by George Parry
Special Counsel John Durham’s 27-page false-statement indictment of lawyer Michael Sussmann avers a thus-far uncharged conspiracy by Democrat operatives, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and others to fabricate, leak, and purvey the most successful and destructive political smear in American history.
Judging from the detailed contents of the indictment, Durham appears to be well on his way to exposing the lies and corrupt schemes that were used to kneecap Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and hamstring his administration for the next four years.
This article is the second in a series regarding the Sussmann indictment which, given its detailed content, strongly indicates that Durham has in hand documentary and supporting evidence to prove how Sussmann and others conspired to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful functions of the United States government by dishonest means in order to, among other goals, subvert our political and electoral processes, including the 2016 presidential election.
Later articles will discuss, among other topics, Sussmann’s alleged role in the fabrication of the eponymous Steele dossier, his involvement in the FBI’s pretend investigation of the alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer server, and the spreading of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax. But, for now, this article will focus on only one element of that hoax, i.e., how the conspirators knowingly and illegally concocted the fake narrative of a secret internet communications channel between the Trump Organization and the Russian Alfa Bank.
While Sussmann and the Clinton Campaign are identified in the indictment by name, the other participants are identified only by titles such as “Tech Executive-1,” “Campaign Lawyer-1,” “Internet Company -1,” etc. However, outside sources have identified “Russian Bank-1” as the Alfa Bank which has ties to the Kremlin, “Law Firm-1” as the Perkins Coie firm that represented the Clinton Campaign, “U.S. Investigative Firm” as Fusion GPS, and “Campaign Lawyer-1” as Marc Elias, who was the Perkins Coie partner who represented the Clinton Campaign. For purposes of clarity, wherever possible, these persons and entities will be referred to by name instead of by the titles used in the indictment.
As stated in the indictment, Sussmann, a partner at Perkins Coie, worked in concert with others to concoct a false but “plausible” narrative that the “Trump Organization, owned by Donald J. Trump” was using a “secret channel of communications” to interact with “a particular Russian bank” i.e., the Alfa Bank.
Sussmann is accused of making a false statement to FBI General Counsel James Baker in a September 19, 2016, meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington. At that meeting, Sussmann is alleged to have presented a so-called “white paper,” “documents,” and “data,” which purported to show secret internet communications between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank as well as a “white paper” by Fusion GPS alleging Alfa Bank’s ties to the Kremlin. In doing so, Sussmann is alleged to have lied to Baker when he said that he was not providing the material on behalf of a client when, in fact, he was doing so as part of his firm’s representation of the Clinton campaign.
As the indictment makes clear, the purpose of the meeting was to induce the FBI to launch an investigation of Trump’s possible ties to Russia. While the conspirators expressed doubts that their false narrative would survive serious scrutiny, they believed that it would be “plausible” enough to get the FBI to open an investigation of Trump. Once that happened, word of the investigation would be (and, in fact, was) disseminated to the news media in time to produce an electoral backlash against Trump.
Sussmann’s lie to the FBI is subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Accordingly, he had to be charged before September 19, 2021. Moreover, since the alleged crime took place at FBI headquarters, the charge had to be brought in the District of Columbia, a less-than congenial venue for prosecuting prominent Democrats.
Nevertheless, the indictment also sets forth in detail how Sussmann met with employees of another U.S. government agency (“Agency-2”) “at a location outside the District of Columbia.” This meeting took place on or about February 9, 2017, at which time “Sussmann provided to the Agency-2 Employees (i) several white papers, and (ii) multiple data files containing purported DNS data, ranging from 2016 through early 2017.”
This meeting was one more overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful functions of the United States government by dishonest means. Consequently, the five-year statute of limitations for charging Sussmann and the others for conspiracy will not run until February 9, 2022, at the earliest. Moreover, the conspiracy charge can and likely will be filed outside the District of Columbia in a court more likely to accord fair treatment to the prosecution.
The law of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and related legal topics and how they apply to this case will be a subject of a later article. For now, suffice it to say that the participants in the thus-far uncharged conspiracy are facing grave legal jeopardy and, if they are smart and have competent legal counsel, must be seriously considering cooperation with Durham’s investigation.
So, let’s take a look at the cast of characters and their roles in fabricating the materials Sussmann provided to the FBI, the media and, much later, to the unnamed government agency “outside the District of Columbia.”
First is Sussmann who, according to the indictment, represented the Democratic National Committee in connection with the claimed hacking of its email servers by Russians. In that capacity, he met and regularly communicated with the FBI, the Justice Department, and other government agencies. Sussmann also advised the Clinton campaign on cybersecurity issues. His law partner, Marc Elias, represented the Clinton campaign generally.
One of Sussmann’s clients, “Tech Executive-1,” is described in the indictment as an executive of “Internet Company-1.” By virtue of his position at that and other internet companies, he had access to “large amounts of internet and cybersecurity data” including so-called Domain Name System (“DNS”) data.
According to the indictment, Tech Executive-1 claimed to have been offered a position in the government in the event Hillary Clinton won the Presidency and stated in an after the election email, “I was tentatively offered the top [cybersecurity] job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.”
It is alleged that, in late July 2016, “Originator-1,” a business associate of Tech Executive-1, “had assembled purported DNS data reflecting apparent DNS lookups” between the Alfa Bank and an email domain, “mail1.trump-email.com.”
But, according to the indictment, the significance of these data was doubtful since “mail1.trump-email.com” was not a Trump Organization server. Instead, it was an outside domain operated by a customer relationship management company used by the Trump Organization to send out marketing emails. As for the “DNS lookups,” they were generated by the Alfa Bank server trying to validate the sender of the emails. This sort of “look up” is commonly used by computer servers to sort out junk emails.
Now, let’s take a brief detour from the indictment to look at a 2020 civil RICO complaint filed by Alfa Bank in Pennsylvania which alleges that, from “at least May 2016 through at least September 2016,” it had been sent “spoofed” emails “purporting to come from the Trump Organization to Alfa Bank. Tricked into thinking that the emails were authentic, Alfa Bank’s servers responded by sending DNS ‘lookups’ to request information from the Trump Organization server.” (Emphasis added.) Note well the word “spoofed.”
During this period, Alfa Bank alleges that the “scheme of cyberattacks involved a series of up to 100 or more separate but related attacks.”
Who mounted these cyberattacks containing these “spoofed” emails? Were they part of a marketing campaign by the Trump Organization? Or was someone else sending them in order to generate the false appearance of internet traffic between the Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization? As you are about to see, these questions dogged the conspirators as they fabricated the Trump-Alfa Bank narrative to be presented to the FBI.
The indictment states that Tech Executive-1 tasked “Originator-1” and two researchers who worked at a “U.S.-based university” to “search broadly through Internet data for any information about Trump’s potential ties to Russia.” His announced goal was to support an “inference” and “narrative” regarding Trump that would please certain “VIPS”.
But, despite their best efforts, they were unable to find any communications between Trump, his campaign, companies, or associates and Russian interests.
All they had was the virtually meaningless DNS data collected by “Originator-1” which Tech Executive-1 had already provided to Sussmann.
According to the indictment, “[o]n or about August 20, 2016,” Originator-1 emailed Tech Executive-1, Researcher-1, and Researcher-2, stating in regard to the DNS data that “even if we found what [Tech Executive-1] asks us to find, we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying ‘send the money here.’”
He then explained that it would be possible to “fill out a sales form on two web sites, faking the other company’s email address in each form,” and thereby cause them “to appear to communicate with each other in DNS.” Originator-1 then concluded that, if Tech Executive-1 “can take the *inference* (sic) we gain through this team exercise … then work to develop even an inference may be worthwhile…”
Was it just a coincidence that Originator-1 discussed how “spoofed” emails could be generated at the same time that, according to Alfa Bank’s RICO complaint, the bank was being subjected to cyberattacks loaded with “spoofed” emails from what appeared to be the Trump Organization?
Tech Executive-1 replied by email that the “task” he had given the group was “indeed broad” and then stated:
“Being able to provide evidence of *anything* (sic) that shows an attempt to behave badly in relation to this, the VIPs would be happy. They’re looking for a true story that could be used as a basis for closer examination.”
Regarding the Alfa Bank allegations that he had provided to Sussmann, Tech Executive-1’s email stated: “[T]he prior hypothesis was all that they needed: [a] mailserver dedicated or related to [T]rump … and with traffic almost exclusively with” the Alfa Bank “was sufficient to do the job.” He continued, “Trump has claimed he and his compan[ies] have had NO dealings with .ru [Russia] other than the failed Casino, and the Miss Universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.” (Emphasis added.)
The next day, Tech Executive-1 emailed Originator-1 and the university researchers urging them to “push forward” with additional research concerning Trump, which he stated would “give the base a very useful narrative.” He then expressed his belief that the “trump-email.com” domain was not a secret communications channel with the Alfa Bank, but a “red herring” noting that the host for the Trump domain “is a legitimate valid [customer relationship management] company.” He concluded that “we can ignore it, together with others that seem to be part of the marketing world.”
On August 22, 2016, Researcher-1 emailed the group expressing doubt about the Trump-Alfa Bank narrative that Sussmann was preparing to convey to the FBI and raised concerns about the group’s bias against Trump. Regarding the DNS data, he asked, “How do we plan to defend against the criticism that this is not spoofed traffic we are observing? There is no answer to that.” (Emphasis added.)
Addressing Tech Executive-1, he wrote, “you do realize that we will have to expose every trick we have in our bag to even make a very weak association?”
“The only thing that drive[s] us at this point is that we just do not like [Trump]. This will not fly in the eyes of public scrutiny. Folks, I am afraid we have tunnel vision. Time to regroup?”
Despite these expressed reservations and objections, Sussmann, Tech Executive-1, Originator-1, and the university researchers began to draft, review, and revise a “white paper” summarizing the Alfa Bank allegations that Sussmann later provided to the FBI, the media, and Agency-2.
Five days before Sussmann met with the FBI, Tech Executive-1 sent Sussmann’s draft of the proposed “white paper” to Originator-1, and the university researchers, and asked their views as to whether the paper’s allegations would be “plausible” to “security experts,” even if the allegations were not demonstrably true.
“Please read as if you had no prior knowledge or involvement, and you were handed this document as a security expert (NOT a dns expert) and were asked: ‘Is this plausible as an explanation?’ NOT to be able to say that this is, without doubt, fact, but to merely be plausible.”
Researcher-1 emailed that the white paper achieved Tech Executive-1’s objective by “smartly” avoiding discussions of weaknesses or “holes” in the paper’s hypothesis.
“A DNS expert would poke several holes to (sic) this hypothesis (primarily around visibility, about which very smartly you do not talk about). That being said, I do not think even the top security (non-DNS) researchers can refute your statements. Nice!”
On September 15, 2016, Originator-1 emailed that the white paper’s conclusion was “plausible” in the “narrow scope” defined by Tech Executive-1.
The same day, Researcher 2 emailed that, although questions remained, the white paper should be shared with the government.
The next day, in discussing the narrative Sussmann was to convey to the FBI, Originator-1 emailed that “[Tech Executive-1] has carefully crafted a message that could work to accomplish the goals.”
What was their purpose? The conspirators recognized that their Trump Organization–Alfa Bank narrative didn’t hold water and couldn’t withstand analysis by DNS data experts. But they believed it would be plausible enough to get the FBI to investigate. That was the whole point. Once the FBI started an inquiry, the fact that Trump was being investigated by the government for possible ties to Russia would be leaked to the news media.
With that, we are up to the point where the conspirators have concocted their fake narrative, and Sussmann is about to foist it on the FBI. What happens when he does will be the subject of the next article in this series.
So, get out your Ovaltine secret decoder rings, and stay tuned for the next episode of “John Durham Blows Up Washington.”
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George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He blogs at knowledgeisgood.net and can be reached by email at [email protected].