Speed Reads

Ghosts of 2016

Trump's Russia special counsel John Durham is misrepresenting mysterious Trump-Russia link, researchers say

One of the many subplots of the 2016 election was the mystery of whether Russia's Alfa Bank was secretly communicating with a server in Trump Tower, an apparent connection uncovered by four computer researchers who passed on their data to the FBI in September 2016. Five years later, "the data remains a mystery," The New York Times reports, but Special Counsel John Durham, appointed under former President Donald Trump to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, cast doubt on the researchers and their analysis in an indictment he handed down in mid-September

The data researchers hit back Thursday, saying that despite misleading, cherry-picked snippets of their emails that Durham included in his 27-page indictment of cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, they stand by their analysis that Alfa Bank and Trump's company were communicating and trying to hide it, their lawyers told the Times and CNN.

Sussmann, then working at the firm Perkins Coie, brought the findings from the four researchers to the FBI in September 2016. At the time, his clients included both Hillary Clinton's campaign and Rodney Joffe, an internet entrepreneur and one of the four data researchers. Durham's grand jury indicted Sussmann on one count of lying to the FBI for allegedly omitting his ties to the Clinton campaign. Sussmann says he was only representing Joffe at the meeting and denies lying to the FBI.

It isn't clear why Durham, whose investigation is shrouded in secrecy, included the long sections on the Alfa Bank research in his Sussmann indictment. But "more than two years after being commissioned by then Attorney General William Barr to investigate whether federal authorities improperly targeted the Trump campaign, Durham has little to show for his efforts," CNN recaps. "His special counsel probe, which has lasted longer than Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, has so far brought only two lying charges against little-known figures, including the case against Sussmann, who has pleaded not guilty."

Since indicting Sussmann, Durham has subpoenaed more information from Perkins Coie, CNN and the Times report.

The Sussmann case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Christopher "Casey" Cooper in Washington, D.C. Cooper "will likely weigh during court proceedings before a trial whether Sussmann disclosing his client to the FBI mattered," CNN reports. "If Cooper allows the case to move forward, he could kick that question to a trial jury."