Russiagate, More Like Watergate

The indictment of Michael Sussmann sheds new light on the outrageous pre-election activities of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, which have a familiar ring

CNN Chief Media Reporter Brian Stelter hopped on the set of Reliable Sources last weekend, and offered his take on Special Counsel John Durham’s recent indictment of former Perkins Coie attorney Michael Sussmann, calling Durham’s probe a “total bust.” This was in the context of accusing other networks like Fox and OAN of a pattern of “lie, rinse, repeat.”

I was sick last week and didn’t get around to reading the Sussmann case until Tuesday. I can’t imagine Stelter has read it, since the whole thing is about complicity on his side of the media aisle in years of repeat errors and lies, including multiple editorial double-downs even after a major story was publicly exposed as factually incorrect. A long list of press figures — from Stelter’s own CNN colleague and shameless intelligence community spokesclown Natasha Bertrand, to reporters from The New Yorker, Time, MSNBC, Fortune, the Financial Times, and especially Slate and The Atlanticwere witting or unwitting pawns in a scheme to sell the public on a transparently moronic hoax, i.e. that Donald Trump’s campaign was communicating mysterious digital treason to Russia’s Alfa Bank via a secret computer server.

The story sounded absurd from the start, and was instantly challenged by experts. Even outlets normally hostile to Donald Trump like the New York Times and the Washington Post correctly steered clear of it initially. However, plenty of other reporters fell for it and kept falling for it, including Stelter’s own CNN. We’ve known this story was false since at least December 9th, 2019, when Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz told us that “the FBI investigated whether there were cyber links between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, but had concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links”:

Horowitz’s conclusion was particularly embarrassing for CNN, which cited “sources close to the investigation” in March of 2017 — well after the FBI had already decided there was nothing there, according to Horowitz — to report the “FBI investigation continues” into the “‘odd’ computer link.” Moreover, when the original main source for the Alfa story, a “computer expert” who went by the name “Tea Leaves,” refused CNN’s requests for an interview for that piece, the network explained in apparent seriousness that “fear has now silenced several of the computer scientists who first analyzed the data,” as if a combo squad of Russian spies and Trump goons might put bullets in their heads.

We find out from this indictment that those sources were terrified, all right, only not of Russians or Trump, but of being found out. In fact, the “academics” who were the sources for Franklin Foer’s original October 31, 2016 Slate article, “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?”, were so concerned a nonsense allegation of secret Trump-Russia communication wouldn’t pass a public smell test that one of them proposed faking the story to make them “appear to communicate,” literally using the word “faking” in an email.

They ended up not going that far, but the “research” they did produce was so weak that one of them complained that they couldn’t “technically make any claims that would fly public scrutiny,” even if reporters and others lived down to their expectations and proved “not smart enough to refute our ‘best case’ scenario.” The researcher’s email went on, in a line that summed up much of the Russiagate phenomenon:

The only thing that drives us at this point is that we just do not like [Trump]… Folks, I am afraid we have tunnel vision. Time to regroup?

The intrepid reporting heroes who bought this manure-sack from these people were the ones to whom Rachel Maddow said, with a straight face, “We are blessed to have journalists as talented as you… writing about this.”

The indictment makes a conspicuous point of elucidating a long list of characters in and around the Clinton campaign who were privy to Sussmann’s Trump-Alfa project. In one passage, Durham explains who’s on an email chain about the subject dated September 15, 2016, after Sussmann had given the story to the New York Times and four days before Sussmann would deliver it to the General Counsel of the FBI:

On or about September 15 , 2016, Campaign Lawyer-1 exchanged emails with the Clinton Campaign’s campaign manager, communications director, and foreign policy advisor concerning the Russian Bank-1 allegations that SUSSMANN had recently shared with Reporter-1.

Campaign Lawyer-1 is Marc Elias, the General Counsel for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Durham also lists former Clinton campaign manager and current Harvard fellow and House Majority PAC president Robby Mook, former Clinton communications director and current Showtime The Circus co-host Jennifer Palmieri, and former Clinton foreign policy advisor and current National Security Advisor to Joe Biden Jake Sullivan.

The indictment also mentions extensive email correspondence with Fusion-GPS, which eventually provided “another white paper… concerning purported ties between Russian Bank-1’s parent company and the Russian government.” This became part of the package Sussmann delivered to the FBI General Counsel on September 19th, in a hard copy that “contained no date or author’s name.” Sussmann allegedly didn’t mention the Clinton campaign, the Tech Executive, the academics, or Fusion-GPS, and told the FBI he was coming in as a “good citizen and not as an advocate for any client.”

There’s nothing in the indictment to say that any of these people were read in on the most damning communications with the Trump-Alfa sources, in which they talked about things like the story not passing “public scrutiny” or being a “red herring” that might best be “ignored.” There’s no proof, in other words, that someone like Jake Sullivan knew Sussmann was about to knowingly deliver a false story to the FBI.

However, it is a reasonable inference that the Clinton campaign knew the FBI was not going to be told they were Sussmann’s client. If the campaign’s general counsel Elias was looped in to all of Sussmann’s activities, and all of these aforementioned people knew Sussmann had both gone to the press and to the FBI with this story, I defy any of them to provide an innocent explanation for their failure to disclose that the Clinton campaign was the source of the story once it was made public.

These people didn’t just keep quiet about that fact, but actively lied to the public about it. The deception went all the way up to Hillary Clinton herself, who tweeted about the original report from Foer in Slate. Hillary’s tweet, which is still up — this should tell people a lot — contains a lengthy statement from Sullivan:

It’s been suggested that the case against Sussmann is weak because his alleged crime was lying to the FBI, when the FBI knew full well he was working for the Clinton campaign. This doesn’t exculpate Sussmann, it inculpates the FBI, for doing what it did throughout the Russiagate scandal: participating in the fiction that sources like Sussmann or Christopher Steele were financed by someone other than the Clinton campaign. In the Steele case, remember, the FBI went so far as to conceal the Clinton campaign’s role from the FISA court on at least three occasions (see page 260 of the Horowitz report), and director James Comey went so far as to publicly insist Steele’s report was “first funded by the Republicans,” among many other examples.

Russiagate was a daisy-chain of deceptions. The Clinton campaign systematically planted phony stories about things like the Trump-Alfa business, the pee tape/blackmail tale, and Carter Page’s supposed role as a Trump-Russia conduit; the FBI went along with the fiction that inquiries launched on these matters did not originate as paid research from the Clinton campaign; and a parade of news media figures were culpable either as dupes or witting participants in these frauds, which in the case of the Alfa stunt was executed in a “hurry” to affect a presidential election.

The only thing preventing all of this from being thought of as a scaled-up version of Watergate is the continued refusal of institutional America to own up to the comparison. Dick Nixon’s low-rent escapades like the “Canuck letter,” distributing fliers offering free “balloons for the kiddies” on behalf of Hubert Humphrey in black neighborhoods, or sending masses of pizzas to Ed Muskie’s hotel, all paled in comparison to the massive, ongoing campaign of fake news stories — political sabotage — planted by Clinton campaign figures in 2016 and beyond. The fact that the accompanying program of illegal surveillance was effected by lying to obtain FISA authority instead of a “third-rate burglary” and a bug doesn’t improve the situation. If the target had been anyone but Donald Trump, no one would bother even trying to deny how corrupt all this was, and continues to be.

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