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Guest Post: We Need to Talk about DNS

[NB: This is a guest post by long-time community member WilliamOckham. Give him a shout in comments. /~Rayne]

For most people the Domain Name System (DNS) is one of the most boring topics imaginable. However the Department of Justice’s Special counsel John Durham – through a frothy mixture of technical incompetence and apparent malice in his published court filings – generated unusual interest in DNS from a lot of folks who’ve never thought about it before.

To understand DNS better, here’s an explanation simple enough even for lawyers who would like to keep their bosses from embarrassing them in federal court.

DNS is used to match and link domain names to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. When one device needs to connect to another device via the internet, it needs to know the other’s IP address. Humans generally prefer to use names. Remembering a person’s or business’s name is much easier than recalling a string of numbers ranging from 12 to 32 digits (32-bits for older IPV4 addresses and 128-bits for newer IPV6 addresses).

Image: Comparitech.com c. 2019

I’ll use “example.com” to illustrate a domain name. As you might guess, example.com is a special-use domain which isn’t resolved normally; it can be used to demonstrate how domain names work without inadvertently generating unnecessary DNS lookups.

It’s a lot easier to input www.example.com instead of 2606:2800:220:1:248:1893:25c8:1946 and certainly a lot easier to remember. However your device can’t possibly store the IP address of every damn server in the entire world just to make data entry easier.

Instead, every device on the internet stores the address of one of the thousands of DNS servers. Devices are usually configured to use a DNS server maintained by the internet service provider which provides connectivity for that device.

When your device needs to connect to www.example.com, it sends a DNS lookup request to its primary DNS server. That server doesn’t store the address of every server on the internet either. If you or someone else using that DNS server has asked for that address recently, the DNS server might know the address and send it back to you.

However if it doesn’t have an IP address for example.com, it will issue requests to other DNS servers, looking for one that does know the address. In a worst case scenario, the request ends up going to one of the root DNS servers. They can reach a DNS server for any domain name on the internet.

During the time period subject to Durham’s investigation, virtually all DNS lookups happened in the open, unencrypted. They were recorded by DNS servers. Each time a website address was typed into a browser’s address bar, a DNS server logged the IP address of the device requesting the IP address for some other server. DNS lookup data isn’t proprietary or secret.

Gathering, collating, and analyzing DNS lookup requests, however, is expensive and valuable. It’s a massive amount of data. Billions of DNS requests are issued every day. There are a few companies specializing in managing incredibly large amounts of DNS data. During the time period covered by Durham’s filings, Michael Sussman’s technology executive client (Tech Executive-1) at a U.S.-based Internet company (Internet Company1) worked for such a firm.

Having access to DNS data had nothing to do with hacking servers, spying, surveillance or anything else nefarious. It was part of Tech Executive-1’s job.

Tech Executive-1’s responsibilities included monitoring anomalies in Internet Company1’s DNS database. As one of Durham’s filings indicated, Tech Executive-1’s firm found “that between approximately 2014 and 2017, there were a total of more than 3 million lookups of Russian Phone-Provider-1 IP addresses that originated with U.S.-based IP addresses.”

Contra Durham, 3 million DNS requests for a related IP addresses over a four-year period means these requests are very rare.

For comparison purposes, my best estimate is that my family (7 users, 14 devices) generated roughly 2.9 million DNS requests just from checking our email during the same time frame. That’s not even counting DNS requests for normal web browsing.

If you’re going to make a federal case out of this, at least make some attempt to understand the topic.

Kash Patel Knew, and Did Nothing, about the Latest Durham-Related Frenzy

As predicted, the latest Durham filing has jacked up the frothy right. It even led the Former President to claim these actions should be “punishable by death.”

But the oddest statement came from “Former Chief Investigator for Russia Gate [sic]” and current key witness to an attempted coup, Kash Patel, sent out by the fake Think Tank that hosts some of the former Trumpsters most instrumental in covering up for Trump corruption.

Taken literally (which one should not do because it is riddled with false claims), the statement is a confession by Kash that he knew of what others are calling “spying” on Trump and did nothing to protect the President.

Let’s start, though, by cataloguing the false claims made by a man who played a key role in US national security for the entirety of the Trump Administration.

First, he claims that the Hillary Campaign, “ordered … lawyers at Perkins Coie to orchestrate a criminal enterprise to fabricate a connection between President Trump and Russia.” Thus far, Durham has made no claims about any orders coming from the Hillary Campaign (and the claim that there were such orders conflicts with testimony that Kash himself elicited as a Congressional staffer). The filing in question even suggests Perkins Coie may be upset about what Sussmann is alleged to have done.

Latham – through its prior representation of Law Firm-1 – likely possesses confidential knowledge about Law Firm-1’s role in, and views concerning, the defendant’s past activities.

In fact, in one of the first of a series of embarrassing confessions in this prosecution, Durham had to admit that Sussmann wasn’t coordinating directly with the Campaign, as alleged in the indictment.

Kash then claims that “Durham states that Sussmann and Marc Elias (Perkins Coie) … hired .. Rodney Joffe … to establish an ‘inference and narrative’ tying President Trump to Russia.” That’s false. The indictment says the opposite: Joffe was paying Perkins Coie, not the other way around. Indeed, Durham emphasized that Joffe’s company was paying Perkins Coie a lot of money.  And in fact, Durham shows that the information-sharing also went the other way. Joffe put it together and brought it to Perkins Coie. Joffe paid Perkins Coie and Joffe brought this information to them.

Kash then claims that “Durham writes that he has evidence showing Joffe and his company were able to infiltrate White House servers.” Kash accuses the Hillary Campaign of “mastermind[ing] the most intricate and coordinated conspiracy against Trump when he was both a candidate and later President.” This betrays either real deceit, or ignorance about the most basic building blocks of the Internet, because nowhere does Durham claim that Joffe “infiltrated” any servers. Durham, who himself made some embarrassing technical errors in his filing, emphasizes that this is about DNS traffic. And while he does reveal that Joffe “maintain[ed] servers for the EOP,” that’s not infiltrating. These claims amount to a former AUSA (albeit one famously berated by a judge for his “ineptitude” and “spying”) accusing a conspiracy where none has been charged, at least not yet. Plus, if Joffe did what Kash claims starting in July 2016, as Kash claims, then Barack Obama would be the one with a complaint, not Trump.

Finally, Kash outright claims as fact that Joffe “exploited proprietary data, to hack Trump Tower and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.” This claim is not substantiated by anything Durham has said and smacks of the same kind of conspiracy theorizing Louise Mensch once engaged in. Only, in this case, Kash is accusing someone who has not been charged with any crime — indeed, a five year statute of limitation on this stuff would have expired this week — of committing a crime. Again: a former AUSA, however inept, should know the legal risk of doing that.

Curiously, Kash specifies that the White House addresses involved were in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. That could well be true, but Durham only claims they were associated with EOP, and as someone who worked there, Kash should know that one is a physical structure and the other is a bureaucratic designation. But to the extent Kash (who has flubbed basic Internet details already) believes this amounted to hacking the EOP, it is based off non-public data.

So, like I said, the piece is riddled with false claims, but with two claims that go beyond anything Durham has said.

The statement is all the stranger given that Kash Patel knew about these allegations four years ago, at a time when he was one of the most powerful Congressional staffers on matters pertaining to intelligence.

And he did nothing about them.

Well. He did do something.

He started this line of inquiry — brought it up entirely out of the blue — in an interview of Michael Sussmann largely focused on Sussmann’s response to a hostile attack by Russia.

About a quarter of the way into an interview on December 18, 2017, after Sussmann debunked the frothy right’s conspiracy theory about the DNC being unwilling to share information with the FBI (which was a central focus of the interview), a staffer veered away from that line of questioning and asked about other meetings. Sussmann answered the questions that someone interested in cybersecurity would have wanted to know: how does the government share information with a high-profile victim of a nation-state attack?

Q Thats helpful. Thank you Going over to – moving on from CrowdStrike and the FBI, did you ever have any interactions with any other government agencies in relation to the DNC hack, Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, or anything like that, or any members of any government agencies?

A So.yes. For the intrusion, I believe our contacts initially and for a while were only with the FBI. And there came a time when we got involved with the Department of Homeland Security, and had a variety of ongoing meetings with them for various purposes. We reached out to State officials, to the State — Association of Chief Information Officers from the States.

But that’s not what this staffer was interested in. This staffer was thinking big.

Q Did you meet with anybody else, any members of the Intelligence Community, either officially or unofficially, to discuss these matters?

MS. RUEMMLER: With respect to the DNC?

Q The DNC, the 2016 Russia election, all things that fit under that sort of general big title.

Sussmann, perhaps sensing this staffer was about to deliver a gotcha, noted that he didn’t always know who was in a room.

A So let me provide one general exception. I had meetings and calls with the FBI when there were a lot of people in the room, and I don’t necessarily know —

Q Yeah, I don’t mean that.

A — who was there.

That’s not what this staffer was after either. The staffer wanted to know about a meeting Sussmann had with the CIA.

Q I don’t mean the FBI. I don’t mean those big conference calls or anything like that. I mean, did you have any engagements with any members of the Intelligence Community, not the FBI, one-on-one, or in small groups, or telephone calls, or communications with folks, say, such as the Central Intelligence Agency?

Sussmann responded as to the subject of the interview, the DNC hack: no, all the meetings were with FBI or DHS. That’s when the staffer in question revealed he wanted to know about other topics.

A I think as regards to the I think all of the hacking ~ I think all of the hacking stuff was limited to the FBI and DHS.

Q Okay. So you never had any communications with members of the CIA [redacted] discussing the ~ not only the hack, but also the possible Russian intrusion and Russian involvement in the 2016 election?

That’s when Kathryn Ruemmler, representing Sussmann, referred to the staffer in question by name: Kash. This line of questioning was done by Kash Patel (which isn’t surprising, seeing as how at the time he was the “Chief Investigator for Russia Gate [sic].”

MS. RUEMMLER: Kash, just to clarify, you’re talking about the 2016 timeframe here? [my emphasis]

The staffer now identified as Kash continued, making it clear he already knew the answer to the question he was asking. He already knew about this meeting.

Q Well, that’s when that incident occurred. I’m asking if you ever have from that time until today?

A So I have — I have various contacts with members of law enforcement and the Intelligence Community on behalf of a number of different clients. So I’m not sure how to —

Q Sure. I’ll narrow it down for you. Fair enough. As it relates to what you and I have been talking about here today

A Right

Q –that is, the DNC hack, the Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and any information that was derived therefrom, did you meet or discuss with any members of the Intelligence Community outside of the FBI to provide information, talk to them about these matters? Did they reach out to you? Did anything like that ever happen in 2016 or 2017

With her client having been asked about a topic that wasn’t among the topics he had prepared to discuss or among the clients whose privileged matters he had gotten prior authorization to discuss and apparently worried about ethical issues, Ruemmler asked if she and Sussmann need to take a minute to confer.

MS. RUEMMLER: Do you want to confer for a second?

MR. SUSSMANN: I just want to talk about the range of – I have a lot of different clients, and since we’ve just spoken —

MS. RUEMMLER: As long as you don’t reveal identity of them, which You’re not permitted to do under the rules, or any content.

MR. SUSSMANN: Can we step outside and talk about how to deal with the range of clients?

MS. RUEMMLER: Yes.

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. SUSSMANN: Thank you.

At this point, if Sussmann were really hiding this stuff (as John Durham claims), he could have refused to answer the question, citing that privilege and the off-topic question. But Sussmann didn’t do that. He consulted with Ruemmler (something that Durham is now making a stink about), then came back in the room, noted that Kash had asked an off-topic question, but nevertheless answered honestly.

[The reporter read the record as requested.]

MR. SUSSMANN: So I’m not clear as to the scope of what you’re asking your question, but I’m going to be sort of more expansive in my answer, because there’s nothing — you said in relation to the things that we discussed today, and this is not something we’ve discussed today.

But I did have — I don’t believe I had — s0 two things. I don’t believe I had — I didn’t have direct contact with [NSA] butI can relate to you some indirect contacts with [NSA]. And I had a meeting [at CIA] as well.

That’s what Kash was looking for.

Okay.

Sussmann explained, noting that this was classified.

A The [NSA] contact related to specifically my representation of the DNC, and my contact [with CIA] did not relate to my specific representation of the DNC, or the Clinton campaign, or the Democratic Party. And I also — I’m not — I will do the best that I can with you. I think there are limits to what I can discuss in an unclassified setting.

Kash asked about the CIA meeting.

Q Okay, fair enough. What was your contact [with CIA] about?

A So the contact [with CIA] was about reporting to them information that was reported to me about possible contacts, covert or at least nonpublic, between Russian entities and various entities in the Untied States associated with the — or potentially associated with the Trump Organization.

Q And when did that contact [with CIA] occur, month and year?

A February 2017.

Q Where did you get that information from to relay to [CIA]?

A From a client of mine.

Q Why did you go [to CIA]

After Ruemmler interrupted again to remind Sussmann not to violate privilege, he explained that he reached out on this front because he knew of Obama’s effort to get a review of potential Russian involvement in the election.

Q You did say, right, that you had — you’d received information from a client — I’m not asking who — that may be germane to the 2016 election and associates of the Trump campaign or people affiliated with the Trump campaign.

So my follow-up question was, why did you go to [CIA] with this information?

A Oh, I’m sorry. And I apologize. I remember what I was going to say. It was — it was, in large part, in response to President Obama’s post-election IC review of potential Russian involvement in the election. And in that regard, I had made outreach prior to the change in administration in 2016. And for reasons known and unknown to me, it took a long time to — or it took — you know, it took a while to have a meeting, and so it ended up being after the change in administration.

The line of questioning continued later with someone else, because Kash had to leave. In those questions, Sussmann factually answered the information came from a client he had represented before the DNC, and admitted he had the information prior to the election. He explained his motive for sharing the information with James Baker (which led the FBI to be able to intervene and prevent the NYT from publishing, something Durham didn’t bother to investigate before indicting Sussmann) and CIA. He admitted that Perkins Coie still represented the DNC when he met with the CIA, though he wasn’t doing work for them anymore. And, in a passage that will be a focal point of the trial, he described how he and Joffe decided together to share this information.

Q Okay. I want to ask you, so you mentioned that your client directed you to have these engagements with the FBI and [CIA] and to disseminate the information that client provided you. Is that correct?

A Well I apologize for the double negative. It isn’t not correct, but when you say my client directed me, we had a conversation, as lawyers do with their clients, about client needs and objectives and the best course to take for a client.

And so it may have been a decision that we came t0 together. I mean, I don’t want to imply that I was sort of directed to do something against my better judgment, or that we were in any sort of conflict, but this was — I think its most accurate to say it was done on behalf of my client.

In other words, Kash and his colleagues have known the outlines of this for over four years.

At the time, and in his next job at NSC, Kash would have had ready access to the CIA for more details about the meeting — indeed, he came into this interview knowing about it already.

At the time, and in his next job at NSC, and in his next job as DOD Chief of Staff, Kash would have had knowledge of Rodney Joffe’s contracts with FBI and NSA.

At the time, and in his next job at NSC, and in his next job as DOD Chief of Staff, Kash would have had access to the DARPA contract, which got extended afterwards.

In his comment, the Former President said that “those who knew about this” should be subject to criminal prosecution. And Kash Patel was, at all moments between December 2017 and January 2021, not only aware of the outlines and the players, but he did nothing.

Whatever else this kerfuffle has done, it has made Kash’s exposure as a witness in this case quite dicey. Because not only is Kash a witness that Sussmann was not hiding what he did, but he is someone who for years was in a position to do something about it, and he did nothing.

John Durham, Ask Not for Whom the Statute of Limitation Tolls …

As he did with Igor Danchenko, John Durham has raised a potential conflict as a way to air his conspiracy theories so he can jack up the frothy right. In this case, he describes an uncharged meeting at which Michael Sussmann, who no longer had anything to do with the DNC, shared an updated version of the Alfa Bank allegations with the CIA on February 9, 2017.

The Indictment further details that on February 9, 2017, the defendant provided an updated set of allegations – including the Russian Bank-1 data and additional allegations relating to Trump – to a second agency of the U.S. government (“Agency-2”). The Government’s evidence at trial will establish that these additional allegations relied, in part, on the purported DNS traffic that Tech Executive-1 and others had assembled pertaining to Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s New York City apartment building, the EOP, and the aforementioned healthcare provider. In his meeting with Agency-2, the defendant provided data which he claimed reflected purportedly suspicious DNS lookups by these entities of internet protocol (“IP”) addresses affiliated with a Russian mobile phone provider (“Russian Phone Provider-1”). The defendant further claimed that these lookups demonstrated that Trump and/or his associates were using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House and other locations. The Special Counsel’s Office has identified no support for these allegations. Indeed, more complete DNS data that the Special Counsel’s Office obtained from a company that assisted Tech Executive-1 in assembling these allegations reflects that such DNS lookups were far from rare in the United States. For example, the more complete data that Tech Executive-1 and his associates gathered – but did not provide to Agency-2 – reflected that between approximately 2014 and 2017, there were a total of more than 3 million lookups of Russian Phone-Provider-1 IP addresses that originated with U.S.-based IP addresses. Fewer than 1,000 of these lookups originated with IP addresses affiliated with Trump Tower. In addition, the more complete data assembled by Tech Executive-1 and his associates reflected that DNS lookups involving the EOP and Russian Phone Provider-1 began at least as early 2014 (i.e., during the Obama administration and years before Trump took office) – another fact which the allegations omitted.

The frothy right is very excited that, among the data that someone heavily involved in cybersecurity like Rodney Joffe would have ready access to, was data that included the White House. They seem less interested that, to disprove the allegations Sussmann presented, Durham effectively (in their frothy minds) conducted the same “spying” on EOP networks of President Obama that Durham insinuates Joffe did of Trump.

Remember: This meeting is not charged. It’s not clear such a meeting with the CIA could be charged. Durham presents zero evidence Sussmann knows anything about the comparative value of this data, either.

That’ll become important in a bit.

The conflicts Durham raises to justify this filing are a bit more interesting than the ones he raised with Danchenko. Latham Watkins used to represent Perkins Coie and Marc Elias in this matter, now they represent just Sussmann, and Elias will be asked to testify about instructions Sussmann got about billing records in his representation of the DNC. Latham represented the DNC. Latham represented Sussmann in December 2017 House Intelligence testimony that significantly undermines Durham’s indictment (and shows that the allegations at the core of this indictment originally came from Kash Patel, who by the time of trial may be charged for his participation in helping Trump attempt a coup). Latham also provided Perkins Coie advice regarding a PR statement that, Durham admits, he’s not been able to pierce the privilege of and he knows those who made the statement had no knowledge that could implicate the statement in a conspiracy. Somebody on Sussmann’s team used to work at the FBI and then worked for the White House. Those are the conflicts — more substantive than the ones Durham raised about Danchenko, but probably nothing that problematic.

Which makes the relative timing of this filing all the more interesting.

With Danchenko, Durham raised the potential conflict, first, at a status hearing less than two weeks after Stuart Sears filed a notice of appearance for Danchenko, and then again, in a filing two weeks after Sears filed, for a less pressing imagined conflict involving different lawyers in Sears’ firm.

With Sussmann, Durham waited for almost five months after indicting Sussmann to raise the conflict, even though all but one element of the imagined conflict would have been immediately apparent to Durham, not least that Latham had previously represented Elias.

That doesn’t seem to reflect any real burning concern about this conflict.

But, as noted, it did give Durham an excuse to float previously unreleased information that may not even come in at trial, given that it’ll have to be presented as 404(b) evidence and it, in fact, as presented, undermines the claim that Sussmann was hiding his ties to Hillary from the Federal government.

If the information doesn’t come in at trial, this may be Durham’s only chance to jack up the frothy right with it.

And that’s interesting because of the date of that CIA meeting: February 9, 2017, five years and two days before Durham filed this belated notice of a conflict.

As I keep noting, Durham is obviously trying to pull his fevered conspiracy theories into an actual charged conspiracy, one tying together the DNC, Fusion GPS, Christopher Steele, and Hillary herself. If he succeeds, these flimsy charges (against both Sussmann and Danchenko) become stronger, but if he doesn’t, he’s going to have a harder time proving motive and materiality at trial.

After charging Sussmann on almost the last possible date before the statute of limitations expired for his claimed lie to the FBI, though, Durham would need something on which to hang a continuing conspiracy to be able to charge the others. One of those events could have been the PR statement issued in 2018, which Durham says is inaccurate.

Privilege logs and redacted emails obtained from Law Firm-1 in this investigation reflect that in the days before the issuance of these statements, Latham attorneys sent, received, and/or were copied on correspondence relating to the drafting and dissemination of the statements. (Much of the substance of those emails was redacted and withheld from the Special Counsel’s Office pursuant to Law Firm-1’s assertion of attorney-client privilege and attorney work product protections). Because the defendant was aware of and/or reviewed these media statements, the Government may seek to offer them as evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b) or other provisions of law to establish that the defendant sought to conceal the Clinton Campaign’s ties to the Russian Bank-1 allegations from the FBI and others.3

3 According to counsel for Law Firm-1, the attorneys at Law Firm-1 and Latham who participated in drafting and/or reviewing these statements were unaware at the time that the defendant had billed work on the Russian Bank-1 allegations to the Clinton Campaign.

Except, as laid out here, none of the Perkins Coie people involved in writing the statement knew how Sussmann had billed his time. And Durham hasn’t found a reason to otherwise pierce the privilege claims that went into the drafting of the statement.

So that’s probably not going to work to establish his continuing conspiracy.

The other event on which Durham might have hung a continuing conspiracy was that February 9 meeting. It involved updated work from Joffe, after all. And Durham claims Sussmann again deliberately hid who his client was rather than (as he now knows Sussmann did for tips from Jofffe that had nothing to do with Donald Trump) just shared a tip anonymously.

But instead of rolling out what Sussmann presented in that February 9 meeting five years and two days ago in a conspiracy indictment, Durham instead packaged it up in a filing pertaining to a potential conflict. This February 9 meeting, it appears, won’t be the hook on which Durham gets to charge a conspiracy.

I’m not saying that Durham won’t be able to pull together his grand conspiracy. He might next point to testimony in Congress (possibly Glenn Simpson’s) to claim that there was some grand cover-up of what he imagines was an attempt to smear Donald Trump. Except, as this filing admits, Sussmann’s sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee shows that when asked — by future coup investigative subject Kash Patel — Sussmann testified consistently with sharing this information on behalf of Joffe, which is what Sussmann’s currently operative story remains. Durham did suggest he thinks he can show Sussmannn misled members of Congress because he claims it was, “knowingly and intentionally misleading insofar as it failed to disclose that the defendant billed work on the Russian Bank-1 allegations to the Clinton Campaign,” except (as with the alleged lie more generally) that’s not what he was asked about.

By all means, John Durham, make Kash Patel a witness at your trial. Give Sussmann an opportunity to ask how Kash came to learn of this meeting in the first place, to say nothing about whether Kash has recently been involved in efforts to overthrow the US government.

Whatever Durham hopes to use to sustain the claim of a continuing conspiracy, this filing seems to concede that the lies Durham claims Sussmann told in that meeting that took place five years and a few days ago will not be charged.

Ask not for whom the statute of limitations toll, John Durham. They toll for you.

By Popular Demand: John Durham Claims His Memory Is More Skewed than James Baker’s

I’ve already written three posts about last week’s remarkable filings (one, two) by John Durham. First I showed that John Durham didn’t even know about a prior anonymous tip Michael Sussmann shared with DOJ (in this case, the Inspector General) on behalf of Rodney Joffe, showing that four months after Durham indicted Sussmann, he still has no understanding of the normal relationship between Sussmann, Joffe, and DOJ. Then I marveled that Durham would take a junket to Italy to get Joseph Mifsud’s dated phones but never walk across DOJ to get the James Baker phones he had forgotten that DOJ IG had. Finally, I offered a possible explanation for Durham’s confession that April Lorenzen thinks his lawyers have been bullying her.

But in spite of the multiple ways I’ve covered these serial confessions of some weaknesses to Durham’s case, I’ve gotten multiple requests for something else: A comparison of how Durham now describes his own frail memory with what he claims about Baker’s.

As I laid out here, Durham is forced to deal with the fact that his single witness against Sussmann gave sworn testimony that materially conflicts with the allegations against Sussmann. To do so, Durham will (and already has) argued that Baker’s descriptions of the a September 2016 meeting he had with Sussmann closer to the date of the meeting are less reliable than the ones after more time passed.

As an initial matter, the defendant’s motion provides a skewed portrayal of the purported Brady evidence at issue by cherry-picking excerpts from the substantial discovery the Government has already provided to the defense. The defendant, for example, alleges that FBI General Counsel James Baker “contradict[ed] the Special Counsel’s allegation that Mr. Sussmann affirmatively [said] he was not meeting with him on behalf of any clients” in (i) a 2019 interview with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, and (ii) a 2020 interview with the Special Counsel team. (Mot. at 3). But as the defendant is aware from discovery, both of those interviews occurred years after the events in question, and Mr. Baker made these statements before he had the opportunity to refresh his recollection with contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous notes that have been provided to the defense in discovery. Indeed, the defendant’s motion entirely ignores law enforcement reports of Mr. Baker’s subsequent three interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office in which he affirmed and then re-affirmed his now-clear recollection of the defendant’s false statement.

Durham is actually soft-pedaling the extent of the problem. He’s saying that Baker’s memory in two separate appearances in 2018 (two years after the meeting), an appearance in 2019 (three years after the meeting), and the first meeting with Durham in 2020 (almost four years after the meeting) is less reliable than four later interviews, conducted under threat of prosecution, with Durham’s team.

Whatever: According to Durham — at least when it comes to key witnesses whose testimony you need to say a certain thing to fit your conspiracy theory — refreshed memory is better than memory closer to the events.

But here’s what Durham says — when trying to correct an earlier incorrect statement — about his own memory:

Paragraph 10(a)(ii) states: “[I]n early January 2022, the Special Counsel’s Office learned for the first time that the OIG currently possesses two FBI cellphones of the former FBI General Counsel to whom the defendant made his alleged false statement, along with forensic reports analyzing those cellphones.” Id. The Government wishes to provide some additional context for this statement.

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s Office’s public filing, the DOJ Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) brought to our attention based on a review of its own records that, approximately four years ago, on February 9, 2018, in connection with another criminal investigation being led by then-Acting U.S. Attorney Durham, an OIG Special Agent who was providing some support to that investigation informed an Assistant United Attorney working with Mr. Durham that the OIG had requested custody of a number of FBI cellphones. OIG records reflect that among the phones requested was one of the two aforementioned cellphones of the thenFBI General Counsel. OIG records further reflect that on February 12, 2018, the OIG Special Agent had a conference call with members of the investigative team, including Mr. Durham, during which the cellphones likely were discussed. OIG records also reflect that the OIG subsequently obtained the then-FBI General Counsel’s cellphone on or about February 15, 2018. Special Counsel Durham has no current recollection of that conference call, nor does Special Counsel Durham currently recall knowing about the OIG’s possession of the former FBI General Counsel’s cellphones before January 2022. [my emphasis]

For witnesses under threat of prosecution, Durham says, refreshed memory is better than the original.

For Special Counsels caught in a false statement, however, that kind of refreshment is useless for reminding someone of inconvenient facts.

John Durham Flew to Italy to Get Joseph Mifsud’s Blackberries But Never Walked Across DOJ to Obtain James Baker’s Phones He Forgot He Knew Were There

Back in 2019, when John Durham undercut DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s conclusion that, for all the problems in the Carter Page FISA, the investigation itself was properly predicated and there was no evidence that the investigation into Trump’s associates had been politicized, Durham pointed to what he claimed was the broader scope of his own investigation that gave him reason to believe the predication was not clearcut.

I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff.  However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department.  Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.  Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.

Durham pointed both to his review of other agencies — such as the CIA review he has now completed without results — and the boondoggles he took with Billy Barr overseas as the basis (he claimed) to know more than Michael Horowitz.

Durham’s statement came shortly after he obtained two Blackberriesone dating to 2011 and the other to 2014 — that once belonged to Joseph Mifsud. By all reports, the George Papadopoulos conspiracy theories that Barr and Durham were chasing on the trip to Italy where they got those phones amounted to nothing. Taxpayers paid for Durham to fly overseas to collect information that predates the Russian operation by years, all because a sworn liar invented excuses for his crime after the fact.

It’s not that Horowitz ignored the Coffee Boy’s conspiracy theories. Rather than taking a junket to Italy to rule out Papadopoulos’ fevered speculation, Horowitz just looked in the FBI’s informant database and called the CIA.

164 During October 25, 2018 testimony before the House Judiciary and House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Papadopoulos stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG official was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos testified that Mifsud provided him with information about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hilary Clinton. Papadopoulos raised the possibility during his Congressional testimony that Mifsud might have been “working with the FBI and this was some sort of operation” to entrap Papadopoulos. As discussed in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHS), and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. In Chapter Ten, we also note that the FBI requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from the agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with the agency and the agency had no derogatory information on Mifsud.

[snip]

484 Papadopoulos has stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud, and has raised the possibility that Mifsud may have been working with the FBI. As described in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency and received no information indicating that Mifsud had a relationship with that agency or that the agency had any derogatory information concerning Mifsud.

This comparison is one reason it is so damning that Durham just admitted that he never sought to obtain (and falsely claims he never knew about) two phones formerly used by James Baker that were in the custody of DOJ IG all that time.

[I]n early January 2022, the Special Counsel’s Office learned for the first time that the OIG currently possesses two FBI cellphones of the former FBI General Counsel to whom the defendant made his alleged false statement, along with forensic reports analyzing those cellphones. Since learning of the OIG’s possession of these cellphones, the Government has been working diligently to review their contents for discoverable materials. The Government expects to make those materials available to the defense later this week.

The John Durham investigation made a big effort to obtain two dated phones based on a conspiracy theory, but didn’t even seek to obtain phones he should have known were in DOJ possession before indicting someone based off the single witness testimony of that person. Crazier still, in an update to the Court, Durham admitted that he learned but then forgot that Horowitz had obtained one of them during his prior investigation of Baker for a suspected leak.

This is not the only damning admission of investigative negligence in John Durham’s request for an extension of the deadline — which turns out to be a request for the deadline he originally requested — for what he calls discovery (but what is actually basic investigative steps he should have taken long before indicting Sussmann).

For example, in his indictment of Michael Sussmann, Durham gives the impression that Rodney Joffe only obtained data from the US in 2016 to hunt down damning data about Donald Trump. But in response to a Sussmann request, Durham conducted a review of all the 17,000 unclassified emails involving the email domain from one of Joffe’s companies, finding 226 from 2016 alone that pertain to this issue. As Sussmann has argued, lying to hide Joffe’s involvement in this would be counterproductive given how closely he works with FBI.

[T]o the extent the Indictment alleges that the FBI General Counsel and FBI might have done various things like ask “further questions,” taken additional or more incremental steps,” “allocated its resources differently or more efficiently,” or “uncovered more complete information” but for Mr. Sussmann’s purported false statement, the Special Counsel should be required to particularlize those potential questions, additional steps, resource allocations, or more complete information. Id. This is particularly necessary because [Joffe] — far from being a stranger to the FBI — was someone with whom the FBI had a long-standing professional relationship of trust and who was one of the world’s leading experts regarding the kinds of information that Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI. The notion that the FBI would have been more skeptical of the information had it known of Tech Executive-1’s involvement is, in a word, preposterous.

Similarly, the indictment makes much of the fact that Sussmann shared information with the NYT that ultimately led to an infamous October 31 story. It suggests without evidence that Sussmann — or even the Congressional sources who obviously played a role in the story — were the only ones pushing the Alfa Bank story to the NYT. It further suggests, falsely, that all the material NYT obtained on Alfa Bank came from Joffe’s effort. Crazier still, until Sussmann asked, Durham hadn’t pulled the details from a meeting the FBI (one that included James Baker and Bill Priestap, almost certain to be witnesses at Sussmann’s trial) had with the NYT.

On September 27, November 22, and November 30, 2021, the defense requested, in substance, “any and all documents including the FBI’s communications with The New York Times regarding any of [the Russian Bank-1] allegations in the fall of 2016.” In a subsequent January 10, 2022 letter, the defense also asked for information relating to a meeting attended by reporters from the New York Times, the then-FBI General Counsel, the then-FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, and the then-FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs. In response to these requests, the Special Counsel’s Office, among other things, (i) applied a series of search terms to its existing holdings and (ii) gathered all of the emails of the aforementioned Assistant Director for Public Affairs for a two-month time period, yielding a total of approximately 8,900 potentially responsive documents. The Special Team then reviewed each of those emails for relevant materials and produced approximately 37 potentially relevant results to the defense.

Pulling these records would have been just the first step Durham should have taken to figure out what other entities might have been pushing this story to the NYT and what specific allegations those entities were pushing to test some of the insinuations Durham makes in the indictment. Yet Durham never thought to look for these records before he indicted Sussmann.

Still, Durham’s failure to do anything to understand what DOJ IG had done in its parallel investigation is the most remarkable.

Before Durham was formally appointed, Billy Barr’s top aide Seth DuCharme seemed to be attempting to deconflict the investigation by bringing the two men together to talk about scope.

Perhaps Durham’s public rebuke of Horowitz undermined any cooperation since then (though Durham was certainly happy to take the Kevin Clinesmith case that Horowitz had wrapped up in a bow and claim it as his only visible sign of life for years).

But according to Durham’s filing, he didn’t reach out to Horowitz’s office until three weeks after indicting Sussmann (and perhaps more importantly, less than four weeks before indicting Igor Danchenko, in whose prosecution the DOJ IG investigation plays a central role). Durham presents his team reaching out to another unit at DOJ that he knew to have relevant material as some great feat of diligence rather than something he should have done years earlier.

On October 7, 2021, at the initiative of the Special Counsel’s Office, the prosecution team met with the DOJ Inspector General and other OIG personnel to discuss discoverable materials that may be in the OIG’s possession. The Special Counsel’s office subsequently submitted a formal written discovery request to the OIG on October 13, 2021, which requested, among other things, all documents, records, and information in the OIG’s possession regarding the defendant and/or the Russian Bank-1 allegations. The Special Counsel also requested any transcripts or other documents within the OIG’s possession containing certain search terms. In response, the OIG provided, and the Government has produced to the defense in redacted form, relevant transcripts of interviews conducted by the OIG during its review of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

That’s what led Durham to discover, for the first time, the anonymous tip of the same sort — weird forensic data discovered by Joffe — that Sussmann shared with DOJ IG in the same time period Durham was investigating.

It wasn’t until Durham asked the FBI Inspection Division for call data associated with Baker’s phone this month that they told him — because Durham had apparently never asked, not even given the endless focus on Peter Strzok and Lisa Page texts Horowitz obtained way back in 2017 — that DOJ IG had two phones that Baker had used. After Durham publicly claimed not to have known about the phones, DOJ IG then informed him that he learned DOJ IG obtained one of them in 2018 during a different investigation of Baker.

Durham’s belated outreach to DOJ IG may in fact be what first led Durham to discover the interview DOJ IG did with Baker on July 15, 2019 — shortly after deconfliction meetings in advance of Durham’s appointment — in which Baker said something that materially conflicts with the statements Baker has made to Durham, statements that in fact confirm Sussmann’s story.

Durham also obtained a transcript — the only one he provided to Sussmann in unredacted form — about some other investigation that Horowitz is currently conducting.

the transcript of an interview conducted by the DOJ Office of Inspector General in connection with an administrative inquiry that is currently ongoing;

And now, part of the reason Durham is asking for a delay in his existing deadline is that requests of Horowitz he should have made at the beginning of any investigation into whether Sussmann falsely set up Trump are proving too onerous for DOJ IG (which is working on a slew of reports on events that aren’t five years past) to do on their own.

Third, in January 2022, the OIG informed the Special Counsel’s Office for the first time that it would be extremely burdensome, if not impossible, for the OIG to apply the search terms contained in the prosecution team’s October 13, 2021 discovery request to certain of the OIG’s holdings – namely, emails and other documents collected as part of the OIG’s investigation. The OIG therefore requested that the Special Counsel’s Office assist in searching these materials. The Government is attempting to resolve this technical issue as quickly as possible and will keep the defense (and the Court as appropriate) updated regarding its status.

At this point, four months after indicting Michael Sussmann and two years after claiming he knew better than Michael Horowitz, Durham doesn’t know whether he even consulted the same records that Horowitz did.

As noted, if the same is true with respect to the Danchenko case, it is potentially lethal to Durham’s case, because his investigative theory (which is that Danchenko is responsible for FBI’s failure to act on problems with the dossier) is fundamentally incompatible with Horowitz’s (which is that it was FBI’s fault for not acting).

Durham does know, however, that he didn’t consult something that Horowitz did: Baker’s actual phones.

And that may have a real impact at trial.

At a status conference, Durham’s prosecutors dismissed the possibility that they had bullied Baker into telling the story they wanted him to tell on threat of prosecution: that Sussmann affirmatively lied about having a client, which conflicts with several other claims he had previously made under oath. They said (in a scheduling motion), instead, that once Durham’s prosecutors refreshed Baker’s memory with notes from Bill Priestap and someone else he spoke with after the Sussmann meeting, Baker remembered that Sussmann had actually affirmatively lied.

Mr. Baker made these statements before he had the opportunity to refresh his recollection with contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous notes that have been provided to the defense in discovery. Indeed, the defendant’s motion entirely ignores law enforcement reports of Mr. Baker’s subsequent three interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office in which he affirmed and then re-affirmed his now-clear recollection of the defendant’s false statement.

Effectively, they claimed they had better information when questioning Baker than anyone previously had.

Durham is going to have to present that to the jury, probably through the testimony of one of the FBI agents involved.

But that claim only works if Durham’s team had a more complete record than Horowitz’s team did when they asked the same questions. Durham doesn’t know whether that’s true or not yet, because he never bothered to figure out what Horowitz had. The delay Durham wants to do investigative work he should have done years ago is a delay, in part, to see whether that claim has any basis in fact. (And at least in December, Durham had only provided a heavily redacted transcript of what went on between Baker and the IG.)

All parties know one thing, however: That when Horowitz conducted questioning of Baker in 2019 about this topic, unlike Durham, he had consulted with Baker’s own phone. Durham can no longer claim to have been more thorough than Horowitz, because he just admitted he didn’t even bother consulting Baker’s phones and is only now getting around to checking what else Horowitz might have consulted that he did not.

John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann on the last possible day he could have under the statutes of limitation. And now, he’s asking for a delay in discovery deadlines (if not a delay in Sussmann’s trial), so he can do basic investigative work he should have done before the statutes of limitation tolled.

Update: Judge Cooper has granted Durham’s extension.

Update: Holy shit it gets better! Durham just had to admit that, in an earlier investigation of Baker, he learned DOJ IG had obtained this phone.

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s Office’s public filing, the DOJ Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) brought to our attention based on a review of its own records that, approximately four years ago, on February 9, 2018, in connection with another criminal investigation being led by then-Acting U.S. Attorney Durham, an OIG Special Agent who was providing some support to that investigation informed an Assistant United [sic] Attorney working with Mr. Durham that the OIG had requested custody of a number of FBI cellphones. OIG records reflect that among the phones requested was one of the two aforementioned cellphones of the then-FBI General Counsel. OIG records further reflect that on February 12, 2018, the OIG Special Agent had a conference call with members of the investigative team, including Mr. Durham, during which the cellphones likely were discussed. OIG records also reflect that the OIG subsequently obtained the then-FBI General Counsel’s cellphone on or about February 15, 2018. Special Counsel Durham has no current recollection of that conference call, nor does Special Counsel Durham currently recall knowing about the OIG’s possession of the former FBI General Counsel’s cellphones before January 2022.

This post has been updated to reflect how Durham learned he already knew of the phones.

Timeline of Sussmann discovery

September 16, 2021: Michael Sussmann indictment

September 27: Sussmann asks for:

  • All evidence from wiretaps or eavesdropping (there appears to be none)
  • All communications regarding Sussmann’s security clearance reviews (900 pages)
  • Any documents pertaining to FBI treatment of anonymous tips (with repeated follow-ups)
  • All FBI communications with the NYT regarding Alfa Bank allegations in 2016 (with repeated follow-ups)
  • Materials regarding relationship between Joffe’s companies and government agencies; FBI results for 2016 result in 226 emails

October 7: Durham team meets with DOJ IG to discuss discoverable material in DOJ IG possession

October 13: Durham issues a formal discovery request to DOJ IG

October 13: Sussmann asks for Priestap’s notes

October 20: Sussmann reviews Priestap’s notes

October 25: Sussmann reply memo reveals he still hasn’t received taxi billing records and other identifiable Brady material, including an “unclassified grand jury testimony of an immunized witness, that either exculpate[s] Mr. Sussmann or conflict[s] with the core allegations that the Special Counsel has made against him”

October 29: Sussmann’s team obtains clearance

November 3: Igor Danchenko indictment

Week of November 15: Durham turns over some, but not all, of Baker’s statements, including conflicting DOJ IG fragment

November 22: Sussmann follow-up on request for FBI communications with NYT; after previously accepting June trial date, Durham proposes July 25

November 30: Sussmann follow-up on request for FBI communications with NYT; says Durham is missing some of the CIA employees in February 9, 2017 meeting

December 6: Sussmann moves for trial date, describing that Durham needs four more months for discovery

December 7: Durham response; Sussmann first gets Baker grand jury transcripts; just three grand jury transcripts provided by that point

December 8: Status conference at which Sussmann attorney reveals they’ve just seen Baker grand jury transcript

December 10: Sussmann asks for records “any records reflecting any consideration, concern, or threats from your office relating to those individuals’ or their counsels’ conduct. . . and all formal or informal complaints received by you or others”

December 14: Scheduling order

December 17: DOJ IG gives Durham forensic report arising from previous Sussmann tip

December 23: Durham gives Sussmann forensic report from DOJ IG tip

Early January 2022: OIG says it can’t get through the discovery on Crossfire Hurricane investigation by itself

January 5: Durham asks FBI Inspection Division about call log data for Baker’s phone

January 6:  FBI Inspection Division tells Durham that DOJ IG has Baker’s phones

January 7: Durham asks DOJ IG about the phones

January 10: DOJ IG provides the information on Baker’s phones; Sussmann asks for information regarding meeting with NYT, James Baker, Bill Priestap, and Michael Kortan (result did not come up on searches, so Durham had to search through 8,900 pages of Kortan’s records, resulting in 37 results)

January 20: Durham asks to have until “the end of March” for discovery (effectively, his originally requested deadline); Sussmann tells Durham he met with DOJ IG in person in March 2017 about anonymous tip

January 21: Sussmann response agreeing to February 11; DOJ IG confirms they did meet with Sussmann

January 25: Durham submits filing claiming he never knew DOJ IG had Baker’s phones (in response DOJ IG reminds Durham he already knew of one of the phones)

January 26: DOJ IG provides second forensic reports on the phones to Durham

January 28: Unclassified discovery originally due; Cooper grants extension to March 18 in the morning; Durham provides initial forensic reports to Sussmann and then (at 11:52PM) informs court he had previously been informed of Baker’s phone years ago

February 11: Classified discovery due

February 18: Motion to Dismiss due

March 18: 404(b) and remaining Jencks and Giglio due

March 25: Durham’s initial and second requested discovery deadline

May 16: Existing trial date

 

John Durham Had No Idea Michael Sussmann Provided Another Anonymous Tip on Behalf of Rodney Joffe

John Durham’s team has submitted a filing asking for an extension on its discovery deadlines in the Michael Sussmann case.

It’s interesting as a relief map of the conspiracy theory-oops-I-mean-charge that Durham is still pursuing in this case, made visible by the witnesses implicated whom Durham has yet to interview and by his repeated explanation that this is an ongoing investigation.

It’s also interesting because I can see clear gaps, gaps he may be trying to cover up by boasting of everything he has turned over. I’ll probably return to the gaps after his deadlines have passed.

Perhaps the most interesting disclosure is that Durham had no fucking clue that Sussmann provided a different anonymous tip to DOJ on behalf of Rodney Joffe, one of similar substance to this one. Sussmann alerted DOJ’s Inspector General that one of its employees was connecting to a foreign VPN, the same kind of meticulous forensic detail that Sussmann reported to the FBI regarding Alfa Bank.

On December 17, 2021, the OIG also provided to the prosecution team a written forensic report concerning a particular cyber-related matter that the defendant brought to the OIG’s attention in early 2017 on behalf of an anonymous client. In particular, the report reflects that in early 2017, the defendant reported to an OIG Special Agent in Charge that one of the defendant’s clients had observed that a specific OIG employee’s computer was “seen publicly” in “Internet traffic” and was connecting to a Virtual Private Network in a foreign country. At the time the OIG provided this forensic report to the Special Counsel in December 2021, the OIG represented to the prosecution team that it had “no other file[] or other documentation” relating to this cyber matter. The Government provided the report to the defense on December 23, 2021. Subsequent to this disclosure to the defense, the Special Counsel team has become aware of additional potentially discoverable materials in the OIG’s possession:

i. First, in a discovery call with the prosecution team on January 20, 2021 [sic], defense counsel informed the Government that the defendant met personally with the DOJ Inspector General in March 2017 when conveying the aforementioned cyber issue to the OIG. The defense further stated that the defendant’s client in that matter was Tech Executive-1, the same individual on whose behalf the Indictment alleges the defendant also met with the FBI in September 2016. Upon learning this information, the prosecution team promptly made further inquiries of the OIG. On the next day, January 21, 2021 [sic], the OIG informed the Special Counsel for the first time that the defendant in fact met in March 2017 with the Inspector General and his then-General Counsel concerning the above-described cyber matter. The OIG had not previously informed the Special Counsel’s Office of this meeting with the defendant. Over the past few days, including over this last weekend, the OIG has been gathering and providing further documentation and information relating to that meeting to the Special Counsel’s Office. Given the meeting’s potential relevance to the charges at hand, the Special Counsel’s Office will work expeditiously with the OIG to conduct interviews and to collect and disclose any further discoverable materials to the defense.

This is just one of three things that Durham’s team admits they’ve learned “for the first time” from Michael Horowitz’s office. But that — and other details in this filing — make it clear they’ve been blithely going along with their investigation without checking on the work that Horowitz did, to which this prosecution was supposed to be derivative. If the same is true of the Igor Danchenko case, Durham will have even bigger problems to deal with.

But this disclosure is far more damning than Durham lets on. That’s because he had already searched for everything he thought was discoverable. He had looked everywhere for discussions of Michael Sussmann within DOJ and FBI.

And he still had no idea, until four months after he indicted Sussmann for sharing a tip from Rodney Joffe about weird forensic data, that Sussmann had shared another tip about weird forensic data from Rodney Joffe during the same period under investigation.

Oh, by the way, Sussmann is also squeezing Durham for all the evidence that when FBI obtains anonymous tips it doesn’t track things like which Democratic lawyer reports them. <<wink>>

Durham has been so far down his little conspiracy rabbit hole he hasn’t looked around to understand what the norm is for Sussmann and Joffe.

Particularly given how the clock is ticking on his efforts to charge a larger conspiracy, without which this case is far weaker, it doesn’t bode well for Durham’s chances.

Update: I should add two things. First, Durham’s request to extend discovery until March would put that after Sussmann’s deadline for motions to dismiss, which is currently February 18. I have a sense that Sussmann wants this stuff before he writes that.

In addition, something else that Durham only discovered months after he indicted this case is that DOJ IG was sitting on two phones from James Baker, the sole witness to Sussmann’s alleged lie.

Second, in early January 2022, the Special Counsel’s Office learned for the first time that the OIG currently possesses two FBI cellphones of the former FBI General Counsel to whom the defendant made his alleged false statement, along with forensic reports analyzing those cellphones. Since learning of the OIG’s possession of these cellphones, the Government has been working diligently to review their contents for discoverable materials. The Government expects to make those materials available to the defense later this week.

It’s never a good sign to discover devices from the single witness four months after you’ve indicted the case.

John Durham Wants Permission to Delay Providing Evidence of How Weak His Michael Sussmann Case Is

Donald Trump’s insurrectionists may be the only thing that can save John Durham’s indictment of Michael Sussmann.

That’s because Durham seems to think he’ll need to have two extra months over what Sussmann gauges should be necessary, and permission to delay production of Brady materials, to sustain the single false statement charge over Sussmann. As a Sussmann motion to set a trial date submitted yesterday revealed, his team and Durham’s are having a significant disagreement over when the trial should be scheduled. Durham wants four months from now to turn over discovery and wants to schedule the trial for July, whereas Sussmann thinks the trial should be held in May.

Given two exhibits Sussmann included with this motion (and other publicly available documents), it’s easy to see why Durham wants more time.

That’s because Jim Baker has said at least four different things that conflict with the alleged lie that Durham claims Sussmann told in a September 19, 2016 meeting with then-FBI General Counsel Baker:

On or about September 19, 2016, SUSSMANN met with the FBI General Counsel at FBI Headquarters in the District of Columbia to convey the Russian Bank-1 allegations. No one else attended the meeting. During the meeting, the following, in substance and part, occurred:

SUSSMANN stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client, which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that SUSSMANN was conveying the allegations as a good citizen and not as an advocate for any client;

SUSSMANN stated that he had been approached by multiple cyber experts concerning the Russian Bank-1 allegations;

SUSSMANN provided the names of three cyber experts, but did not name or mention Tech Executive-1, the Clinton Campaign, or any other person or company referenced [in Durham’s indictment];

Durham has charged Sussmann with affirmatively lying about representing a client in that meeting.

In an earlier post, I argued that Durham probably hadn’t actually quoted what transpired in this meeting because his sources (meaning Baker, Bill Priestap’s hearsay notes of Baker’s account of the meeting, and some CIA personnel Sussmann met at a later meeting) offered different versions of what Sussmann actually said.

It’s quite possible that Durham has presented these allegations using such squishy language because what little evidence he has doesn’t actually agree on the claimed lies. That is, it may be that Baker believes Sussmann simply didn’t bother explaining which client he was working for, but Bill Priestap, the next in line in a game of telephone, differently understood from Baker’s report that Sussmann affirmatively failed to provide Baker information that (Priestap’s own notes prove) the FBI already had anyway, that he was working with Hillary Clinton.

But it’s far worse than that.

Jim Baker doesn’t agree with Jim Baker about what happened in the meeting. Baker has provided at least four different versions of his understanding of why Sussmann shared the Alfa Bank information with him (I’ve got longer excerpts below). At an October 3, 2018 interview with the Oversight Committee (where Baker brought it up), he said, “I don’t recall [Sussmann] saying that,” he worked for the DNC. At an October 10, 2018 interview with the Oversight Committee, he told Jim Jordan he didn’t “remember [Sussmann] saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client.” In a July 15, 2019 interview with DOJ IG, Baker explained that Sussmann said their meeting “related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients, who were, he described as I recall it, sort of cyber-security experts, had found about some strange connection between some part of Donald Trump’s organizations and Alfa Bank.” In a June 2020 interview with Durham’s team (which as a 302 may be less reliable than the other sources), Baker said, “it did not seem like Sussmann was representing a client. Baker repeated his earlier assertion that he did not know Sussmann was representing the DNC at the time and Sussmann did not advise him of that fact at this particular meeting.” Presumably, Baker testified to the grand jury, too, but that interview would have been after all of these earlier versions. In none of the publicly available versions of Baker’s story does Sussmann affirmatively say he was not representing the DNC or any other client, and in one case — the DOJ IG interview — Baker remembered Sussmann commenting that he had a client; and that version (which Sussmann wouldn’t have had access to before getting it in discovery) matches Sussmann’s public story.

As Sussmann noted in his filing, Durham dumped a whole bunch of discovery on him shortly after the indictment, but it has taken over two months to turn over the conflicting evidence that goes to the core of the alleged false statements.

While the Special Counsel has produced significant discovery since Mr. Sussmann’s Indictment, the Special Counsel has delayed in producing key evidence, which the Special Counsel was required to timely disclose under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Indeed, it was only last week—nearly two and a half months after Mr. Sussmann’s indictment, and in the face of persistent demands by Mr. Sussmann’s counsel—that the Special Counsel for the first time disclosed some (but not all) of Mr. Baker’s statements about the September 19, 2016 meeting.1

[snip]

1 Moreover, significant portions of the statements that were disclosed were redacted, an issue which defense counsel has raised with the Special Counsel.

Durham seems intent on similar delays in producing evidence undermining his case. Besides the two month date discrepancy, there are a few subtle but significant differences in their proposed schedules. In the proposed order scheduling order Sussmann has submitted, Durham would be, “under a continuing and ongoing obligation to provide defense counsel any favorable or exculpatory information (Brady), whether or not admissible in evidence, as soon as reasonably possible.” [my emphasis] Durham’s proposed version takes out the words, “as soon as reasonably possible.” Durham, of course, has already violated that part of Sussmann’s proposed scheduling order by sitting on multiple pieces of proof that have been in his and DOJ’s possession for over a year that undermine the claim Sussmann lied.

Durham may suspect the Brady discovery will make this indictment unsustainable. Durham’s more extended schedule would give Sussmann just two weeks after the final deadline for Brady discovery, from March 25 to April 8, to file the motion to dismiss he has already said he’d file. Sussmann’s more condensed schedule nevertheless gives himself three weeks, from January 28 to February 18, to incorporate classified Brady discovery into his motion to dismiss, and over a month, from January 14 to February 18, to incorporate unclassified Brady discovery.

From the start, I noted that this indictment really isn’t about the alleged false statement. Rather, Durham clearly wants to wrap this up into a grand Conspiracy to Defraud the US charge, incorporating Rodney Joffe, the researchers, Fusion GPS, and maybe Christopher Steele.

It’s not just that Durham is working on a theory that Sussmann deliberately dealt garbage to the FBI (which GOP sources also did on the Clinton Foundation) while trying to hide that fact. It’s that data originally sourced from the government was used in doing that research.

It’s actually the kind of argument that DOJ prosecutors typically succeed with. Except it’s all premised on proving that Sussman was trying to hide all this in his meeting with Baker. Even if the evidence surrounding the meeting weren’t so flimsy, this is another degree of motive that Durham is straining mightily to make.

Durham needs Sussmann to have lied, because a deliberate attempt to obscure the rest is necessary for his “storyline.” His evidence that Sussmann lied — much less, deliberately — is shoddy. But if he can’t get that, then his hopes for a larger “narrative” collapse.

So one thing Durham is likely trying to do with his delayed schedule is to buy time to try to make that claim stick. There are already several details that have been made public that show Durham will struggle to make this claim. Durham left out exculpatory details about the researchers in his indictment. The Federalist obtained — but downplayed — evidence that the researchers were not (as Durham insinuated in his indictment) involved with Fusion GPS.

Further, unlike Joffe, who worked hand-in-hand with Sussmann, according to Fusion GPS employee Laura Seago, who had worked on the Alfa project, she was not aware of anyone at Fusion GPS communicating with either [David] Dagon or [Manos] Antonakakis. And while she had heard Dagon’s name before, Seago first came across Antonakakis’s name in a newspaper article.

Antonakakis has not had any contact with Sussman, Marc Elias, or Fusion GPS, his lawyer Mark Schamel told The Federalist. “In this case,” Schamel added, “he reviewed a narrative presented to him by a well-known and respected researcher and provided his feedback, as he does for more than 100 unpublished research articles he receives every year.” Attorneys representing Lorenzen and Dagon did not return requests for comment.

Durham already confessed that he had no evidence Sussmann was working directly with the Hillary campaign on this. Most importantly, all the researchers believed and still believe that the Alfa Bank DNS data showed a real anomaly, and they first discovered it in a legitimate attempt to identify further attempts Russia made to tamper in the 2016 election. If that case were made to the jury, then Sussmann will be able to explain why Baker didn’t apparently think it all that important to ask who Sussmann was representing: because it was an alarming anomaly, no matter who brought it to the FBI.

Still, Durham is likely to get the time he wants. The backlog of trials for incarcerated pre-trial defendants in DC (including 70 or so January 6 defendants) will more likely dictate the trial date for Michael Sussmann than the substance of the dispute between the two of them.

Update: I should have also noted that Beryl Howell’s order tolling Speedy Trial because of COVID protocols will give Durham a way to get out of the 70 day Speedy Trial rule.


October 3, 2018 Oversight/HJC Interview

Mr. Baker. He told — he said that there had been — I’m not sure exactly how they originally learned about that information, but what he told me was that there were cyber — Mr. Meadows. I mean, is he a normal intel operative? How would he have come by this? Mr. Baker. He told me that he had cyber experts that had obtained some information that they thought they should get into the hands of the FBI.

[snip]

[Shen] Okay. So when Mr. Sussman came to you to provide some evidence, you were not specifically aware that he was representing the DNC or the Hillary Clinton campaign at the time? A I don’t recall, I don’t recall him specifically saying that at that time.

[snip]

Q Okay. So I guess it is just my interpretation, but I believe last round it was somewhat implied that if he did have an association to the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign that that might lead someone to believe that something improper was done. And I wonder if you could just explain to me, you know, why your view is that it was not improper because, just the mere notion that someone who is a Democrat or Republican, you know, comes to you with information, should that information somehow be discounted or considered less credible because of, you know, partisan affiliation? A Well, the FBI is responsible for protecting everybody in this country. Period, full stop. And we do that, without regard to who they are or what their political background is or anything else. If they believe they have evidence of a crime or believe they have been a victim of a crime, we will do what we can within our lawful authorities to protect them. And so when a citizen comes with evidence, we accept it. That is my, just general understanding over many, many years. We, the Bureau, we, the Department of Justice. And so that is how I construed what Michael was doing. It was, he believed he had evidence, again, either of a crime or of a national security threat, and he believed it was appropriate to provide it to us. When he did, I didn’t think there was anything improper about it whatsoever.

[snip]

Mr. Jordan. Okay. Do you know how Sussman got this material? Mr. Baker. What I recall is he told me that there were some cyber experts that somehow would come across this information and brought it somehow to his attention, and that they were alarmed at what it showed, and that, therefore, they wanted to bring it to the attention of the FBI. Mr. Jordan. Did he — Mr. Baker. They and Sussman. Mr. Jordan. They. Any names? Mr. Baker. I don’t think I ever found out who these experts were. Mr. Jordan. Did he indicate that he got this — may have got some of this information from the Democratic National Committee? Mr. Baker. I don’t recall him saying that. Mr. Jordan. Did you know when he was giving this information did you know he was working for — that he did extensive work for the DNC and the Clinton campaign? Mr. Baker. I am not sure what I knew about that at the time. I remember hearing about him in connection — when the bureau was trying to deal with the hack and investigating the hack, that my recollection is that Michael was involved in that process to some degree. I didn’t interact with him on that, so I am not sure if I knew that before this meeting or after, but I don’t recall him specifically saying —

October 18, 2018 Oversight/HJC Interview

Mr. Baker. To the best of my recollection, he told me that it had been obtained by some type of cyber experts, and I don’t know who — how they started their inquiry into this. But that is what he told me, that some certain cyber experts had obtained information about some anomalous looking thing having, to my knowledge, nothing to do with the dossier. But anyway — Mr. Jordan. Did he mention — did Fusion GPS play a role in him getting information that he subsequently gave to you? Mr. Baker. I don’t remember him mentioning Fusion GPS in connection with this material. Mr. Jordan. Did he mention at all when he was talking to you? Mr. Baker. Not to my recollection, no. Mr. Jordan. What about Glenn Simpson? Mr. Baker. Not on this thing, no. Mr. Jordan. How about Christopher Steele? Mr. Baker. No. Mr. Jordan. Okay. Did you meet with anyone else at Perkins Coie relative to this issue, Russia investigation issue?

[snip]

Mr. Baker. Yes, sir. And there was some effort — there was some belief that this was a — being conducted in a way so as to make it a covert communications channel. Mr. Jordan. Okay. And my first question would be how’d you get this? Did you ask that question? Mr. Baker. I did ask that question at a high level, yes. And he explained that he had obtained it from, again, cyber experts who had — who had obtained the information, and he said that the details of it would explain themselves. That’s my recollection. Mr. Jordan. And was he representing a client when he brought this information to you? Or just out of the goodness of his heart, someone gave it to him and he brought it to you? Mr. Baker. In that first interaction, I don’t remember him specifically saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client. Mr. Jordan. Did you know at the time that he was representing the DNC in the Clinton campaign? Mr. Baker. I can’t remember. I have learned that at some point. I don’t — as I think I said last time, I don’t specifically remember when I learned that. So I don’t know that I had that in my head when he showed up in my office. I just can’t remember. Mr. Jordan. Did you learn that shortly thereafter if you didn’t know it at the time? Mr. Baker. I wish I could give you a better answer. I just don’t remember. Mr. Jordan. I mean, I just find that unbelievable that the guy representing the Clinton campaign, the Democrat National Committee, shows up with information that says we got this, and you don’t ask where he got it, you didn’t know how he got it. But he got it from some, you know, quote, expert. Mr. Baker. Well, if I could respond to that. Mr. Jordan. Sure. Mr. Baker. I mean, so I was uncomfortable with being in the position of having too much factual information conveyed to me, because I’m not an agent. And so I wanted to get this — get the information into the hands of the agents as quickly as possible and let them deal with it. If they wanted to go interview Sussmann and ask him all those kind of questions, fine with me. Mr. Jordan. Did that happen? Mr. Baker. I don’t know that. But I — I mean, I — well, A, I did hand it off to the — to the investigators. Mr. Jordan. I think you told us you handed it off to Mr. Strzok and Mr. Priestap? Mr. Baker. My recollection is Mr. Priestap. Mr. Jordan. Okay. And you don’t know if they followed up or not? Mr. Baker. Bill Priestap told me that they did follow up extensively.

July 15, 2019 OIG interview

Did you generally have a sense that they represented, that their political law practice had a Democratic clientele?

MR. BAKER: Maybe I should have, but I didn’t really understand it at the time.

MS. TERZAKEN: Is that right?

MR. BAKER: I did not, no.

MS. TERZAKEN: Okay.

MR. BAKER: I came to understand, you know, that, that Perkins-Coie was playing a role with respect to the DNC hack. But the, the extensiveness of their contacts with the Democratic Party, I did not, at the time, have an understanding about, that I recall.

[snip]

MS. TERZAKEN: Okay. With Michael Sussman, your conversations with him before the election, if you could briefly describe how the conversations came about, what information he provided to you.

MR. BAKER: So, I’ll go into the Sussman stuff, yeah, okay. So he came in, he, he, all of this is gone over in the transcript with the committee, so I won’t, I’ll try to just summarize briefly. My basic recollection is, in some way, shape, or form, Michael reached out, and wanted to come in and meet with me. And so we scheduled that. So Michael came in and met with me. And he had some amount of information, physical evidence, printed out, and also a thumb drive or two, that he said related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients, who were, he described as I recall it, sort of cyber-security experts, had found about some strange connection between some part of Donald Trump’s organizations and Alfa Bank, which was described as being controlled by the Kremlin. And that it appeared to be the case that this was a, it was, it, it was surmised that this was a back-channel, what do you call it, a back-channel of electronic communications. That, that somehow the Trump organization and Alfa Bank were using this, what looked like a, basically a surreptitious channel to communicate with each other.

June 2020 Durham interview (302)

Sussmann arrived at Baker’s office alone and gave Baker some electronic media and some paper approximately one inch thick. He and Baker met alone in Baker’s office, with no one else present. Sussmann advised Baker that some cyber security researchers had discovered the information and brought it to Sussmann’s attention. The information purported to describe a digital relationship between the Trump organization and Alfa Bank, and Sussmann gave Baker a technical description of that relationship. Sussmann also told Baker he thought it was important for the FBI to have the information. Sussmann also told Baker that the press had the information. Baker said that Sussmann did not specify that he was representing a client regarding the matter, nor did Baker ask him if he was representing a client. Baker said it did not seem like Sussmann was representing a client. Baker repeated his earlier assertion that he did not know Sussmann was representing the DNC at the time and Sussmann did not advise him of that fact at this particular meeting. Baker also said he did not know Sussmann’s firm, Perkins Coie, represented the Hillary Clinton campaign. Baker does not recall Sussmann advising him of the rationale for the cybersecurity researchers bringing the information to him. Additionally, Baker recalls Sussmann telling him that he believed the information was serious and credible. Baker said the meeting with Sussmann lasted approximately 15-20 minutes and he described it as short and cordial. He did not feel there was anything inappropriate about Sussmann meeting with him and providing the information to him.

[snip]

Baker said he could not recall telling Priestap at that time that Sussmann represented the DNC and the Clinton Foundation, but he (Baker) may have known it at the time.