any communications he had with other individuals, including, but not limited to, Fusion GPS personnel and computer researchers, regarding the alleged connections between the Trump Organization and Alfa bank. To the extent Sussmann, Fusion GPS, or others (including computer researchers) approached or communicated with Lichtblau concerning Alfa Bank or related matters, the government should be permitted to question Lichtblau about such exchanges, as they are relevant to the defendant’s communications with Lichtblau on these same issues and are probative of the defendant’s alleged actions on behalf of clients (Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign). The government also intends to cross-examine Lichtblau on issues pertaining to the credibility and reliability of his testimony. 1

[snip]

If Fusion GPS (which was hired by the defendant’s firm on behalf of the Hillary for America Campaign) and other persons known to Joffe and/or Sussmann similarly supplied opposition research-type information to Lichtblau regarding the Trump Organization as a part of a coordinated effort, this would be relevant to demonstrate that Sussmann was not acting merely as a concerned citizen trying to help the FBI when he met with FBI General Counsel and that his contrary representations were false. Indeed, the Government is aware that Sussmann and Joffe did enlist and/or task one or more other computer researchers to communicate with the media (including Lichtblau) concerning these matters

1 The government will abide by the Court’s order of May 7, 2022 and, in accordance with that order, will not “put on extensive evidence” about the accuracy of the data provided by Sussmann or his clients to the FBI, Lichtblau, or others. See Op. & Order (“In Limine Order”) at 5, ECF No. 121. [my emphasis]

Here, Shaw states as fact that the computer research was opposition research. It was not.

I am 100% certain that if Lichtblau could testify about all the people he spoke with on this story, he could explain that many if not most of the people involved — as well as a bunch of other people, including at least one whom prosecutors have affirmatively claimed did not have a role in chasing down this anomaly — believed the anomaly was real and were motivated out of a genuine alarm about the Russian attack that year. Yes, the NYT found people who pushed back (more so after the FBI killed the story). But that’s what makes Lichtblau’s work reporting, not opposition research.

If Lichtblau is able to testify, he could also provide a key piece of important context to evidence the government has already presented. Yesterday, Jim Baker described how, starting on September 21, he reached out to Sussmann for the name of the reporter working on the story.

Baker provided Lichtblau’s name to Bill Priestap before noon on September 22. But Lichtblau didn’t meet with the FBI until Monday, September 26.

We know that in between, the FBI called Cendyn, leading them to alter their DNS address, and the NYT called a representative for Alfa Bank which later — NYT believed, at least — led Alfa to alter their DNS address. The NYT believed that there was a response from Alfa that indicated they were trying to hide this activity.

A key part of Durham’s claim is that NYT wasn’t close to publishing when Sussmann went to the FBI and that Sussmann was, instead, trying to provide urgency for the story. That doesn’t accord with my understanding and it doesn’t accord with what Dexter Filkins has written. Durham can keep telling it so long as Lichtblau doesn’t testify.

One thing that happened, though — in addition to initial contacts that would have alerted Lichtblau that the FBI didn’t want him to publish — was the response to those calls after Sussmann and Joffe decided to share Lichtblau’s name. There was new news that Lichtblau had to try to understand that created a new delay.

As with Sussmann, it would be nice for Lichtblau if he could describe all the efforts he made to verify the story. If he could, it would demonstrably undercut several of the claims Durham is making. He can’t, because he has separate confidentiality agreements with those other sources.

Shaw, who accuses Sussmann of being privileged, completely flips how privilege works on its head (including by mis-citing the David Tatel concurrence in the Judy Miller subpoena, which as I understand it would support Lichtblau making the call about the scope of his testimony). She ties it to a topic rather than a privileged relationship to accuse Lichtblau of trying to selectively pick which parts of the story he can tell.

The D.C. Circuit has “declined to adopt a selective waiver doctrine” in the context of attorney-client communications that “would allow a party voluntarily to produce documents covered by the attorney-client privilege to one party and yet assert the privilege as a bar to production to a different party.” United States v. Williams Companies, Inc., 562 F.3d 387, 394 (D.C. Cir. 2009). “The client cannot be permitted to pick and choose among his opponents, waiving the privilege for some and resurrecting the claim of confidentiality to obstruct others.” Permian Corp. v. United States, 665 F.2d 1214, 1221 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Privilege holders must instead “treat the confidentiality of attorney-client communications like jewels—if not crown jewels” because courts “will not distinguish between various degrees of ‘voluntariness’ in waivers of the attorney-client privilege.” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d 976, 980 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

This principle—which restricts a privilege of “ancient lineage and continuing importance,” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d at 980—necessarily governs the novel and qualified reporter’s privilege advanced in this case. Sussmann subpoenaed Lichtblau to appear as a witness and Lichtblau has not moved to quash. Lichtblau and defendant Sussmann cannot “tactical[ly] employ[]” the asserted privilege to pick and choose the topics that may be put to Lichtblau on the witness stand. Permian Corp., 665 F.2d at 1221. Privileges are not “tool[s] for selective disclosure.” Ibid

I get why someone in the grips of a fevered conspiracy theory would make this argument. Durham believes that everyone involved with the Alfa Bank story was part of the same malicious conspiracy targeting poor Donald Trump, even though DOJ has in its possession abundant proof that’s false. Yet even in this case, Cooper has distinguished between the privileged relationships that Joffe has with what the Democrats have, and he has also pointed to affirmative evidence that this wasn’t one big conspiracy.

But Shaw would have you believe that Lichtblau’s privilege obligations are tied to a project, a story, and not a bunch of individuals, many of whom he had existing relationships with well before this story.

A lawyer not in the grip of a fevered conspiracy theory, however, would understand that that kind of privilege doesn’t make you special, it creates an obligation, even if the obligation prevents you from using your profession from helping yourself.

The Founding Fantasy of Durham’s Prosecution of Michael Sussmann: Hillary’s Successful October Surprise

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work.

I’m still waiting on the second transcript from the Michael Sussmann trial, after which point I’ll lay out what Andrew DeFilippis already did to give Sussmann cause for appeal, if he were to lose.

Until then, I want to share the unbelievably crazypants belief that Durham’s prosecutors are attempting to sell to a jury. AUSA Brittain Shaw laid out the framework Durham’s team will use this way:

So what will the evidence show? The evidence will show that defendant’s lie was all part of a bigger plan, a plan that the defendant carried out in concert with two clients, the Hillary Clinton Campaign and Internet executive Rodney Joffe. It was a plan to create an October surprise on the eve of the presidential election, a plan that used and manipulated the FBI, a plan that the defendant hoped would trigger negative news stories and cause an FBI investigation, a plan that largely succeeded.

How did the defendant execute this plan? Through his two clients.

First, the Clinton Campaign. You’re going to hear that in the summer of 2016, as the presidential election was heating up, the defendant was working at a major D.C. law firm which was acting as legal counsel for the Clinton Campaign. You’re also going to find as part of — hear that as part of their campaign efforts they were hired and were paying an investigative firm called Fusion GPS that was hired to do what’s called opposition research.That’s where the defendant’s plan took shape, and the evidence will show that the plan had three parts: a look, a leak, and a lie.

[claims about Fusion GPS and Rodney Joffe’s efforts, the latter of which, especially, are badly wrong]

First the look. The evidence will show that as Sussmann and Joffe met and coordinated with representatives of the Clinton Campaign and Fusion GPS, they looked for more data. You will hear that Joffe instructed people at his companies to scour Internet traffic for any derogatory information they could find about Trump or his associates’ online Internet activities, including potential ties to Alfa-Bank or to Russia. And you will see that Fusion GPS did the same using their access to other information.

Second, the leak. You will hear from the evidence that the defendant and Joffe then leaked the Alfa-Bank allegations to a reporter at the New York Times with the hope and expectation that he would run a story about it.

Third, the lie. You will see that when the reporter didn’t publish this story right away, the defendant and others decided to bring this information to the FBI and to create a sense of urgency, to also tell the FBI that a major news organization was running a story within days. That’s when the defendant requested the meeting with the FBI general counsel and told him that he was not doing this for any client.

The evidence will show you that the defendant had at least two reasons to lie.

First you’re going to hear that the defendant was a cyber security lawyer who had been hired earlier that year by the Democratic National Committee to represent them in relation to a computer hack where they’d been the victim. Because of this, the defendant was in frequent contact with the FBI about the hack investigation. They considered him to be the DNS — I mean, the DNC attorney for that matter. Because they viewed him as the DNC lawyer for the hack, the defendant knew that if he came in and told them that he was representing a political candidate at this time, weeks before an election, they might not meet with him right away, let alone open an investigation.

Second, the defendant knew that if he could get the FBI to investigate the matter and reach out to the press to try to stop the story, that that would make the story more attractive to the press, and they would report on it. [my emphasis]

I get that this is supposed to be catchy for jurors. But this is a child’s fantasy (and Sussmann’s lawyer, Michael Bosworth, noted that Sussmann going to the FBI was, “The exact opposite of what the Clinton Campaign would want”).

Start with Shaw’s claims about “the look.” Not only is it false that Joffe was looking for new information after such time as Sussmann was aware of it, not only won’t the witnesses Durham plans to call explain all of where the data came from, but already, DOJ has submitted two exhibits showing that the focus on late data gathering was on Alfa Bank, not Trump. And those late data collection efforts even included dcleaks (I’m virtually certain that Durham has not provided Sussmann discovery on all the things, such as the FBI’s suspicions that Roger Stone had advance awareness of the dcleaks operation, for them to submit evidence about it).

Next, Shaw calls sharing information with a journalist who had called a lawyer known to be grappling with serial hacks by Russia and asked about Russian hacks, “a leak,” as if there’s something untoward about sharing information with the press, as if Sussmann would “leak” information and then go tell the FBI about “leaking” it, which he did. This is just word salad!

Then Shaw claimed that Sussmann lied to provide urgency to the story. Based on my understanding, Shaw is wrong about the NYT’s plans for publication of the story. My understanding is that Dean Baquet would have happily published the story in September, when Eric Lichtblau was ready to publish and when Sussmann helped kill the story, but by October, he would only publish if reporters could prove substantive communications had taken place. That’s consistent with what Dexter Filkins reported.

The F.B.I. officials asked Lichtblau to delay publishing his story, saying that releasing the news could jeopardize their investigation. As the story sat, Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor, decided that it would not suffice to report the existence of computer contacts without knowing their purpose. Lichtblau disagreed, arguing that his story contained important news: that the F.B.I. had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Russian contacts with Trump’s aides.

So none of her basic claims are true.

But the thing that is breathtakingly ridiculous is Shaw’s claim that Sussmann’s purported plan to create, “an October surprise on the eve of the presidential election … largely succeeded.”

What Sussmann got for his troubles of helping to kill the story in September was a story at Slate rather than NYT, immediate pre-election pushback from several entities (including me), and a NYT story that made multiple claims that were true at the time but that we now know to be false.

The story claimed there was no tie between Trump and the Russian government; but Trump and Michael Cohen were lying to cover up (among other things) a call with the Kremlin about doing a real estate deal with a sanctioned bank and a former GRU officer.

The story claimed there was no secret email communication between Trump and Russia, but Trump’s rat-fucker was communicating with the GRU persona behind the hack and (as noted) may have had advance knowledge of precisely the information operation that Joffe and the researchers were investigating in August 2016.

The story claimed that Russia hacked Trump only to disrupt the election, when subsequent reports have concluded Russia had by that point come to favor Trump (though, I suspect, that was partly because they knew how damaging Trump would be for the country).

Democrats I know place varying blame for Hillary’s loss. Virtually all put the FBI’s sabotage of her campaign as the most important cause (of which Devlin Barrett’s October Surprise, the successful leak of a criminal investigation into Hillary as compared to the opposite here, was a small part). Shaw asserted that, “the FBI is our institution that should not be used as a political tool for anyone,” and yet the Clinton email investigation, the Clinton Foundation investigation, and Durham’s own investigation are all more obvious — and wildly more successful — efforts to use the FBI as a political tool than sharing an anomaly with the FBI and helping to kill a story about it.

But no matter who Democrats blame for Hillary’s loss, most point to that NYT story as one of the most damaging stories of the campaign.

And Durham’s entire prosecution is based on the opposite, that the story that most infuriates Democrats was, instead, entirely the point.

Durham Prosecutor Brittain Shaw Gets Cute with Forfeited Claim

John Durham prosecutor Brittain Shaw just submitted a bunch of FEC filings from a settlement the Democrats reached in February; as with other documents designed to rile up the frothy right, she claimed the document was meant to be filed under seal but submitted it to the public docket.

In the settlement, Democrats agreed to pay a fine because they did not list the purpose of Perkins Coie’s Fusion payments as opposition research.

In her filing, Shaw claimed that conciliation agreement and the exhibits to it “were made public” on April 28.

The Government, by supplementing its motion with the attached exhibits, seeks to provide notice to the Court of a Federal Election Committee (“FEC”) conciliation agreement with the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) and the Hillary for America Campaign (“HFA”), and the FEC’s supporting findings, which were made public on April 28, 2022. Specifically, the FEC found “probable cause to believe” that the DNC and HFA improperly reported their payments to Perkins Coie for Fusion GPS’s opposition research as “legal and compliance consulting.” [my emphasis]

That’s a dishonest claim — though a necessary one to excuse Durham not raising this issue in his April 6 motion to compel or his April 25 reply.

The FEC’s supporting backup may have only been posted last week (though the backup relies on the same kind of evidence, like billing records, that Durham already has).

But the settlement, with the language about “probable cause,” was first reported on March 30 and widely covered; most stories with links to the letter informing the complainant, which included the conciliation agreements that Shaw includes in her claim stating that this documentation only became available last week. As the letter to Marc Elias’ law firm sent on March 29 noted, “these matters are now public.”

And it has been discussed in the right wing press particularly as it pertains to this privilege challenge already. Kim Strassel dedicated an entire paragraph to it on April 21, well before Durham’s scheduled reply.

These are a few of the difficulties the parties face in trying to pound the oppo-research peg into the legal-services hole. Mr. Durham also got an assist from federal regulators. Last month the FEC fined the Clinton campaign and the DNC $8,000 and $105,000, respectively, for violating strict rules on disclosure. The FEC noted that Perkins Coie in 2016 hired Fusion to “provide research services” and improperly reported the work as “legal services.” The campaign and DNC made the same argument—that Fusion’s work was in support of legal advice—but settled with the FEC. (A DNC spokesperson told the Washington Post it had agreed to settle “silly complaints from the 2016 election.”)

Some other right wing outlet did an entire piece focused on this settlement, explicitly expecting Durham to raise it in his reply.

Shaw was dishonest about more than the availability of this information last month, and therefore the fact that Durham has forfeited this claim. She also did not mention that the backup notes that the Democrats still claim privilege over the Fusion work and the conciliation agreement did not concede the point. Notably, I believe “purpose” is defined differently under campaign finance law and under the precedents at issue here.

This is a totally hackish attempt to include this issue in a way that Durham can rely on it on appeal. But the claim that this settlement (as opposed to the underlying backup) hasn’t been available to prosecutors since they first tried to pierce the Democrats’ privilege is thoroughly dishonest as to the plain meaning of the claim.

John Durham Accuses One of His Key Fact Witnesses — Sergei Millian’s Twitter Account — of “Misinterpret[ing] Facts”

As I documented the other day, John Durham responded to the uproar over his conflicts filing stunt by claiming to have had nothing at all to do with the “third parties” who “overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government’s Motion.”

If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government’s Motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the Government’s inclusion of this information.

The claim that the uproar was created by “third parties” is so obviously false it raises conflict problems for Durham himself.

Durham falsely claims those pushing lies are “third parties” to his investigation

As I laid out, one of the key perpetrators of the false claims — including the false claims (1) that Hillary paid Rodney Joffe, (2) that Joffe had “infiltrated” the White House, and (3) Joffe had done so when Trump was President — was Kash Patel, the originator of this entire line of inquiry in December 2017, and someone who for years had means to learn that those claims were false.

John Ratcliffe, whom Durham was meeting rather than interviewing Hillary staffers who could substantiate or debunk his accusations that Michael Sussmann was coordinating with the campaign, made these unsubstantiated claims in a TV appearance earlier this week:

  • There was a “Hillary Clinton campaign plan to falsely accuse Donald Trump of collusion with Russia”
  • Rodney Joffe used DNS data “for an unlawful purpose”
  • Sussmann “pitched” information “to the FBI as evidence of Trump-Russia connections that simply weren’t true and that the lawyer, Michael Sussmann, and the tech executive knew not to be true”

Donald Trump, who personally nominated John Durham as US Attorney and whose demands for criminal investigations led to Durham’s appointment as Special Counsel, asserted that his “presidency [was] spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia.”

These are not “third parties.” These are:

  • The originator of the allegations against Sussmann
  • A self-described repeat Durham witness
  • The man who nominated Durham to be US Attorney and, ultimately, was his boss for almost 3 years

But there’s actually another key player in the effort to magnify Durham’s conflicts filing stunt who is even more central to Durham’s work: One of his most important “witnesses,” Sergei Millian’s twitter account.

The pipeline from online conspiracy theorists through former investigators to the former President

Yesterday, Glenn Kessler attempted to trace how the filing became a propaganda tool. The timeline he laid out looks like this (these times are ET):

11:33PM: Filing hits PACER.

12:43AM: Whispers of Dementia screencaps the filing, noting Durham claimed “Sussmann is likely to be in an “adversarial posture” against Perkins Coie.”

9:24AM: emptywheel notes that Durham is criminalizing lying to the FBI about traffic involving Trump Tower, which Trump himself did at the time.

9:25AM: Hans Mahncke links and screencaps the filing and claims,

Rodney Joffe and his buddies at Georgia Tech monitored Trump’s internet traffic *while* he was President of the United States.

9:39AM: Kessler’s gap

9:45AM: emptywheel RTs Mahncke and notes that this is about cybersecurity.

10:25AM: Techno Foggy tweets that,

DNC/Perkins Coie allies – Rodney Joffe, et al. – Joffe et al, “exploited a sensitive US govt arrangement” to gather intel on the “Executive Office of the President of the U.S.” They spied on Trump.

11:11AM: House Judiciary GOP [so a Jim Jordan staffer] RTs Foggy’s tweet, claiming:

We knew they spied. But it was worse than we thought.

11:44AM: Techno Foggy tweets out his Substack with the claim,

Clinton allies used sensitive data from the Office of the President to push false Trump/Russia claims to the CIA

Why did they risked jail to link Trump to Russia?

Maybe because the origin of their fraud was the “Russian hack” of the DNC.

2:27PM: John Ratcliffe responds to House Judiciary tweet with claim, “And now you’re finding out why…,” thereby seemingly endorsing the “spying” claim, and linking the Durham release with his own cooperation with Durham’s inquiry.

3:24PM: Mark Meadows RT’s Foggy’s tweet, claiming,

They didn’t just spy on Donald Trump’s campaign.

They spied on Donald Trump as sitting President of the United States.

It was all even worse than we thought.

5:51PM: Center for Renewing America tweets out Kash Patel statement making numerous false claims.

6:47PM: Trump’s spox tweets out his claims of spying.

This timeline is damning enough: It shows how these false claims went from “sleuths” who spend much of their time spinning Durham’s conspiracy theories, through Techno Foggy (a self-described lawyer who has for years interacted openly with lawyers like Sidney Powell and Billy Barr’s spox Kerri Kupec), to Jim Jordan’s staffer to Ratcliffe to Mark Meadows to Kash Patel to Trump. Every single one of these current and former officials have played a central role in these investigations; none is a “third party.”

Sergei Millian’s twitter account calls it spying

But there’s a very key step in Kessler’s timeline that is missing. At 9:39AM (the time shown here is Irish time) — which I’ve marked above in red — Sergei Millian’s twitter account tweeted, “They were spying on the White House, folks!!.”

This claim was before Techno Foggy made the spying claim. The first person to have made the “spying” claim in this timeline, then, was Sergei Millian’s twitter account.

In fact, the next day, Millian’s twitter account insinuated to have started all this in the first place — that the twitter account “had a direct line into the White House” via which it “told them who was working against them.”

Thanks for identifying this phone call, Sergei, because Igor Danchenko will now have cause to demand details of it in discovery, which will mean, on top of the other unprecedented discovery challenges Durham has taken on in prosecuting Danchenko, he’s now going to have to get Trump records from the Archives. Michael Sussmann, too, likely now has cause to demand those records.

The Millian twitter account RT of Mahncke to belatedly explain the spying claim makes it clear it is an active participant in the “Sleuths Corner” that drives many of the false claims about Durham. In fact the Millian twitter account even advertises it on the twitter account.

Durham says his key witness “misrepresented the facts”

This all amounts to Durham himself discrediting one of his witnesses, perhaps fatally.

As I have noted, when John Durham charged Igor Danchenko with four counts of lying about believing that he had spoken to Sergei Millian back in July 2016, Durham didn’t actually claim to have obtained testimony from the human being named Sergei Millian. Durham did not appear to have required that Millian show up and make statements for which he could be legally held accountable.

Instead, Durham presented an unverified twitter account to the grand jury and based on that, claimed “Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.”

I refer to this entity as “Sergei Millian’s twitter account” to emphasize that there is not a scrap of evidence in the public record showing that Durham did anything to confirm that Millian, the person, even operates it exclusively. While I have no reason to doubt that he does, from a legal standpoint, Durham is at least publicly relying on nothing but an unverified account, something journalists have been loathe to do for years with Millian.

And this claim attributed to an unverified twitter account is a very important piece of evidence. There’s nothing else in the public record that shows Durham affirmatively ruled out that Danchenko and Millian really did have a phone call.

When I first realized how reckless that was, I though it impossible for Durham to have been that negligent. But we’ve since learned that he accused Sussmann of coordinating with Hillary’s staffers without ever first interviewing a single full-time staffer. So perhaps it is, in fact, true that Durham charged a man based off the unsubstantiated claims of a twitter account.

Danchenko appears to have obtained a pre-trial subpoena on February 8; I have wondered whether it was for the Millian twitter account. If so, the subpoena might well obtain the traffic of what has happened in recent days.

As it stands, though, Durham makes no claim to have anything else.

Just that twitter account.

And that twitter account is part of a pipeline that took Durham’s filing and made egregiously false claims about it. Durham is now on the record claiming that that twitter account “misinterpreted the facts.” But Danchenko will have good reason — and abundant proof, given the details of last week’s little propaganda explosion — to argue that Sergei Millian’s twitter account is willing to make false claims to create a scandal around the Durham investigation.

That shreds the credibility of the only claimed “witness” that the call never happened.

Durham Says It’s Not His Fault His Former Boss Called for the Death of His Defendant

John Durham didn’t have much to say after being called out for making baseless accusations that their source Kash Patel lied about, leading the former President to suggest Michael Sussmann should be killed.

They’re not responsible for the death threats, the attorney who filed a notice of appearance in the wake of Friday’s stunt, Brittain Shaw, insists.

If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government’s Motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the Government’s inclusion of this information.

She said this even while acknowledging it might be prudent to take measures against death threats in the future.

That said, to the extent the Government’s future filings contain information that legitimately gives rise to privacy issues or other concerns that might overcome the presumption of public access to judicial documents – such as the disclosure of witness identities, the safety of individuals, or ongoing law enforcement or national security concerns – the Government will make such filings under seal. United States v. Hubbard, 650 F. 2d 293, 317-323 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (setting forth factors for considering whether the presumption of public access is overridden, including (1) the need for public access to the documents at issue; (2) the extent of previous public access to the documents; (3) the fact that someone has objected to disclosure, and the identity of that person; (4) the strength of any property and privacy interests asserted; (5) the possibility of prejudice to those opposing disclosure; and (6) the purposes for which the documents were introduced during the judicial proceedings.) The Government respectfully submits that no such issues or concerns are implicated here. [my emphasis]

The former President implied the defendant and a witness should be killed. But it’s not Durham’s fault and so he doesn’t have to deal with the fact that it happened!!

This is factually specious. Kash Patel, who was among the first to make egregiously false claims, is not a “third party.” He is the originator of this inquiry, and he knew well his statements to be false. Donald Trump, who suggested Sussmann and others should be killed, is not a “third party.” He was Durham’s boss and his demands for prosecutions are what led to Durham being appointed Special Counsel in the first place.

Plus, Durham’s team have already made the identities of some grand jury witnesses public in discovery filings.

The claim that the architects of this mob are neutral “third parties” is all the more pathetic given the excuse Shaw provides for including the false insinuation that Rodney Joffe spied on Trump’s White House rather than tried to keep the White House safe from hackers at the time it happened to be occupied by Barack Obama.

The reason they mentioned the White House, you see (Shaw claims), is because of one of the conflicts they raised.

The Government included two paragraphs of limited additional factual detail in its Motion for valid and straightforward reasons. First, those paragraphs reflect conduct that is intertwined with, and part of, events that are central to proving the defendant’s alleged criminal conduct. Second, the Government included these paragraphs to apprise the Court of the factual basis for one of the potential conflicts described in the Government’s Motion, namely, that a member of the defense team was working for the Executive Office of the President of the United States (“EOP”) during relevant events that involved the EOP. [my emphasis]

Shaw here argues that events in February 2017 are “intertwined” with an alleged crime that took place five months earlier.

She also suggests that the reason they raised the White House is because one of Sussmann’s team members worked there (Charlie Savage has now IDed the lawyer as Michael Bosworth).

I mean, so did Kash Patel, a central player in the false claims that led to the former President calling for death.

Here’s what the actual conflict memo said about that purported conflict.

Based on its review of documents in its investigation and other information, the Special Counsel’s Office also has learned that one of the members of the defendant’s current defense team (“Defense Team Member-1”) previously worked as Special Counsel to the then-FBI Director from 2013 to 2014. In connection with that work, Defense Team Member-1 developed professional and/or personal relationships with several individuals who later were involved with and/or knowledgeable of the FBI’s investigation of the Russian Bank-1 allegations. For example, Defense Team Member-1 appears to have developed a professional relationship with the former FBI General Counsel to whom the defendant made his alleged false statement and who will likely be a central witness at trial.4 While it is unlikely that these past interactions and activities will give rise to an actual conflict of interest, the Government respectfully requests in an abundance of caution that the Court inquire with the defense concerning whether Defense Team Member-1’s relationships with persons and entities who might be witnesses in this case could give rise to a potential conflict or appearance issue and, if so, whether the defendant waives any such conflict.

4 Following his employment at the FBI, Defense Team Member-1 worked from 2014 to early 2017 as an attorney in the EOP which, as noted above, was involved in certain factual issues that the Government expects will be relevant at trial and any sentencing proceedings. Latham has represented to the Government that while employed at the EOP, Defense Team Member-1 had no role in the aforementioned events or arrangements involving Tech Executive-1, Internet Company1, and/or allegations involving the purported use of Russian-made phones. The Government similarly has not seen evidence to suggest that Defense Team Member-1 had any role in, or direct knowledge of, the Russian Bank-1 allegations or the FBI’s ensuing investigation. [my emphasis]

It’s the tie to Jim Comey and through him to James Baker, not the subsequent job at the White House, that Durham’s team presented as a potential conflict — and even then, Durham’s team admits this is not likely a conflict. By this standard, several members of the prosecutorial team, not to mention the guy from whom this allegation came from, Kash Patel, have a conflict. John Durham was hired by Donald Trump; that’s a more serious conflict than anything his team spins up as one.

The White House will not be called to the stand at Sussmann’s trial. None of this is actually about the White House. As Andrew DeFilippis noted in his filing making wild claims of conflict, the White House job was not one of those conflicts. Indeed, this is yet another marker of Durham’s dishonesty. This team member, as described, was a victim of Rodney Joffe’s purportedly vicious efforts to make sure the Obama White House was not hacked. The team member only has an adversarial relationship if one believes that protecting against hacks is an adversarial stance. But that’s not how they describe the purported conflict which even they admit is not one.

Which is a pretty big hint their understanding of conflicts here is whacked beyond all reason.

Even in a terse four page motion (which I guess is one way she’s an improvement over DeFilippis), Shaw still had room for bullshit.

Having given a transparently bogus excuse for raising the White House, she then says that raising it in a conflict memo is cool because Durham plans to later raise these issues in a motion in limine (pre-trial motions about what can and cannot be presented during the trial).

In light of the above, there is no basis to strike any portion of the Government’s Motion. Indeed, the Government intends to file motions in limine in which it will further discuss these and other pertinent facts to explain why they constitute relevant and admissible evidence at trial. Pursuant to caselaw and common practice in this and other districts, the filing of documents containing reference to such evidence on the public docket is appropriate and proper, even in highprofile cases where the potential exists that such facts could garner media attention. See, e.g., United States v. Stone, 19 Cr. 18 (D.D.C. October 21, 2019) (ABJ), Minute Order (addressing the Government’s publicly-filed motion in limine seeking to admit video clip from the movie “Godfather II” that defendant sent to an associate and permitting admission of a transcript of the video); United States v. Craig, 19 Cr. 125 (D.D.C. July 10, 2019) (ABJ), Minute Order (addressing Government’s publicly-filed Rule 404(b) motion to offer evidence of defendant’s efforts to assist Paul Manafort’s relative in obtaining employment); United States v. Martoma, S1 12 Cr. 973, 2014 WL 164181 (S.D.N.Y. January 9, 2014) (denying defendant’s motion for sealing and courtroom closure relating to motions in limine concerning evidence of defendant’s expulsion from law school and forgery of law school transcript);1 see also Johnson v. Greater SE Cmty. Hosp. Corp., 951 F. 2d 1268, 1277 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (holding that there is a “strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial proceedings”). Moreover, any potential prejudice or jury taint arising from such media attention can effectively and appropriately be addressed through the voir dire process during jury selection.

1 The publicly-filed evidentiary motions and judicial rulings in each of the above-cited cases received significant media attention. See, e.g., Prosecutors Can’t Show Godfather II Clip at Roger Stone Trial, Judge Rules, CNN, October 21, 2019 (https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/politics/godfather-ii-roger-stone/index.html; Greg Craig Pushed to Hire Manfort’s Relative at Skadden, Prosecutors Say, POLITICO, May 10, 2019 (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/10/greg-craig-hire-manaforts-relative-1317600); SAC’s Martoma Tried to Cover Up Fraud at Harvard, Documents Show, REUTERS, January 9, 2014 (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sac-martoma-harvard/sacs-martoma-tried-to-cover-up-fraudat-harvard-documents-show-idUSBREA081C720140109).

Roger Stone Roger Stone Roger Stone and Mueller, she throws in for good measure.

This is a fairly bald admission that the time to raise these issues, pretending they were relevant, would be the later 404(b) fight (over whether evidence of related conduct can be admitted at trial to help prove the case), not now, on a totally separate issue. That this might be a relevant issue later (which is itself admission that these topics are not direct evidence about Sussmann’s alleged lie and must first demonstrate relevance to even be admitted at trial) is not an excuse to use them in untimely and off-purpose fashion.

And yet that’s Durham’s excuse for saying a bunch of things that predictably led to calls for death.

According to John Durham’s logic of conflicts, he is the one with an unwaivable conflict. The guy who hired him to this job is the same guy suggesting, based off Durham’s filing, that the guy he is prosecuting should be executed.

Updated for clarity.

Update: Corrected Bosworth’s last name.