Russian investigation investigation
On Friday night, Special Counsel John Durham filed a pretrial motion on possible conflicts of interest by the lawyer representing Michael Sussmans, a cybersecurity lawyer Durham has charged with allegedly lying to the FBI. But he also "slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump," Charlie Savage writes in Monday's New York Times.
Trump and allied media organizations say Durham's filing, as Fox News' Brooke Singman put it in a widely cited early report, shows that lawyers for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign "paid a technology company to 'infiltrate' servers belonging to Trump Tower, and later the White House, in order to establish an 'inference' and 'narrative' to bring to government agencies linking Donald Trump to Russia." Those claims were repeated Monday on Fox News' daytime news and prime time opinions shows.
"But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news," the conclusions "based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation," Savage writes. Gabriel Malor, a lawyer who writes for several conservative media outlets, lays out a few specific points on Durham's filing, including that it never uses the word "infiltrate" or accuses the Clinton campaign of ordering Sussmans or anyone else to pass the tech company's analysis of DNS data to the FBI or CIA.
Savage summarizes the competing narratives from Durham and the cybersecurity experts who compiled the contested DNS data, adding that the right-wing mischaracterizations "involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims." Lawyer Marcy Wheeler, who writes at Emptywheel, has a lot more detail about Durham's filings and Kash Patel's involved role in this story.
And Wheeler, a critic of Durham's Trump-Russia meta-investigation, has a theory about why he dropped this information into an unrelated motion just days after the statute of limitations appears to have expired. "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," she writes. "If he succeeds, these flimsy charges (against both Sussmann and [Igor] Danchenko) become stronger, but if he doesn't, he's going to have a harder time proving motive and materiality at trial."