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Scene-Setter for the Sussmann Trial, Part Two: The Witnesses

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. 

In this post, I laid out the elements of the offense, a single count of a false statement to the FBI, which will drive the outcome of the Michael Sussmann trial, in which jury selection begins today. As I showed, John Durham has to prove that:

  • Michael Sussmann said what Durham has accused him of saying, which is that he was not sharing information with the FBI on behalf of any client
  • Sussmann said that on September 19, not just September 18
  • Sussmann meant his statement to be understood to mean that no client of his had an interest in the data, as opposed to that he was not seeking any benefit for a client from the FBI
  • The lie made a difference in how the FBI operates

In this post I’d like to say a bit about the expected witnesses. Before I do, remember the scope of the trial, as laid out in several rulings from Judge Cooper.

  • Durham can only raise questions about the accuracy of the Alfa Bank anomaly if Sussmann does so first
  • He generally can only discuss how the data was collected via witnesses; with one exception, Cooper has ruled the emails between Rodney Joffe and researchers to be inadmissible in a trial about whether Sussmann lied
  • While Cooper found that 22 of 38 Fusion emails over which Democrats had claimed privilege were not privileged, he also ruled that because Andrew DeFilippis got cute in delaying his request for such a review, Durham can’t use those emails or pierce any related claims of privilege at trial
  • That leaves the unprivileged emails between Fusion and journalists, which Cooper has ruled admissible; he even considered changing his decision and letting a tweet from Hillary come in as evidence (though note that the emails Durham got pre-approved barely overlap with the emails Durham wants to use at trial, so there still could be problems admitting individual emails at trial)
  • Cooper ruled the communications between Rodney Joffe, the person who shared the DNS anomaly with Michael Sussmann, and Laura Seago, his connection with Fusion, were privileged
  • Cooper ruled that Sussmann can elicit testimony from witnesses, including Robby Mook and Marc Elias, about how Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary some more made him not just a campaign opponent, but a threat to national security

As I noted, a dispute over the final jury instructions suggests that Durham is beating a tactical retreat from his charged claim that Sussmann lied to cover up that he was representing both Hillary and Rodney Joffe.

Mr. Sussmann proposes modifying the last sentence as follows, as indicated by underlining: Specifically, the Indictment alleges that, on or about September 19, 2016, Mr. Sussmann, did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation in a matter before the FBI, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2), namely, that Mr. Sussmann stated to the General Counsel of the FBI that he was not acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning Donald Trump, when, in fact, he was acting on behalf of specific clients, namely, Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign.5 The government objects to the defense’s proposed modification since it will lead to confusion regarding charging in the conjunctive but only needing to prove in the disjunctive.

Durham wants to be able to get a guilty verdict if the jury decides that Sussmann was hiding Hillary but not hiding Joffe. What Durham will really need to prove won’t be finalized until sometime next week, meaning both sides will be arguing their cases without knowing whether Durham will have to prove that 1) the allegations pertained to Donald Trump personally 2) Sussmann had two clients 3) he lied to hide both of them, or whether he has to prove only that Sussmann lied to hide one or more client.

Durham’s tactical retreat is likely dictated by the scope set by Cooper and will dictate the witnesses he wants to call.

This post laid out whom, as of last week, each side planned to call. Remember that it’s not uncommon for a defendant not to put any witnesses on the stand (though I would be surprised if that happened in this case). Normally, the scope of a witness’ testimony is set by the Direct examination of them. So, for example, if Durham puts Marc Elias on the stand to talk exclusively about his decision to hire Fusion GPS, then Sussmann could not ask him questions about other topics. But Sussmann incorporated Durham’s entire witness list, and Cooper ruled that he would rather not have to call people twice. So for at least the Democratic witnesses, Sussmann will have the ability to ask about things that Durham would really prefer not to appear before the jury even though Durham called that witness as a government witness. Because Durham doesn’t understand much of what really went on here, that may be a really useful thing for Sussmann to exploit.

Summary Witness: It is typical for prosecutors to call one of their FBI agents at trial as a sort of omniscient narrator who can both introduce a vast swath of evidence (such as records the accuracy of which have been stipulated for emails that can be introduced without witness testimony) and provide some interpretation of what it all means. Usually, that agent is not the lead agent, because the lead agent knows things that the prosecutor wants to keep from the defendant and the public, either details of an ongoing investigation or major investigative fuck-ups that haven’t been formally disclosed to the defendant. As of last week, DeFilippis maintained that, “It may be an agent who’s our summary witness, but we’re not looking to put a case agent on the stand.” That suggests there is no agent on his team that is sufficiently compartmented from his secrets to take the stand. Judge Cooper seemed a bit surprised by that.

Jim Baker: Jim Baker is the single witness to Michael Sussmann’s alleged crime. Durham is going to have a challenge walking him through the version of this story Durham wants to tell, not least because the materiality parts of it — whether Baker thought it unusual to hear from Sussmann, whether he thought it mattered who Sussmann’s client was — are also recorded in Baker’s past sworn testimony. Given the late discovery of a text showing that Sussmann wrote Baker on September 18 telling him he wanted to benefit the FBI, and given the even later discovery of March 2017 notes recording that the FBI understood that Sussmann did have an (undisclosed) client, Sussmann doesn’t even have to trash Baker to call into question his memory: he can allow Baker to admit he can’t separate out what happened in which of at least five communications he had with Sussmann that week, the sum total of which show that Sussmann wasn’t hiding the existence of a client, did represent that he was trying to help the FBI, and did help the FBI. The cross-examination of Baker will, however, be an opportunity for Sussmann to implicate Durham’s investigative methods, both for building an entire case around Baker after concluding, years earlier, that he wasn’t credible, and then, for refreshing Baker’s memory only with the notes that said what Durham wanted Baker to say, and not what the FBI ultimately came to know.

Bill Priestap and Tisha Anderson, Mary McCord and Tasha Gauhar: This trial is expected to feature two sets of witnesses — the first set called by Durham and the second called by Sussmann — who will be asked to reconstruct from their own notes what was said in a meeting attended by Baker. Priestap and Anderson will say that the day of Baker’s meeting with Sussmann, they wrote down that Sussmann didn’t have a client (but not in the words Sussmann is known to have used or the words that Durham has charged). McCord and Gauhar will say that in March 2017, Andy McCabe stated, in front of Baker and with no correction, that the FBI did know Sussmann had a client. The only notes in question that use the same phrase — “on behalf of” — that Durham used in the indictment say that Sussmann did say he was meeting with FBI on behalf of someone. I expect at least several of these witnesses will be asked materiality questions: If they didn’t ask who the client is, doesn’t that prove it didn’t matter? The notes of everyone involved, importantly, emphasized the import of Sussmann sharing an imminent newspaper article. Sussmann will also ask Priestap how and why he asked the NYT to hold the Alfa Bank story.

Agents Heide, Sands, and Gaynor, plus Agent Martin: Durham plans to call three of the FBI Agents who investigated the anomaly — for a couple of hours each, in the case of Heide and Sands — to talk about how they did so. Let me suggest that not only is this overkill, it may backfire in spectacular fashion, because the March 2017 notes make it clear that these agents did not take very basic steps to chase this anomaly down and Heide, at least, is not a cyber agent (in the same period he was also investigating George Papadopoulos). In addition to having those hours and hours of testimony, Durham will call Agent Martin, ostensibly to explain what one could learn from the anomaly, though there’s still a fight about the scope of his testimony,  particularly with respect to misleading claims he would make about the scope of the data accessed to find the anomaly in the first place.

Antonakakis, Dagon, DeJong, and Novick: According to what DeFilippis said last week, in the wake of Cooper’s ruling excluding all but one of the researchers’ emails, he likely will not call David Dagon, may or may not call Manos Atonakakis, but will call two employees of Rodney Joffe whom, DeFilippis claims, were “tasked by” Joffe, in the first case to pull some but not all of the data researchers used to test the anomaly, and in the second case to do research that may not have been presented to the FBI. If these decisions hold, his presentation of the data will be, as I understand it, affirmatively false. For that reason, Sussmann might have been able to challenge Durham’s reliance on these witnesses in the absence of others; that Sussmann is not doing so may suggest he knows that the witnesses won’t do what Durham thinks they will. If Durham persists in this plan, it means he’ll have FBI agents spend 5 hours describing how they chased down an anomaly, without ever really explaining what the anomaly is (and how it could have easily been investigated using about two different steps that the FBI didn’t take). Perhaps (given his tactical retreat), Durham may want to eliminate virtually all discussion of the anomaly at the heart of this case. Alternately, this is a tactical move to force Sussmann to call David Dagon (whom Durham has immunized) or Manos Antonakakis (whose status is unknown) in hopes that they’ll help him make his YotaPhone case or explain the full scope of the data accessed (particularly if he gets Martin to make misleading comments about that topic first). But if Durham forgoes his chance to call the researchers and Sussmann does so himself, it may allow Sussmann to rebut Durham’s claims about what the anomaly was and what went into the two white papers presented to the FBI. In addition, Sussmann can have these witnesses explain how far before the involvement of the Democrats this research started and how Trump’s open invitation to Russia to do more hacking meant the anomaly posed a possible national security threat worthy of sharing with the FBI.

Robby Mook, Marc Elias, and Debbie Fine: Rather than talking about the anomaly, Durham wants to talk about the Hillary campaign. At least as of last week (before Cooper excluded some of this stuff on privilege and belated privilege challenges), Durham will definitely call Mook, may call Elias, but may rely instead on a Hillary lawyer named Debbie Fine, who was on daily calls with Fusion. Durham wants to claim,

[T]he strategy, as the Government will argue at trial, was to create news stories about this issue, about the Alfa-Bank issue; and second, it was to get law enforcement to investigate it; and perhaps third, your Honor, to get the press to report on the fact that law enforcement was investigating it.

Sussmann, by contrast, knows he has a witness or witnesses who will rebut that.

[I]t’s not the truth; and in fact, it’s the opposite of the truth. We expect there to be testimony from the campaign that, while they were interested in an article on this coming out, going to the FBI is something that was inconsistent with what they would have wanted before there was any press. And in fact, going to the FBI killed the press story, which was inconsistent with what the campaign would have wanted.

As suggested above, Elias is a witness Sussmann will call even if Durham does not. Among other things, Sussmann will have Elias explain what it was like to have Donald Trump openly asking Russia to hack Hillary some more.

Laura Seago: Before Cooper ruled on privilege issues, DeFilippis (who doesn’t know how to pronounce her last name) said he would call Seago. She was the pivot point between Fusion and Rodney Joffe. According to Fusion attorney Joshua Levy, Seago knows little about the white paper from Fusion that Sussmann shared with the FBI. “Seago didn’t contribute to it, doesn’t know who did, doesn’t know who researched it, doesn’t know who wrote it, doesn’t know its purpose; and the government’s aware of all that.” So it’s unclear how useful she’ll be as a witness.

Eric Lichtblau: As I noted the other day, Durham is trying to prevent Lichtblau from testifying unless he’s willing to testify to all his sources for the Alfa Bank story (which would include a bunch of experts never named in any charging documents). My guess is that Cooper will rule that forcing Lichtblau to talk about communications with Fusion would be cumulative, though he might force Lichtblau to talk about an in-person meeting he had at which Fusion shared information that did not derive from Joffe. If Sussmann succeeds in getting Lichtblau’s testimony, however, he will be able to talk about what a serious story this was and what a disastrous decision agreeing to hold the story was for his own career and, arguably, for democracy.

Perkins Coie billing person and McMahon: As Durham has repeatedly confessed, most of the substance of his conspiracy theory is based off billing records. But there’s a dispute about whether Sussmann fully billed his meeting with Baker (Sussmann has noted, for example, that he paid for his own taxi to and from the meeting). Durham will have a Perkins Coie person explain how they track billing and will call a former DNC person with whom Sussmann had lunch immediately before his Baker meeting, either because Sussmann said something to him about the Baker meeting, or because he needs to rule out that Sussmann billed for the lunch meeting but not Baker.

Agent Grasso: In addition to the hours and hours of testimony about how the FBI did investigate the anomaly, Durham also wants to call an Agent Grasso, with whom Joffe shared a piece of the Alfa Bank allegations directly. This may actually be an important witness for Durham, because it might show that the packaged up allegations shared with Baker were substantially different than what Joffe was sharing when his identity was not hidden.

Kevin P: Durham only plans to call one of the two CIA personnel at the meeting in January 2017 (ironically meaning a meeting in March 2017 will get far more focus than a meeting that played a central role in the indictment). It sounds like Sussmann will get the one person to validate an email from another person who also recorded Sussmann saying he had a client.

Agent Gessford: One FBI Agent Sussmann will call will authenticate emails Sussmann will use with other witnesses to show what FBI’s understanding of Sussmann’s activities were in 2016. Not only will he use these emails to prove that the FBI knew well he was representing Hillary on cyber issues, but he will likely also use these emails to talk about what it looks like for a campaign to be systematically attacked through the entirety of a campaign by a hostile nation-state, which will make the potential seriousness of the Alfa Bank anomaly quite clear.

Agent Giardina: This is someone the scope of whose testimony Durham may have actually tried to limit by calling him himself. Sussmann will have Giardina explain that after the Frank Foer article, he tried to open an investigation, which Sussmann will use to prove that the FBI would have opened an investigation whether or not he shared the tip with the FBI.

Jonathan Moffa: Moffa, a senior FBI agent involved in the Crossfire Hurricane and Alfa Bank investigations will address materiality. He’ll explain how, given the UNSUB investigation open to find out who in Trump’s camp got a heads up to the hack-and-leak investigation, it was inevitable they would chase down this tip and treat it, like the CH investigation itself, as a Full Investigation.

DOJ IG Michael Horowitz: On paper, Horowitz’s testimony will be limited to explaining how an anonymous tip from Joffe via Sussmann is supposed to work, which is that someone in a position to direct a tip to the right person does so and succeeds in addressing a national security concern. Joffe provided a tip to Horowitz in January 2017 that — we can assume given Horowitz’s testimony — proved to be valuable. This tip will also demonstrate that DNS research is not as limited as Agent Martin will claim it is. But given the way that Durham has failed to understand basic aspects of Horowitz’s investigation, including ones that disproved large swaths of Durham’s conspiracy theories, this testimony might be somewhat contentious.

Update, 5/22: Very belatedly added Moffa after writing this post.

To Celebrate Its Third Birthday, the Durham Investigation Will Attempt to Breach Eric Lichtblau’s Reporter’s Privilege

Happy Birthday to Johnny D and his merry band of prosecutors! Today marks your third birthday! Quite a milestone for an investigation that has just one conviction — a gift wrapped up with a bow from Michael Horowitz — to show for those three years.

John Durham, however, had something much more ambitious planned to mark the milestone, it appears.

As Sean Berkowitz noted earlier this week, Sussmann’s team wants to call Eric Lichtblau as a witness in next week’s trial. They were able to get Lichtblau to agree to testify based on the understanding he would only testify about conversations with Michael Sussmann and Rodney Joffe. But Durham’s team — I guess to assert the newfound brattiness of a three-year-old — refused to limit their cross-examination to those who had waived confidentiality.

There is an issue here that I want to alert you to. We reached out to Mr. Lichtblau’s counsel, actually counsel for The New York Times, to explore their willingness in light of the First Amendment issues to testify at the trial. And we told him that both Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe would waive any privilege associated with the press privilege; and that gave The New York Times comfort that, notwithstanding their normal policy of objecting, they would allow him to testify about his interactions with

Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe, communications between the two as well as communications with the FBI that wouldn’t be protected by privilege because the FBI reached out to them to ask them to hold the story.

They did tell us that they would object to questioning Mr. Lichtblau about independent research he did in support of the story, you know, people he spoke with to verify sources and other types of things that were not communicated to Mr. Sussmann.

We told him from our perspective that seemed like a fair line to draw, and we would not get into that.

He’s reached out to the Government on that issue, and it appears there may be — again, I don’t want to speak for the Government — but it appears that they may not be in a position today to give The New York Times that assurance. And so we expect The New York Times sometime this week will be filing a motion on that issue to tee it up for your Honor.

I know you’re welcoming all this additional paper.

THE COURT: One more intervenor in the mix.

MR. BERKOWITZ: “All the news that’s fit to print.”

As a motion submitted by Lichtblau yesterday and a declaration from his lawyer Chad Bowman lays out, after Sussmann and Rodney Joffe waived their confidentiality with Lichtblau by April 21, Durham then took eleven days to consider whether they were willing to limit Lichtblau’s testimony to his conversations with the two of them. Predictably, Andrew DeFilippis was not.

On April 21, 2022, I spoke by telephone with Andrew DeFilippis in the Special Counsel’s Office, as well as several of his colleagues. I asked whether the prosecution similarly would be willing to limit examination to direct communications between Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Lichtblau, a journalist, particularly given the Department of Justice’s new policy restricting the use of compulsory process to obtain information from reporters, as memorialized in the Office of the Attorney General’s July 21, 2021 Memorandum, a true and correct copy of which is attached as Exhibit B and which is also available online at at https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/1413001/download. Mr. DeFilippis stated that the prosecution needed time to consider the request.

On May 2, 2022, during a follow-up telephone call, Mr. DeFilippis stated that the prosecution was unable to give “any assurance” that their cross-examination questioning of Mr. Lichtblau would be confined to his discussions with Mr. Sussmann. In particular, Mr. DeFilippis stated that certain of Mr. Lichtblau’s email communications with third parties were within the prosecutions possession, and that the prosecution might want to examine Mr. Lichtblau about other, unknown aspects of his reporting. He also indicated a view that any reporter’s privilege would be pierced by a trial subpoena.

This is, by all appearances, a naked attempt to keep a very devastating witness off the stand. There’s no way, even under prior guidelines, Durham would have been able to get Lichtblau’s testimony; particularly given that they’ve got the communications in question, they couldn’t show a need to get his testimony.

That’s all the more true given Merrick Garland’s prohibition on requiring testimony from reporters.

But Lichtblau’s testimony is pretty critical for Sussmann, not least because he’ll make it clear he reached out to Sussmann and that the interest in reporting on Russian hacking was in no way tied to animus towards Trump. Plus, he would explain what an impact that acceding to the request from FBI to hold the story was for his career.

Durham has long tried to hide that after the FBI requested, Sussmann and Joffe acceded to help kill the story. It kills his conspiracy theory. It corroborates Sussmann’s stated motivation for sharing the DNS anomaly, that he was trying to help the FBI. Particularly given that both Sussmann and Joffe have Fifth Amendment reasons not to want to testify, Lichtblau would provide a way to get the full extent of that process into the trial.

But Durham wants to prevent it from coming into evidence unless Lichtblau is willing to pay a needless price for doing so.

John Durham’s Pyrrhic Privilege Victory

As I predicted might happen, Judge Christopher Cooper has ruled that a chunk of the Fusion GPS emails over which the Democrats claimed privilege are not privileged and ordered Fusion to give the emails to Durham.

Applying the two asserted privileges to the 38 emails it has reviewed, the Court finds that Fusion GPS had no valid basis to withhold 22 of the 38 emails, but that it has met its burden to establish privilege over the remaining 16. The Court analyzes each category separately.

[snip]

Consistent with this ruling, Fusion is directed to provide the Special Counsel the documents numbered 2–11, 15, 16, 19–21, and 24–30 in the privilege log accompanying the government’s motion by Monday, May 16, 2022.

But because Durham blew all his deadlines, he can’t use these emails at trial.

Based on the above timeline, the Special Counsel waited some eight months after it was aware of the privilege holders’ final position to seek court intervention. See Def’s Resp. at 6–7, ECF No. 71. The Special Counsel responds that it was engaged in good faith discussion with the privilege holders to resolve this issue without burdening the Court. That may well be so, and the Court obviously encourages parties to negotiate disputes on their own. Still, the record shows that these discussions ended in January 2022—yet the Special Counsel waited to file this motion until April 6, 2022, just over a month before trial was set to begin. And, given the number of privilege holders involved and the fact-bound nature of the issues, resolving the motion has naturally taken us to the eve of trial.

Under these circumstances, allowing the Special Counsel to use these documents at trial would prejudice Mr. Sussmann’s defense. See Armenian Assembly of Am., Inc. v. Cafesjian, 772 F. Supp. 2d 129, 158–59 (D.D.C. 2011) (production of documents “on the eve of trial . . . forced Defendants to spend a significant amount of time and resources reviewing these materials instead of preparing their witnesses, rehearsing their arguments, and otherwise preparing”). Although these documents are relatively few in number and do not strike the Court as being particularly revelatory, the Court is not in the best position to predict how new evidence might affect each side’s trial strategy and preparation. The Court therefore will not, as a matter of principle, put Mr. Sussmann in the position of having to evaluate the documents, and any implications they might have on his trial strategy, at this late date. See United States v. Alvin, 30 F. Supp. 3d 323, 343 (E.D. Pa. 2014) (granting defendant’s motion to dismiss indictment on speedy trial grounds, noting that the defendant “was put in the position of requiring” a prior continuance “by the Government’s failure to turn over discovery” until five days before trial); Leka v. Portuondo, 257 F.3d 89, 101 (2d Cir. 2001) (disclosure of evidence on the eve of trial “tend[s] to throw existing strategies and preparation into disarray”)

Accordingly, the government will not be permitted to introduce the emails and attachments that the Court has ruled are not subject to privilege. The Court takes no position on the other approximately 1500 documents that Fusion GPS withheld as privileged, as they are not the subject of the government’s motion. However, the Court will apply the principles set forth above to any assertions of privilege during witness testimony at trial.

Cooper ruled the 8 emails involving Laura Seago and Rodney Joffe are privileged.

Cooper did say these emails were not “particularly revelatory,” so this may not matter in the grand scheme of things. Based on what I’ve seen — as someone who was a Fusion critic before it was fashionable — they believed they were involved in a good faith effort to understand Trump’s ties to Russia and other corrupt actors.

But Durham will now go after 1,500 other Fusion emails in pursuit of his grand conspiracy theory. Which means that unless Durham does something really stupid, we may be stuck with him until he lets all his other statutes of limitation expire.

 

Three Years into the Durham Investigation, a Jury Will Get to Hear about Trump’s Request that Russia Hack Hillary

There was a funny exchange in yesterday’s pre-trial hearing in the Michael Sussmann case. In the part of the hearing focused on objections to exhibits, Andrew DeFilippis raised the newspaper articles that — I noted — were necessary background to understand the mindset that led Sussmann and Rodney Joffe to believe that the Alfa Bank DNS anomaly raised national security concerns.

These articles explain why it was reasonable, not just for the Democrats’ cybersecurity lawyer who was spending most of his days trying to fight back against a persistent Russian hack, but also for the researchers and Rodney Joffe to try to first look for more Russian hacking (including that victimizing Republicans), and when they found an anomaly, to try to chase it down and even to bring it to the FBI for further investigation. Several threads of these articles — pertaining to Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary and to Manafort’s corruption — were explicitly invoked in discussions that Durham wants to claim must arise from political malice.

In the hearing, DeFilippis predictably complained that prosecutors didn’t want this to become a trial on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

MR. DeFILIPPIS: The last category we had identified were a number of news articles about — again, on the face of — the headlines of the articles about — “Donald Trump’s ties to Russia,” I think, was the primary theme of the news articles.

We just — number one, they’re news articles, which we don’t think have, you know, probative weight here. Number two, we do not want to make this a trial on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

And again, we don’t have a lot of context for which it would be — why the defense would want to offer all of those. But I think our initial reaction is they would be a distraction.

Sussmann’s attorney Sean Berkowitz noted that prosecutors — who have made several newspaper articles the central point of their case — aren’t so much opposed to newspaper articles as evidence as they’re opposed to articles about Trump and Russia.

MR. BERKOWITZ: So as we understand the objection, your Honor, it’s not to articles generally. They have articles on their exhibit list. It’s to articles that talk about the issues with Trump and Russia in the summer of 2016.

Judge Christopher Cooper correctly noted that it would be unfair to send a bunch of articles back with the jury to read.

THE COURT: I think it’s broader than that. It’s sending back multiple newspaper articles to the jury with all sorts of stuff in them, and the jury is spending its time reading newspaper articles.

Berkowitz noted that they’re really trying to get to the mindset of Sussmann and Joffe, particularly their response to Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary some more.

MR. BERKOWITZ:  The articles that we think are relevant, your Honor, relate to what’s going on in the world in July and August of 2016, which provide context and animate what’s going on for Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe and why there are potential national security issues associated with this.

As you’ll remember, you know, on July 27th, at a press conference — again, this is shortly before the researchers start looking into issues, according to the Government — Trump has a press conference that says: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope that you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you’ll probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

That fact being out there and well known provides context for the work that’s done and the motivation potentially to go to the FBI as to why it would be relevant that there were connections between — potential connections between Trump and Russia.

[snip]

But the fact that this was what was going on in the world at this time we think is very relevant to the state of mind and the rationale behind this as well as the opposition research that was going on.

Cooper cut off Berkowitz before he could explain how this related to the DNC hack. But he suggested that such information could instead come in via questioning of Robby Mook, Marc Elias, and James Baker.

THE COURT: — Mr. Elias, Mr. Mook, Mr. Baker perhaps can all certainly testify to that. Right?

MR. BERKOWITZ: I think that they certainly could, your Honor.

As I’ve noted, that the main redacted part of Elias’ declaration explaining why they hired Fusion for Russian-related research was introduced via a reference to Trump asking Russia to hack Hillary.

Because both sides have separate scope of testimony they’d like to elicit from Elias, he’ll be asked both sets when prosecutors call him.

I’m sure Elias has quite a lot he’d like to say about serving as General Counsel for a candidate whose opponent was soliciting help — and appears to have gotten it — from a hostile foreign country.

Friday is the three year anniversary of the Durham investigation. Tuesday, the likely day both sides will make opening arguments, marks the five year anniversary of the Mueller investigation.

And on that day, a jury will finally hear an argument about how reasonable it was to believe Donald Trump posed a threat to the United States after he asked Russia to help hack his opponent.

Fun with Bates Stamps, Part One: John Durham Confuses His Two Defendants to Rile Up the Frothers

Before I look at what newly disclosed notes from March 6, 2017 (written by Tashina GausharMary McCord, and Scott Schools) reveal about the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, including that Carter Page’s FISA was “fruitful,” which will pose Durham some difficulties in the Igor Danchenko investigation, I want to do two posts having some fun with Bates stamps.

Bates stamps are the way that lawyers track the documents they shuffle around in discovery. Every page of a document should be stamped sequentially to show the document’s chain of custody; the numbers also make referring to such documents in court filings easier. Just as one not-at-all random example of how it is supposed to work, this January 31, 2017 document John Durham obtained from the CIA shows three Bates stamps.

We can’t really be entirely sure what chain of custody this shows. Perhaps CIA stamped the outgoing files with  “CIA-0000019” and DOJ stamped the incoming CIA file, “DOJ_REQ_0242039.” We know, however, that Durham’s stamp is “SC-00081634.” Because Bates stamps are sequential, they help us to understand the order in which certain documents are handled.

One thing Bates stamps show us is that John Durham got approval to use a bunch of mostly-irrelevant Fusion GPS exhibits and did not get approval for the ones he actually wants to use at Michael Sussmann’s trial.

Because his team is made up of professionals, along with his objections to Durham’s exhibits, Michael Sussmann included a list that tied the exhibit numbers Durham assigned to the Bates stamps of the documents in question. That allows us to compare what exhibits Durham used to get Judge Christopher Cooper to buy off on submitting Fusion GPS documents with the jury with the Bates numbers of the Fusion GPS documents he really wants to introduce (thanks to William Ockham for doing a lot of this work).

A comparison of what Durham accidentally-on-purpose published to the docket with what Durham actually wants to introduce at trial shows that, of 62 pages of exhibits, he has identified just the following as exhibits at trial:

  • SC-00082558[-559]: July 31, 2015 email between Jake Berkowitz, Tom Hamburger, and Glenn Simpson re: Carter Page and Walid Phares
  • SC-00100359[-361]: September 24 through 27, 2016 email thread including Eric Lichtblau, Glenn Simpson, and Peter Fritsch on open source claim regarding Sergei Millian having a tie to Alfa Bank
  • SC-00027527[-541]: October 5, 2016 email from Fritsch to Isikoff sharing Alfa Group overview
  • SC-00027501: October 5, 2016 email from Fritsch to Lichtblau sharing link sent by Mark Hosenball claiming, “found this published on the web”
  • SC-00027483: October 5, 2016 email from Fritsch to Lichtblau claiming he had “no idea” where the link had come from
  • SC-00027475[-76]: October 5, 2016 exchange between Hosenball and Fritsch about how to respond to Trump statement on Tea Leaves’ allegations
  • SC-00027309: October 18, 2016 Fritsch email suggesting that Hosenball “call David Dagon at Georgia Tech”
  • SC-00027283: October 31, 2016 exchange between Isikoff and Fritsch about “big story on trump Alfa server moving early pm”
  • SC-00027233: November 3, 2016 blank response from Fritsch to Lichtblau regarding request about Sergei Millian

Just the last one, which I’ve bolded, has an assigned exhibit number in Durham’s list, suggesting either that he wants to use the documents with witnesses but not let the jury review the documents or that he’s not all that serious about using the documents as exhibits.

The list enables a tremendous amount of fuckery and more possible depending on how dishonest Durham wants to be.

For example, Durham has not obviously included the email where Mark Hosenball sent the link to the mediafire package to Fusion GPS, even though all the emails strongly support that’s what happened. Thus, as laid out, Durham seems intent to mislead the jury into believing that Fusion got that link via Tea Leaves or Michael Sussmann directly and not, as they’ve explained, via a journalist.

As noted, there are places where the list Sussmann included only the first page of a series. Given the way Durham is treating serial October 5, 2016 emails (most notably those involving Eric Lichtblau), it’s possible he does not intend to include follow-on pages in his exhibits. In several cases, that would leave out important context.

For example, in the October 5, 2016 thread between Fritsch and Hosenball, including just the first page of that exhibit would leave out where Fritsch said,

the DNS stuff? not us at all.

outside computer experts

we did up an alfa memo unrelated to all this

It would also leave out where Fritsch pointed Hosenball to the public tutanota email included at the link that Hosenball himself sent to Fritsch, another piece of evidence showing that this was not an internal operation.

That is, as described, Durham may plan to falsely suggest these efforts were more closely tied than the evidence shows (it might exclude, for example, a key piece of evidence that Judge Cooper pointed to that showed this wasn’t a grand conspiracy).

Similarly, if just the first page of these exhibits were to come in, it would mean the jury got to see that Fusion sent out their Alfa Bank report, but not read the Alfa Bank report itself. Certainly, Durham could credibly argue that including the report would be prejudicial and as such might distract the jury. But excluding the report would also deprive the jury of the only material shared with the FBI that non-experts would have the ability of assessing themselves, both for the quality of the research and the validity of concerns of alleged ties between Trump and Alfa Bank.

For example, the report describes Richard Burt’s publicly acknowledged role in Trump’s first speech (though not a later role discovered as part of the Mueller investigation).

Burt has acknowledged that he played a significant role in writing Trump’s first major foreign policy speech. “I was asked to provide a draft for that speech. And parts of that of my draft —- survived into the final,” he told NPR.”‘

In the April 27 “America First” speech, Trump laid out an isolationist foreign policy. He criticized NATO and promised he would pursue better relations with Russia– skipping over its invasions of its neighbors and human rights abuses?’

It describes several allegations of Alfa Bank’s involvement in spying on adversaries.

Diligence also investigated a reporter from The Vail Street ournal who had contacted the CPI regarding the Alfa libel case. Private investigators for Diligence conducted a trash-stealing operation against the personal residence of the journalist. The operation was eventually exposed by an insider at Diligence. The affair caused high-level consternation in Washington due to a bizarre snafu: Unknown to the Diligence investigators, the reporter had vacated his home and rented it to a top White House official. That led to a confidential national security investigation of possible espionage by Alfa.

It even notes Petr Aven’s close ties to Putin, ties that Putin would exploit within months of the report in an attempt to form a back channel with the Trump Administration (though I suspect Putin did this in part to fulfill these suspicions).

As the face of Alfa Bank, Peter Aven remains the group’s key interface with the Kremlin. It appears his importance has only grown. Alfa Group, and specifically Alfa Bank, have a longstanding presence in the US and the UK.

[snip]

It is clear that Aven remains the key political figure in Alfa Group, with multiple current links to the government and security services, as outlined above. He has also driven the development of international links through the expansion of Alfa Bank in the US and Europe. The bank has carried out careful outreach, running an international Alfa Fellows program and maintaining a high profile. Although not itself a target, the bank has suffered from sanctions however, and has a particular interest in lifting sanctions’.

There’s a lot of crap that came from Fusion GPS, but their straight Russian research held up pretty well, and this is an example why it was reasonable for Perkins Coie to hire Fusion. So while Durham might successfully argue that this would be prejudicial, it is also one of the best ways for the jury to assess the credibility of Perkins Coie’s basis for relying on Fusion. It’s also necessary to explain why Michael Sussmann and Rodney Joffe might believe sharing this material with the FBI pertained to national security, not political malice.

Perhaps the most alarming detail in what Durham included in his exhibit list is that last one, the only one that includes an actual exhibit number.

Durham has made much of the fact that Lichtblau sent an email to Peter Fritsch asking if he had told him (at an in-person meeting) that Sergei Millian had an Alfa email address. As included here as an exhibit, Durham would present this without context, insinuating that Fritsch learned of this via Joffe or someone.

But the actual email thread — exchanged in September, when Lichtblau was in the thick of trying to publish this story — makes it clear that Fusion formed this inference based off entirely public ip information, research entirely unrelated to the DNS allegations.

So as laid out here, Durham has allowed for a good deal of at least possible fuckery.

But then there’s the question of what emails he did present to Judge Cooper claiming he wanted to use as exhibits.

The vast majority of these emails are entirely unrelated to the case against Sussmann. Many of the emails, though, might be related to Igor Danchenko’s case. They pertain to publicly sourced concerns about Sergei Millian, concerns shared far outside of Fusion, as well as to open source research on Carter Page. They do seem to reflect knowledge of a single Christopher Steele report, but at a time before Rodney Joffe first met anyone at Fusion GPS.

Meanwhile, in addition to the emails over which the Democrats or Rodney Joffe have claimed privilege, there are around another 35 that aren’t privileged but which Durham didn’t include in his exhibit of the emails that, he claimed, he wanted to rely on at trial.

In other words, those emails were utterly useless as an exhibit to allow Judge Cooper a good way to assess the exhibits that Durham actually wants to use at trial. They were, however, really useful at riling up the frothers.

The fact that Durham included many emails he doesn’t want to use as exhibits, but didn’t include many emails (including unprivileged ones) that he wants to use as exhibits, including all but one of the ones to which he has assigned an exhibit number, makes it all the more curious that Durham “accidentally” posted these emails publicly to the docket and the unpublished them.

In any case, it’s still possible this fuckery will blow up at trial (assuming that Durham doesn’t find some reason to make an interlocutory appeal, which I think is likely). As Judge Cooper noted in his order regarding motions in limine, “The Court will reserve judgment as to the admissibility of any additional email it has not yet seen.”

The March 6, 2017 Notes: Proof about Materiality

Update: Read this post on the March 6, 2017 notes before this one.

I want to return to John Durham’s objection to Michael Sussmann’s plan to offer notes from an FBI Agent and notes from a March 6, 2017 meeting as evidence.

The defense also may seek to offer (i) multiple pages of handwritten notes taken by an FBI Headquarters Special Agent concerning his work on the investigation of the Russian Bank-1 allegations, (including notes reflecting information he received from the FBI Chicago case team), and (ii) notes taken by multiple DOJ personnel at a March 6, 2017 briefing by the FBI for the then-Acting Attorney General on various Trump-related investigations, including the Russian Bank-1 allegations. See, e.g., Defense Ex. 353, 370, 410. The notes of two DOJ participants at the March 6, 2017 meeting reflect the use of the word “client” in connection with the Russian Bank-1 allegations.1 The defendant did not include reference to any of these notes – which were taken nearly six months after the defendant’s alleged false statement – in its motions in limine. Moreover, the DOJ personnel who took the notes that the defendant may seek to offer were not present for the defendant’s 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel. And while the FBI General Counsel was present for the March 6, 2017 meeting, the Government has not located any notes that he took there.

The Government respectfully submits that the Court should require the defense to proffer a non-hearsay basis for each portion of the aforementioned notes that they intend to offer at trial. The defendant has objected to the Government’s admission of certain notes taken by FBI officials following the defendant’s September 19, 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel, and the Government has explained in detail its bases for admitting such notes. Accordingly, the defendant should similarly proffer a legal basis to admit the notes he seeks to offer at trial. Fed. R. Evid. 801(c).

1. The notes of the March 6, 2017 briefing do not appear on the defendant’s Exhibit List, but the Government understands from its recent communications with counsel that they may intend to offer the notes at trial.

As I noted here, attempting to introduce the notes achieves some tactical purpose for Sussmann: presumably, the rules Judge Christopher Cooper adopted in his motions in limine order will apply to these two potential exhibits. So putting these exhibits out there provide a way to hem Durham in on that front.

But they may be more central to Sussmann’s defense. Sussmann may be preparing these exhibits (and one or more witnesses to introduce them) to prove that his alleged lie was not material.

We know a bit about the meeting in question and the potential note-takers.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page explains that, after Dana Boente became acting Attorney General after Sally Yates’ firing, he asked for regular briefings because he believed that, “the investigation had not been moving with a sense of urgency,” and that, “it was extraordinarily important to the Department and its reputation that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections were investigated.” DOJ IG may have muddled the scope of these meetings (as they did the scope of Bruce Ohr’s actions), because Boente was obviously talking about all the Russian interference allegations, and Alfa Bank was, as far as we know, always separate from Crossfire Hurricane (and in any case never became part of the Mueller investigation).

On January 30, 2017, Boente became the Acting Attorney General after Yates was removed, and ten days later became the Acting DAG after Jefferson Sessions was confirmed and sworn in as Attorney General. Boente simultaneously served as the Acting Attorney General on the FBI’s Russia related investigations after Sessions recused himself from overseeing matters “arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.” Boente told the OIG that after reading the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) report on Russia’s election influence efforts (described in Chapter Six), he requested a briefing on Crossfire Hurricane. That briefing took place on February 16, and Boente said that he sought regular briefings on the case thereafter because he believed that it was extraordinarily important to the Department and its reputation that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections were investigated. Boente told us that he also was concerned that the investigation lacked cohesion because the individual Crossfire Hurricane cases had been assigned to multiple field offices. In addition, he said that he had the impression that the investigation had not been moving with a sense of urgency-an impression that was based, at least in part, on “not a lot” of criminal legal process being used. To gain more visibility into Crossfire Hurricane, improve coordination, and speed up the investigation, Boente directed ODAG staff to attend weekly or bi-weekly meetings with NSD for Crossfire Hurricane case updates.

Boente’s calendar entries and handwritten notes reflect multiple briefings in March and April 2017. Boente’s handwritten notes of the March meetings reflect that he was briefed on the predication for opening Crossfire Hurricane, the four individual cases, and the status of certain aspects of the Flynn case. [my emphasis]

As noted, these meetings focused on ways to “reenergize” the Russian investigations, including the one into Paul Manafort’s corruption.

Additionally, notes from an FBI briefing for Boente on March 6, 2017, indicate that someone in the meeting stated that Ohr and Swartz had a “discussion of kleptocracy + Russian org. crime” in relation to the Manafort criminal case in an effort to “re-energize [the] CRM case.”

And we know who attended the March 6 meeting, because Jeffrey Jensen released highly redacted notes — with a date added — as part of his effort to blow up the Mike Flynn case.

Jim C[rowell, who took the notes]

FBI/McCabe/Baker/Rybicki/Pete/Toscas

Scott/Tash/McCord/Dana/

For the benefit of the frothers who are sure David Laufman was part of this: sorry, he was not.

Laufman did not attend the meetings in January, February, and March 2017 that were attended by Boente, McCord, and other senior Department officials.

The IG Report describes that in addition to Crowell, Boente, Tashina Gauhar, and Scott Schools took notes of these meetings. We also know Strzok was an assiduous note taker, so it’s likely he took notes as well. People like Crowell (who is now a Superior Court judge) or Boente would make powerful witnesses at trial.

And according to Durham’s objection, among the as many as five sets of notes from this meeting that James Baker attended, two say that the word “client” came up in conjunction with the Alfa Bank allegations.

Durham seems to suspect this is an attempt to bolster possible Baker testimony that, after the initial meeting between him and Sussmann, he came to know Sussmann had a client (which would be proof that Sussmann wasn’t hiding that). He did, and within days! That’s one important part of the communications during which Baker got Sussmann and Rodney Joffe’s help to kill the NYT story: as part of that exchange, he learned that Sussmann had to consult with someone before sharing which news outlet was about to publish the Alfa Bank story. For that purpose, according to the common sense rules just adopted by Cooper, one or some of the ten people at the meeting would need to remember Baker referring to a “client,” and one of the two people who noted that in real time has to remember doing so.

But there’s likely another reason Sussmann would want to introduce this information.

Not only did a contemporaneous record reflect that everyone involved learned if they did not already know that there was a client involved in this Alfa Bank allegation, but by then everyone involved also knew that Glenn Simpson worked first for a GOP and then a Democratic client.

Finally, handwritten notes and other documentation reflect that in February and March 2017 it was broadly known among FBI officials working on and supervising the investigation, and shared with senior NSD and ODAG officials, that Simpson (who hired Steele) was himself hired first by a candidate during the Republican primaries and then later by someone related to the Democratic Party.

The things that, Durham insists, would have led the FBI to shy away from this investigation were known by the time of this meeting.

And, I suspect, that’s why Sussmann wants to introduce the FBI Agent’s notes (and yes, it is possible they are Strzok’s). Because the actions taken in the wake of this meeting provide a way of assessing what the FBI would have done — and did do — after such time as they undeniably knew that Sussmann had a client.

Boente wanted more action taken. Ultimately, whatever action was taken led shortly thereafter to the closure of the investigation.

But Durham’s entire prosecution depends on proving that the FBI would have acted differently if they knew Sussmann had a client. So it is perfectly reasonable for Sussmann to introduce evidence about what the FBI said and did after such time as they provably did know that.

 

Judge Cooper Rules for Durham on Key Issues, But Rules against His Conspiracy Theory

Judge Christopher Cooper has issued his ruling on the various motions in limine from the two sides in the Michael Sussmann case. As I understand it, his ruling means:

  • Durham can introduce otherwise admissible evidence of how the data was collected, but unless Sussmann makes affirmative claims about the accuracy of the data, Durham cannot introduce evidence that it was inaccurate
  • Because of his other rulings, Durham will likely be left introducing how the data was collected via testimony from one or both of the Georgia Tech researchers
  • But unless Durham proves that Sussmann knew about them, the emails between the researchers and Joffe are not relevant and would also be excluded under Cooper’s limits on discussions about the accuracy of the data
  • Unless Durham presents evidence that Sussmann knew the data was collected in objectionable manner, he also cannot introduce such evidence
  • Durham can submit Fusion emails “to demonstrate that Fusion GPS and the researchers shared the ultimate goal of disseminating the Alfa Bank allegations to the press” [note he does not include Sussmann in this statement]
  • In part because Durham has not charged Sussmann with a conspiracy and in part because there’s lots of evidence the collection of the data was not a conspiracy, Durham cannot treat that as a conspiracy to obtain a hearsay exception
  • Because Cooper has ruled against a conspiracy foundation, Rodney Joffe’s email stating that “the ‘VIPs’ were ‘looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination’ is not admissible
  • Joffe’s email to the Georgia Tech researchers “soliciting their views on the white paper he had been drafting with Mr. Sussmann” is admissible because it is not hearsay
  • Joffe’s email claiming he had been offered the top cybersecurity job is not admissible
  • Bill Priestap and Trisha Anderson’s notes are admissible but only if 1) Sussmann challenges James Baker’s credibility at trial  and 2) if Priestap and Anderson testify that the notes refresh their memory of being told Sussmann had said he was not representing a client, but 3) the notes themselves will not go in as evidence
  • Durham can introduce what he claims are two false statements Sussmann made to the CIA — that he was not representing a client and that the YotaPhone data he was sharing was not related to what he had brought in September — but he cannot present evidence about what the CIA said about the data
  • Durham does not have to immunize Joffe to make his testimony available (Cooper muses that, because he has excluded the allegedly improper means via which the data was collected, Joffe might be willing to testify, which I find to be credulous)
  • The existence of privileged communications can be introduced at trial, but via a means that eliminates multiple pages of redaction [note, Cooper reiterated this ruling after receiving documents for which he will review the privilege claims]

I’ll have to think through the implications of this (and a lot of it depends on Cooper’s ruling on the privilege claims).

Perhaps as important as those evidentiary rulings, though, is this characterization from Cooper about what this case is about.

This dispute is framed by the parties’ competing theories of how the data came to be. In brief, the government contends that the Alfa Bank data was gathered as part of a concerted effort to collect and disseminate derogatory opposition research about Donald Trump. Participants in this purported joint undertaking, according to the government, include the Clinton Campaign; the Campaign’s General Counsel and then-partner in the Perkins Coie law firm, Marc Elias; an investigative firm retained by Mr. Elias, Fusion GPS; the defendant; Mr. Joffe; and several computer researchers working at Mr. Joffe’s direction. The government has proffered the existence of at least some circumstantial evidence connecting Mr. Sussmann to certain aspects of the data gathering effort. See Gov’t Opp’n to Def.’s Mots. in Lim. at 17–18, ECF No. 70 (promising that testimony will establish that Mr. Sussmann was aware of the “corporate sources” of the data and assured Researcher-2 that the data had been lawfully collected); Indictment ¶¶ 20, 23 (alleging that beginning in mid-August, Mr. Sussmann, Mr. Joffe, and Mr. Elias met on two different occasions and, shortly thereafter, Mr. Joffe emailed the researchers about the data); id. ¶ 24 (describing billing entries indicating that Mr. Sussmann helped draft one of the white papers that was provided to the FBI). The government contends that Mr. Sussmann’s desire to conceal this joint venture—particularly the Clinton Campaign’s involvement—supplied a motive for him to misrepresent to Mr. 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.

The defense paints a different picture. As the Court gleans from various of the defense’s pleadings and arguments, its case will be that Mr. Joffe obtained and analyzed the relevant data independently of Mr. Sussmann and the Clinton Campaign; that Mr. Joffe enlisted the defendant, with whom he a preexisting attorney-client relationship, for legal advice on how to handle and disseminate the data to a wider audience; that Mr. Sussmann reasonably believed, based on the understanding of the data that he gained from Mr. Joffe, that it tended to support the existence of a communications link between Alfa Bank and Mr. Trump; that Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe shared the view that bringing the potential communications channel to the FBI’s attention was important to protect national security, regardless of any political implications; and that Mr. Sussmann sought an audience with Mr. Baker for that purpose. The defense has acknowledged that Mr. Sussmann at least received the data in connection with his legal representation of Mr. Joffe, see Mot. Hr’g Tr. at 38:6–18, but (as the Court understands) denies that he had an attorney-client relationship with the Clinton Campaign that covered activities related to the Alfa Bank data.

The jury is entitled to hear both these narratives.

This framework is important for several reasons. First, I think Cooper has a misunderstanding of how the two technical white papers were written, based off Durham’s projection of billing records onto actual drafting. If I’m right that that’s a misunderstanding, it will be a significant issue at trial.

There are a few other details that Cooper may not have entirely correct. But Cooper views these two competing stories to be Durham’s political malice story versus Sussmann’s national security threat story.

And if that’s how he understands it, he will be far more likely to allow a bunch of exhibits that Sussmann wants in that Durham wants excluded. Some of it would be necessary anyway — as I keep saying, Trump’s request of Russia to hack Hillary some more, plus the likelihood Sussmann knew in real time that the request was immediately followed by a renewed wave of attacks, is central to Sussmann’s state of mind when he met with Baker, and Cooper is treating this as a trial about Sussmann’s state of mind. But for Sussmann to convey why the Alfa Bank anomaly raised real national security concerns, he will need to explain the background of Trump’s false claims about Russia.

But the most important thing Cooper said, in the context of ruling against letting Durham treat all this as a conspiracy, is this:

Because no conspiracy is charged in the indictment, this undertaking would essentially amount to a second trial on a non-crime conducted largely for the purpose of admitting “other acts” evidence of Mr. Sussmann’s motive rather than his commission of the singular and narrow crime with which he has been charged.

This sort of particularized evidentiary analysis is especially unwarranted given that the Court has already ruled on the admissibility of many of the emails on other grounds.

This is the point I made in this post — one that several frother lawyers claimed suggested I didn’t understand these evidentiary issues. These evidentiary decisions are not made based on whether frothy Durham fans want the evidence in, but based on a set of interlocking evidentiary rules. Cooper has, overly optimistically, I think, set up a framework (primarily by excluding discussion about the accuracy of the information) that he thinks will guide all these decisions. But even within that framework, the rules of evidence will still apply.

And that will leave significant parts of Durham’s conspiracy theory out of the trial.

John Durham Wails about Michael Sussmann Adopting His Own Evidentiary Standards

Last month, I noted that John Durham had forgotten to file a motion in limine to exclude evidence of the rampant hacking Russia did against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But along the way, Durham’s tunnel vision about 2016 led him to forget to exclude the things that do go to Sussmann’s state of mind, such as the very real Russian attack on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s public call for more such attacks.

So while Durham may be excluded from claiming that a private citizen’s attempt to learn about real crimes by a Presidential candidate before he is elected amounts to a criminal conspiracy, it is too late for Durham now to try to exclude evidence about Sussmann’s understanding of Donald Trump’s very real role in a hack of his client.

In a challenge to Michael Sussmann’s trial exhibits last night, Durham has effectively tried to belatedly correct that error.

Meanwhile, in Sussmann’s own challenge to Durham’s exhibits, he labels 121 exhibits as hearsay, 267 as irrelevant, and 143 as prejudicial.

Durham objects to three kinds of evidence, all utterly pertinent to Sussmann’s defense, and all akin to the same kind of evidence Durham has fought to introduce to substantiate a conspiracy theory Durham admits he doesn’t have evidence to prove.

The first are hundreds of emails Sussmann had with the FBI pertaining to hacks of the DNC and Hillary (Durham describes hacking attempts against Hillary as “cybersecurity issues” as if unsuccessful hacks don’t count as hacks).

Durham claims that these should come in primarily to disprove Durham’s assumptions about Sussmann’s billing entries, not to illustrate how reasonable it was to be concerned about a DNS anomaly involving Trump and a Russian bank. Durham — who asked to include a voir dire question assuming as fact that the Hillary campaign “promot[ed …] the Trump/Russia collusion narrative” — doesn’t want the FBI’s investigation of serial hacks targeting Democrats to come in to support the fact that such hacks occurred. And he wants to exclude the sheer volume, arguing (not unfairly) that would be cumulative, but not acknowledging that the volume does speak to Sussmann’s focus during a period when Durham claims Sussmann was instead feverishly conspiring to attack Trump. Finally, Durham claims that Sussmann’s focus on Russian cyberattacks is totally unrelated to his concern about an anomaly seeming to suggest a tie between Trump and Alfa.

First, the defendant’s Exhibit List includes more than approximately 300 email chains between and among the defendant and various FBI personnel reflecting the defendant’s work relating to (i) the hack of the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”), and (ii) cybersecurity issues pertaining to the Hillary for America Campaign (“HFA”). As an initial matter, the Government is not contesting that the defendant worked for both of those entities on cybersecurity issues. The Government also acknowledges that certain emails reflecting the defendant’s work on behalf of HFA on cybersecurity matters are potentially relevant and admissible insofar as the defendant might use those emails to argue that some or all of the billing entries to HFA that the Indictment alleges related to the Russian Bank-1 allegations were, in fact, related to work on other matters for HFA. The Government respectfully submits however, that the Court should carefully analyze each email that the defendant offers at trial to ensure that it is not admitted for its truth but instead is offered for a permissible purpose, such as to prove the defendant’s state of mind or the email’s effect on one or more of its recipients. Fed. R. Evid. 801(c); United States v. Safavian, 435 F. Supp. 2d 36, 45–46 (D.D.C. 2006). In addition, the defendant should not be permitted to offer dozens of emails to establish such basic facts because such voluminous evidence would be cumulative and unduly prejudicial. Fed. R. Evid. 403 (permitting courts to preclude parties from “needlessly presenting cumulative evidence”).

As to the dozens of communications regarding the defendant’s work regarding the DNC hack, these emails are largely irrelevant. The defendant billed his work on that matter to the DNC, not HFA. The Indictment alleges specifically that the defendant billed time on the Russian Bank1 allegations to HFA. These emails therefore do not support any inferences or arguments relating to the defendant’s alleged billed time for the Russian Bank-1 allegations. Instead, they contain extensive detail on collateral issues. See, e.g., Defense Ex. 306 (Email dated September 14, 2016 from FBI Special Agent E. Adrian Hawkins to Michael Sussmann, et al., stating in part, “We just got notified by some industry personnel that some previously unreleased DNC documents were uploaded to Virus Total today. In the files there was a contact list that I attached here with lots of personal emails for people. Rumor is that these files are supposed to be the network share for a guy named [named redacted] who worked IT until April 2011.”)

To the extent the defendant is offering such emails in support of arguments that (i) the defendant was an accomplished cybersecurity lawyer, (ii) the defendant was known and respected at the FBI, or (iii) the defendant was concerned about, and involved in responding to, cyberattacks carried out by the Russian Federation, such arguments are peripheral to the charged offense because they do not concern the Russian Bank-1 allegations or the defendant’s statements to the FBI about those allegations. The defendant’s potential arguments in this regard support, at best, the admission of a limited quantity of these emails to establish basic facts about the defendant’s representation of the DNC. Admitting all or most of these exhibits, however, would be highly cumulative and would waste the jury’s time with highly-detailed evidence concerning a tangential matter (the DNC hack) that is not at issue in this trial. Accordingly, the Government respectfully submits that the Court should admit only a limited number of these emails that are not being offered for their truth. [my emphasis]

It is, of course, rank nonsense to claim that the ongoing hacks targeting Democrats were unrelated to efforts to chase down a DNS anomaly. But Durham’s entire team either claims or genuinely does not understand the connection.

Then, in addition to attempting to exclude the notes of an FBI Agent who investigated the Alfa Bank allegations, Durham wants to exclude notes showing that the word “client” came up at a March 6, 2017 briefing on all the Russian allegations for Dana Boente.

The defense also may seek to offer (i) multiple pages of handwritten notes taken by an FBI Headquarters Special Agent concerning his work on the investigation of the Russian Bank-1 allegations, (including notes reflecting information he received from the FBI Chicago case team), and (ii) notes taken by multiple DOJ personnel at a March 6, 2017 briefing by the FBI for the then-Acting Attorney General on various Trump-related investigations, including the Russian Bank-1 allegations. See, e.g., Defense Ex. 353, 370, 410. The notes of two DOJ participants at the March 6, 2017 meeting reflect the use of the word “client” in connection with the Russian Bank-1 allegations. The defendant did not include reference to any of these notes – which were taken nearly six months after the defendant’s alleged false statement – in its motions in limine. Moreover, the DOJ personnel who took the notes that the defendant may seek to offer were not present for the defendant’s 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel. And while the FBI General Counsel was present for the March 6, 2017 meeting, the Government has not located any notes that he took there.

I mean, Durham is not wrong on the evidentiary issue: these notes far post-date Sussmann’s alleged lie (though, ironically, the Jeffrey Jensen team added a date to and relied on what must be one set of these notes in their efforts to blow up the Mike Flynn prosecution). While they may reflect James Baker’s statements reflecting knowledge that Sussmann had a client, they’re hearsay.

But Durham is doing both those same things, presenting hearsay notes to substantiate Baker’s knowledge and claiming that meetings that long post-date Sussmann’s alleged lie may be indicative of what Sussmann and Baker actually said in September 2016. Durham has no grounds to complain about such evidentiary sloppiness, because that’s what his entire case consists of.

Finally, Durham — who started his speaking indictment by focusing on two news articles and not only considers Fusion’s communications with the press to be key evidence in his conspiracy theory but even insinuates that everything certain reporters were doing must have come from the Democrats — complains that Sussmann wants to introduce a slew of newspaper articles from 2016. He’s worried that it’ll elicit a sense of horror among the jury.

The Government will not dispute that the DNC was a victim of the aforementioned hack, nor will it dispute that the defendant carried out significant legal work in relation to the hack. The Government similarly will not seek to prove one way or the other whether Donald Trump maintained ties – illicit, unlawful, or otherwise – to Russia, other than to establish facts relating to the FBI’s investigation of the Russian Bank-1 allegations. Permitting the defense to admit the above-listed series of news articles would amount to the ultimate “mini-trial” – of the very sort that will distract and confuse the jury without offering probative evidence. United States v. Ring, 706 F.3d 460, 472 (D.C.Cir.2013) (“Unfair prejudice within its context means an undue tendency to suggest [making a] decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one.”); see also Carter v. Hewitt, 617 F.2d 961, 972 (3d Cir.1980) (explaining that evidence is unfairly prejudicial “if it appeals to the jury’s sympathies, arouses its sense of horror, provokes its instinct to punish, or otherwise may cause a jury to base its decision on something other than the established propositions in the case.”) (citations omitted). Accordingly, this Court should exclude the above-referenced news articles.

This is the argument that, I noted in real time, Durham should have made last month.

But Durham is also not accounting for how central the articles cited are to Sussmann’s ability to rebut the conspiracy theory Durham wants to tell. The articles show that:

  • Trump’s coziness with Russia, one reason cited in Marc Elias’ declaration for hiring Fusion, was broadly perceived as unusual
  • Trump’s undisclosed financial ties with Russia were a general and persistent concern
  • Public reporting had confirmed the Russian attribution of the DNC hack before Trump asked Russia to hack Hillary some more and the press widely viewed Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment as a request for more hacks
  • The reporters or outlets Durham wants to make an issue were doing their own reporting on Trump’s Russian ties were doing reporting not seeded by Fusion
  • The corruption scandal implicating Paul Manafort led to his ouster from the campaign during the period researchers were working on the anomaly

Durham complains that “many of [the articles] far predate the defendant’s meeting with the FBI General Counsel,” but only one predates the data collection that Durham has made the central focus of his case and another — Ellen Nakashima’s article reporting the DNC hack — directly kicked off that data collection effort.

These articles explain why it was reasonable, not just for the Democrats’ cybersecurity lawyer who was spending most of his days trying to fight back against a persistent Russian hack, but also for the researchers and Rodney Joffe to try to first look for more Russian hacking (including that victimizing Republicans), and when they found an anomaly, to try to chase it down and even to bring it to the FBI for further investigation. Several threads of these articles — pertaining to Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary and to Manafort’s corruption — were explicitly invoked in discussions that Durham wants to claim must arise from political malice.

Indeed, as a whole, these articles provide far more reasonable explanations for actions that Durham has claimed, as fact, could only arise out of political malice.

Some of Durham’s complaints are reasonable from an evidentiary standard. But they’re utterly ridiculous given his own wild conspiracy theorizing. And many of these exhibits are utterly necessary to rebut the more outlandish things Durham has been claiming for months.

John Durham May Lose His Battle But Gain New Ammunition to Fight His War

There were a number of things not said at yesterday’s hearing on the Democrats’ privilege claims in the Michael Sussmann case. The importance of having Russian-speaking experts when representing a client getting systematically attacked by Russia, for example, was not mentioned. Nor was the amount of research that Fusion did that was never released to the press. Nor were Durham’s two cheap stunts — falsely claiming an FEC settlement was not “public” in time to introduce it as part of the initial filings, and presenting exhibits without correcting for a time anomaly and thereby falsely suggesting Fusion sent a previously unpublished link to Tea Leaves’ postings to Eric Lichtblau — which made Durham’s case to pierce the Democrats’ privilege claims look stronger than it was.

Even on the issue of whether communications can have more than one purpose — an issue that Robert Trout, representing Hillary’s campaign, addressed directly — the argument could have been stronger. And when Judge Christopher Cooper asked if there were specific emails “that might support [the Democrats’] position that Fusion’s internal communications on these issues were for the purpose of providing legal support as opposed to pure opposition research and dissemination that is not covered by the privilege?,” Trout was caught flat-footed. Which is to say that the Democrats may not have presented their case as well as they could have.

It likely didn’t matter. Even before ruling that he will review the documents over which Democrats invoked privilege, Judge Christopher Cooper made it clear he was pretty skeptical of their privilege claims.

But there were a number of other things that were mentioned that may limit how much value Durham gets from this decision, even if Cooper determines that most of the Fusion documents were not privileged. Most importantly, both before and after Cooper had clearly decided he was going to review the documents, he raised the other procedural issues — which I raised in this post — that will dictate whether or not Durham can use them at trial.

The defense has raised some procedural objections to I think the use and introduction of the emails; namely, that you have waited too long after the assertion of the privilege — on the eve of trial now — to bring the issue to me.

I take it you’re saying that even if I were to agree with them about the specific emails that have been withheld, I would still have to deal with the privilege issue with respect to Ms. Seago’s testimony.

[snip]

That still leaves the relevance issues as well as the prejudice issues and the knock-on effects from the defense from the introduction and use of the emails, but I think that I’m probably going to have to deal with this issue nonetheless because of what the government may plan to ask Ms. Seago about. All right?

That is, even if Cooper agrees that the 38 documents Durham wants unsealed are not privileged, it may not mean Durham can use them at trial. The following are all possibilities, of greater or lesser likelihood:

  1. Cooper rules that one purpose of the emails was legal advice and so are privileged
  2. Cooper decides some or all of the emails are not privileged, but rules, based on representations made yesterday, that Durham violated local rules in his attempt to obtain them and so cannot get them
  3. Cooper rules that some or all of the emails are not privileged but rules that they are prejudicial, irrelevant, or hearsay to the charge against Sussmann, so Durham can have the emails, he just can’t use them at trial
  4. Cooper determines that Durham’s claims about the necessity or relevance of Laura Seago’s testimony are not only false, but Durham knew them to be false when he made them and, given that Durham has used as his excuse to pierce privilege at this late date, cannot introduce them at trial
  5. Cooper rules that the communications involving Rodney Joffe are privileged, even if the internal Fusion emails are not, adding further problems with Seago’s role as a witness
  6. Cooper rules the Fusion emails aren’t privileged, but at least some of them end up disproving Durham’s conspiracy theories

If I had to guess, I’d say a combination of 3, 5, and 6 are most likely. I’ll explain why, but if that turns out to be the case, it may mean that Durham finds a way to access the other 1,500 Fusion emails he says he wants to use in “other investigations,” but still can’t use many of the 38 emails at issue here in the trial against Sussmann. Durham’s conspiracy theories might live on, but his case against Sussmann might not.

As a reminder, Sussmann argued that Durham broke a number of rules by bypassing Beryl Howell and waiting until the last minute to try to get these emails — the procedural objections Cooper alluded to above. Cooper can’t be that impressed with the argument, or he wouldn’t have agreed to review the emails at all. But he did seem rather interested in Steven Tyrell’s assertion that he had made it clear there was never a way Durham was going to get the emails involving Joffe without litigation.

MR. TYRRELL: So if they wanted to challenge our assertion of privilege as to this limited universe of documents — again, which is separate from the other larger piece with regard to HFA — they should have done so months ago. I don’t know why they waited until now, Your Honor, but I want to be clear. I want to say without hesitation that it’s not because there was ever any discussion with us about resolving this issue without court intervention.

THE COURT: That was my question. Were you adamant a year ago?

MR. TYRRELL: Pardon me?

THE COURT: Were you adamant a year ago that —

MR. TYRRELL: Yes. We’ve been throughout. We were not willing to entertain resolution of this without court intervention.

THE COURT: Very well.

This is important because it supports Sussmann’s contention that this late bid for the emails is just an improper means of bypassing local rules and discovery deadlines. The same is not as true for Fusion, though, because they did make some concessions to Durham along the way.

Joffe’s intransigence about his privilege claims are all the more problematic for Durham, because (contrary to all my predictions!) Cooper seems far more convinced of Joffe’s privilege claims than the those of the Democrats.

With respect to the Joffe/Sussmann/Seago emails, I am dubious that the government has met its burden to pierce the privilege, but I will take a look at the emails nonetheless.

Indeed, at one point, Cooper noted that Durham’s entire theory of the case assumes, “Sussmann was in the [September 19, 2016 James Baker] meeting representing Joffe,” which would mean there was a privileged relationship between Sussmann and Joffe, and so therefore assumes Sussmann’s communications with Joffe about the topic would be privileged. If Joffe’s communications with Sussmann and Laura Seago aren’t privileged, then it’s proof that Sussmann was not representing a client. If they are privileged, then Durham can’t have them.

Catch-22.

Given what Cooper said in last week’s hearing, in which he repeatedly suggested that Joffe’s testimony might be central, the possibility that Durham may not pierce Joffe’s privilege may dictate other evidentiary (though not privilege) decisions. All the more so given how Durham excused his late bid to pierce privilege based off a late recognition they were going to immunize and call Seago.

In addition, over the course of months, and until recently, the Government has been receiving voluminous rolling productions of documents and privilege logs from numerous parties. The Government carefully analyzed such productions in order assess and re-assess the potential legal theories that might support the parties’ various privilege assertions. In connection with that process, the Special Counsel’s Office reached out to each of those parties’ counsel numerous times, directing their attention to specific documents where possible and communicating over email and phone in an effort to obtain non-privileged explanations for the relevant privilege determinations.2 The Government also supplied multiple counsel with relevant caselaw and pointed them to documents and information in the public domain that it believed bore on these issues. The Government was transparent at every step of these discussions in stating that it was contemplating seeking the Court’s intervention and guidance. Unfortunately, despite the Government’s best efforts and numerous phone calls, it was not able to obtain meaningful, substantive explanations to support these continuing broad assertions of privilege and/or work product protections.

It was only recently, when the Government determined it would need to call an employee of Fusion GPS as a trial witness (the “Fusion Witness”), that the Government concluded these issues could not be resolved without the Court’s attention. Because all or nearly all of the Fusion Witness’s expected testimony on these matters concern work carried out under an arrangement that the privilege holders now contend was established for the purpose of providing legal advice, it is essential to resolve the parties’ potential disputes about the appropriate bounds of such testimony (and the redaction or withholding of related documents).

As of yesterday, Sussmann had not received a 302 from Seago, so it’s not clear whether Durham has even interviewed her yet. But with one exception, Sussmann, Fusion lawyer Joshua Levy, and Joffe say she’ll be of limited value for Durham. Last week Sean Berkowitz said that Seago did not recall knowing Christopher Steele, much less being aware of the dossier project.

The only person from Fusion on their witness list is Laura Seago, who either I think has been immunized or will be immunized, and we understand that she would say she doesn’t recall that she even knows Mr. Steele or is able to talk about what he did. And so we don’t know that they actually are able to get anything in about what Mr. Steele did or didn’t do. Certainly there’s no evidence that Mr. Sussmann was aware of what Mr. Steele was doing. No evidence of that.

Levy noted that — as proven by the transcript of her Alfa Bank deposition, which the government has — Seago will testify she has no knowledge of either Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI or of the white paper Fusion did on Alfa Bank.

[I]n its brief, the government says that Ms. Seago has unique possession of knowledge as to what the government tries to characterize as the core issue in the case. But the government mischaracterizes that core issue. The government says that the core issue in this case is whether the defendant was representing any client in 2016 with regard to the Russian Bank 1 allegations.

That’s not the core issue in the case, respectfully. The core issue in the case is whether the defendant knowingly made a false and misleading statement to the government when he met with the government about whether he was there on behalf of a client or not that day. And as to that issue, Your Honor, Ms. Seago, the Fusion witness, has no knowledge. And the government knows this.

In parallel to the government’s investigation of this case, Russian Bank 1, Alfa-Bank, was pursuing its own discovery in a civil case. They subpoenaed and deposed Ms. Seago last year. There’s a transcript of that deposition. It’s in the public record. The government’s made clear to counsel that it has that deposition transcript, and we can furnish a copy of it to the Court.

And at the same time the government knows that Ms. Seago has no knowledge of the meeting between Mr. Sussmann and the FBI, and that’s at Pages 151 to 152 of that transcript.

THE COURT: All right. If you could file the — not file it, but provide it to the Court.

[snip]

And it’s very clear that she has no knowledge about the meeting, that she doesn’t recall any discussions about the meeting, that she didn’t work on this white paper that allegedly was provided to the government by Mr. Sussmann.

This is the memo that, again, the government has talked about today in its papers as to why it’s so important to pierce this privilege. Ms. Seago didn’t contribute to it, doesn’t know who did, doesn’t know who researched it, doesn’t know who wrote it, doesn’t know its purpose; and the government’s aware of all that.

As Sean Berkowitz followed up, Seago also does not recall knowing about the late July meeting involving Joffe, Sussmann, and Marc Elias.

And the question that was asked was: “So were you aware of this July 28th meeting between Sussmann and personnel of Fusion?

“ANSWER: Not that I recall.

“QUESTION: Were you aware of the meeting after it happened?

“ANSWER: Not that I recall.

Importantly, Durham knew (because he has been operating as a parasite on the lawfare project that Vladimir Putin probably ordered to make America less safe) that Seago would testify she didn’t know about the July meeting with Perkins Coie and Joffe or Sussmann’s meeting with James Baker or the Fusion-drafted white paper when Durham said she would be the pivotal witness to represent the relationship between Joffe and Fusion. This foreknowledge, which is incompatible with Durham’s claim that Seago’s testimony, “may be necessary to the public interest,” undermines both his relevance arguments and his excuse for the belated bid to pierce privilege.

As to Joffe, Tyrrell represented that at least some of the emails between him and Seago were the exchange of PGP keys.

MR. TYRRELL: Well, there are — Mr. Joffe is a cyber security expert, and he was trying to exchange something called PGP keys with Ms. Seago —

THE COURT: Okay.

MR. TYRRELL: — so that their communications would be secure and encrypted. So some of the attachments are actually just simply an exchange of PGP keys. But there is at least one or — there’s one or two attachments that’s not that, and I’m really not — I’d be happy to answer that in camera ex parte.

It’s the other communications that might be of value to Durham, but if they’re not privileged via Sussmann’s representation of Joffe, then his entire argument that Sussmann was representing a client may fall apart.

So Seago has, per those who know her involvement, little to offer in useful testimony (and Durham knew this). That’s a problem for Durham, because per Jonathan Algor, she was the way they planned to introduce the emails as evidence.

THE COURT: Okay. And obviously you haven’t seen these emails. You don’t know what they say. But you think there is a possibility, based on the descriptions in the privilege log, that they would be relevant and admissible through Ms. Seago for that purpose?

MR. ALGOR: Yes, Your Honor.

If Seago doesn’t know about the key issues necessary to validate the documents in question, then Durham may have a problem introducing them at trial at all.

As noted above, there are a number of possible ways Cooper resolves this, and it’s most likely he makes decisions that will displease both sides.

But given what he said yesterday, I think it quite likely Cooper will rule at least some of the Fusion emails are not privileged, even while making other rulings that will prevent them from coming into the trial as evidence.

If that happens, Durham may be able to use that ruling to get access (this time via proper methods) to that pool of 1,500 emails — many presumably of more interest to the Igor Danchenko case — that will let him spin his conspiracy theories for years to come. It might take losing the case against Sussmann, though, to continue his war of conspiracies.

Hillary Clinton’s Devious Plot to Get Oleg Deripaska to Install Paul Manafort as Trump’s Campaign Manager

Out of curiosity and a good deal of masochism, I listened to the latest podcast of “The Corner,” the frothy right wingers who spend their time spinning conspiracy theories about the Durham investigation.

It was painful.

At every step, these men simply assert evidence must exist — like a Democratic order to bring dirt to the FBI — for which there’s no evidence. They ignore really basic facts, such as that Sussmann was necessarily working with the FBI because his client was being systematically hacked, and therefore it wasn’t just Christopher Steele who had ongoing ties to the Bureau. They make a huge deal about the fact that the US government’s Russian experts know each other, and that Christopher Steele persistently reported on topics — like Rosneft — that really were and are important to British and US national security and on which he had legitimate expertise.

They’re already starting to make excuses for Durham (such as that Durham chose not to obtain privileged emails the same way Mueller and SDNY did, without noting that Mueller had probable cause of a crime, which Durham admits he does not, much less that Mueller got them in a different way and a different time then they believe he did).

They keep making much of the coincidence of key dates in 2016 — “We continue to have a very, very tight timeline that that accelerates” — but never mention either the WikiLeaks dump of the DNC emails or Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary some more, a request that was followed closely by a new wave of attacks. Those two events in July 2016 explain most of the actions Democrats took in that period, and these men don’t even exhibit awareness (or perhaps the belief?) that the events happened.

Worse still, they are ignorant of, or misrepresent, key details.

For example, all but Hans Mahncke assert that John Brennan must have been acting on some kind of corrupt intelligence in July 2016, rather than real intelligence collected from real Russian sources. They do so even though Billy Barr described in his book bitching at Trump after Trump complained that Durham found that, “the CIA stayed in its lane in the run-up to the [2016] election.”

Emblematic of the fraying relationship between the President and me was a sharp exchange at the end of the summer in the Oval Office. To give the President credit, he never asked about the substance of the investigation but just asked pointedly when there might be some sign of progress. On this occasion, we had met on something else, but at the end he complained that the investigation had been dragging on a long time. I explained that Durham did not get the Horowitz report until the end of 2019, and up till then had been look- ing at questions, like any possible CIA role, that had to be run down but did not pan out.

“What do you mean, they didn’t pan out?” the President snapped.

“As far as we can tell, the CIA stayed in its lane in the run-up to the election,” I said.

The President bristled. “You buy that bullshit, Bill?” he snarled. “Everyone knows Brennan was right in the middle of this.”

I lost it and answered in a sarcastic tone. “Well, if you know what happened, Mr. President, I am all ears. Maybe we are wasting time do- ing an investigation. Maybe all the armchair quarterbacks telling you they have all the evidence can come in and enlighten us.”

Durham looked for this evidence for years. It’s not there (and therefore the intelligence Brennan viewed is something other than the dossier or even the Russian intelligence product that the frothers also spin conspiracies on).

All but Fool Nelson misrepresent a July 26, 2016 email from Peter Fritsch to WSJ reporter Jay Solomon, which says, “call adam schiff, or difi for that matter. i bet they are concerned about what page was doing other than giving a speech over 3 days in moscow,” suggesting that that must be proof the top Democrats on the Intelligence Committees had the Steele dossier, rather than proof that it was a concern to see an advisor to a Presidential campaign traveling to Russian and saying the things Page was saying. (Jeff Carlson makes the same complaint about former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s observations about something that all experienced Russia watchers believed was alarming in real time.)

They get the evidence against Carter Page wrong, among other ways by misstating that all his time in Moscow had been accounted for and that the rumor he met with Igor Sechin was ever entirely debunked. “Of course it’s impossible. He was chaperoned. He had a hotel. He had a driver. Without people noticing.” For example, the son of the guy who brought Page to Russia, Yuval Weber, told the FBI that they weren’t with Page 100% of the time and there was a rumor that he had met with Sechin.

In July, when Page had traveled to give the commencement speech at NES, Weber recalled that it was rumored in Moscow that Page met with Igor Sechin. Weber said that Moscow is filled with gossip and people in Moscow were interested in Page being there. It was known that a campaign official was there.

Page may have briefly met with Arkady Dvorkovich at the commencement speech, considering Dvorkovich was on the board at NES. But Weber was not aware of any special meeting.

[redacted] was not with Page 100% of the time, he met him for dinner, attended the first public presentation, but missed the commencement speech. They had a few other interactions. Page was very busy on this trip.

This testimony was consistent with Mueller’s conclusion about Page’s trip: given boasts he made to the campaign, “Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained.”

They badly misrepresent emails between a handful of journalists and Fusion GPS, spinning real skepticism exhibited by journalists as journalists somehow conspiring with Fusion. Indeed, they repeatedly point to an email from WaPo’s Tom Hamburger pushing back on the Sechin claim, “That Page met with Sechin or Ivanov. ‘Its bullshit. Impossible,’ said one of our Moscow sources.” They claim that Hamburger nevertheless reported the story after that. They’re probably thinking of this story, which reported Page’s 2014 pro-Sechin comments, not that he had met with the man in 2016.

After the Obama administration added Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin to its sanctions list in 2014, limiting Sechin’s ability to travel to the United States or do business with U.S. firms, Page praised the former deputy prime minister, considered one of Putin’s closest allies over the past 25 years. “Sechin has done more to advance U.S.-Russian relations than any individual in or out of government from either side of the Atlantic over the past decade,” Page wrote.

In other words, they’re claiming journalists doing actual journalism and not reporting what Fusion fed them is somehow corrupt, when it is instead an example, among many, of failed attempts by Fusion to get journalists to run with their tips.

They complain that Fusion was pointing journalists to Felix Sater, in spite of the fact that Sater really was central to tying Trump Organization to Russian funding and really did pitch an impossibly lucrative real estate deal in the year before the campaign that involved secret communications with the Kremlin and sanctioned banks and a former GRU officer, a deal that Michael Cohen and Trump affirmatively lied to cover up for years.

They grossly misrepresent a long text to Peter Strzok reflecting someone else’s early inquiries on the DNS allegation to Cendyn, imagining (the redaction notwithstanding) that it reflects the FBI concluding already at that point that there was nothing to the DNS allegations and not that the FBI inquiry instead explains why Trump changed its own DNS records shortly thereafter (addressing one but not both of the questions raised by NYT reporting).

Obviously, none of them seem interested in the nearly-contemporaneous text from Strzok noting that “Russians back on DNC,” presumably reflecting knowledge of the serial Russian effort to steal Hillary’s analytics stored on an AWS server, a hack that — because it involved an AWS server, not a DNC-owned one — not only defies all the favorite right wing claims about what went into the Russian attribution, but also explains why Sussmann would be so concerned about seeming evidence of ongoing covert communication between Trump and a Russian bank. The Russians kept hacking, both in response to Trump’s request in July, and in the days before and after Sussmann met with James Baker in September.

Crazier still, none of these men seem to have any understanding of two details of the back-and-forth between Sussmann, the FBI, and NYT, one that is utterly central to the case against Sussmann. They conflate a request FBI made to NYT days after Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI to kill the story — one made with the assent of Sussmann and Rodney Joffe — with later follow-up reporting by the NYT reporting that the FBI had not substantiated the DNS allegation. Those were at least two separate calls! Durham had chased down none of them before he indicted Sussmann. It wasn’t until almost six months after charging Sussmann that Durham corroborated Sussmann’s HPSCI testimony that Sussmann and Joffe agreed to help kill the initial NYT story, which provides a lot of weight to Sussmann’s explanation for his meeting with James Baker, that he wanted to give the FBI an opportunity to investigate the allegation before the press reported on it. As a result, Mahncke states as fact that Sussmann’s September 18 text telling Baker, “I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau,” (even ignoring the temporal problem it creates for Durham’s charge) proves Sussmann lied, when in fact, his and Joffe’s efforts to help the Bureau kill the story strongly supports Sussmann’s public story.

If you don’t know that Sussmann and Joffe helped the FBI to kill what would have been a damning story about Trump, you’re not assessing the actual evidence against Sussmann as opposed to Durham’s conspiracy theories.

All that said, laying out all the ways the supposed experts on the frothy right prove they’re unfamiliar with the most basic details about events in 2016 and since is not why I wrote this post.

I wrote this post because of the way Fool attempted to explain away the inconvenience of Paul Manafort to his narrative. Fool went on at length showing how (a possible Russian fabrication claiming) Hillary’s plan to focus on Trump’s ties to Russia must have predicated an investigation that started before that point. He ignored, entirely, that an FBI investigation had already been opened on Page by then (and all four frothers ignore that Fusion started focusing on Page when Paul Singer was footing the bill). But Fool does acknowledge that the money laundering investigation into Manafort had already been opened before Crossfire Hurricane started. He treats Manafort’s very real corrupt ties to Putin-backed oligarchs as a lucky break for what he imagines to be Hillary’s concocted claims, and not a fact that Trump ignored when he hired the man to work for him “for free.” “Luckily, I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, Manafort joined the Trump campaign and that gave them a reason to look deeper.” In other words, Fool suggests Manafort’s hiring might be part of Hillary’s devious plot, and not the devious plot of Oleg Deripaska to get an entrée to Trump’s campaign or the devious alleged plot of Mohammed bin Zayed to direct Trump policy through Tom Barrack.

Because I expect the circumstances of Manafort’s hiring may become newsworthy again in the near future and because Deripaska was pushing an FBI investigation into Manafort before Hillary was, I wanted to correct this detail.

According to Gates, the effort to install Manafort as campaign manager started earlier than most people realize, in January 2016, not March.

In January 2016, Gates was working mostly on [redacted] film project. Gates was also doing some work on films with [redacted] looking for new DMP clients, and helping Manafort pull material together to pitch Donald Trump on becoming campaign manager. Roger Stone and Tom Barrack were acting as liaisons between Manafort and Trump in an effort to get Manafort hired by the campaign. Barrack had a good relationship with Ivanka Trump.

Tom Barrack described to Mueller how Manafort asked for his help getting hired on Trump’s campaign in that same month, January 2016.

But Manafort may have started on this plan even before January 2016. Sam Patten told SSCI Kilimnik knew of the plan in advance. Patten’s explanation of his involvement in the Mueller investigation describes Ukrainian Oligarch Serhiy Lyovochkin asking him about it in late 2015.

In late 2015, Lyovochkin asked me whether it was true that Trump was going to hire Manafort to run his campaign. Just as I told Pinchuk that Putin’s perception of America’s capabilities was ridiculous, I told Lyovochkin that was an absurd notion; that Trump would have to be nuts to do such a thing.

In any case, even before his hiring was public, on March 20, Manafort wrote his Ukrainian and Russian backers to let them know he had installed himself with the Trump campaign. He sent one of those letters to Oleg Deripaska, purportedly as a way to get the lawsuit Deripaska had filed against Manafort dropped.

Gates was shown an email between Gates and Kilimnik dated March 20, 2016 and four letters which were attached to this email. Gates stated he was the person who drafted the letters on Manafort’s behalf. Manafort reviewed and approved the letters.

Manafort wanted Gates to draft letters announcing he had joined the Trump Campaign. Manafort thought the letters would help DMP get paid by OB and possibly help confirm that Deripaska had dropped his lawsuit against Manafort. Manafort wanted Kilimnik to let Deripaska know he had been hired by Trump and he needed to make sure there were not lawsuits against him.

Gates was asked why Manafort could not have employed counsel to find out of the Deripaska lawsuit had been dropped. Gates stated Manafort wanted to send Deripaska a personal note and to get a direct answer from Deripaska. Gates also thought this letter was a bit of “bravado on Manafort’s part.”

Gates was asked if the purpose of the letter to Deripaska was to determine if the lawsuit had been dropped, why didn’t the letter mention the lawsuit. Gates stated that Manafort did not want to put anything about the lawsuit in writing.

This explanation, true or not (and it’s pretty clear the FBI didn’t believe it), is critical to the frothers because even before Christopher Steele started collecting information on Trump, he was collecting information on Manafort at the behest of Deripaska in conjunction with this lawsuit. And Steele was feeding DOJ tips about Deripaska’s lawsuit before he started feeding the FBI dirt paid for by Hillary’s campaign. The first meeting at which Steele shared dossier information with Bruce Ohr, for example, Steele also pushed the Deripaska lawsuit, and not for the first time.

Either the Deripaska lawsuit was a cover story Manafort used consistently for years (including through his “cooperation” with Mueller in 2018), or it was real. Whichever it was, it bespeaks some kind of involvement by Deripaska long before Hillary got involved. Viewed from that perspective, the dossier (and Deripaska’s presumed success at filling it with disinformation) was just part of a brutal double game that Deripaska was playing with Manafort, one that led Manafort to share campaign strategy and participate in carving up Ukraine, another event the frothers are trying to blame on the ever-devious Hillary. Whichever it is, the process by which a bunch of Putin allies in Ukraine knew Trump was going to hire Manafort before Trump did is a big part of the story.

But according to the frothers, Hillary Clinton is just that devious that she orchestrated all of this.