Politics

Durham Issues A New Round Of Subpoenas, Including To A Law Firm With Ties To Hillary Clinton’s Campaign In 2016

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Special Counsel John Durham has issued a new set of subpoenas, including to a law firm with close ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, an indication that Durham could be trying to build a broader criminal case, according to people briefed on the matter. So far, Durham’s two-year probe into the FBI’s Russia investigation hasn’t brought about the cases Republicans has hoped it would.

The grand jury subpoenas for documents came earlier this month after Durham charged Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann with lying to the FBI in a September 2016 meeting. During that meeting, Sussmann handed over data purporting to show links between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. That tip became part of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election but the FBI ultimately couldn’t find evidence of a link.

In seeking additional documents from Sussmann’s former law firm, Perkins Coie, investigators from the special counsel’s office appear to be sharpening their focus on the Democratic political machinery during the 2016 campaign and efforts to tie Trump to Russia.

Perkins Coie’s clients in 2016 included the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The law firm also hired on the campaign’s behalf a research company that commissioned the dossier from ex-British spy Christopher Steele that alleged that Trump was compromised by Russia.

While working for Perkins Coie, Sussmann also represented Rodney Joffe, a cybersecurity expert referred to in Durham’s indictment as “Tech Executive-1.” In 2016, Joffe, who has not been previously identified, worked with researchers to collect internet data about the Trump Organization that Sussmann took to the FBI.

Durham’s continued use of the federal grand jury in Washington, DC, signals that he could be interested in adding to Sussmann’s charges or bringing cases against additional defendants.

Still, 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. 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.

The results have underwhelmed Trump supporters who had hoped former top FBI and intelligence officials would be prosecuted for “spying” on Trump and his campaign.

Already the scope of Durham’s probe has narrowed after Barr announced last year that investigators had found no wrongdoing by the CIA. Yet Durham has continued his investigation, largely in secrecy, working out of a non-descript office building near trendy Washington’s Union Market.

Durham’s single charge against Sussmann relates to a September 2016 meeting he had with then-FBI General Counsel James Baker — and is largely based on details that appear to rest on Baker’s thin memory of the meeting. Baker told Congress in 2018 that he didn’t remember Sussmann “specifically saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client.”

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According to Durham, Sussmann lied in that meeting, hiding from the FBI that he was working for the Clinton campaign, to whom he billed the FBI meeting time.

By the time Sussmann met with the FBI, the bureau was already investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But Durham alleges the Clinton campaign’s involvement with Sussmann could have made a difference to the FBI, potentially causing the agency to change its approach to investigating the information Sussmann shared.

The federal judge overseeing the case, Christopher “Casey” Cooper of the DC District Court, will likely weigh during court proceedings before a trial whether Sussmann disclosing his client to the FBI mattered. If Cooper allows the case to move forward, he could kick that question to a trial jury.

In interviews with CNN, several former federal prosecutors criticized Durham’s use of what’s known as a speaking indictment against Sussmann, laying out a broader case detailing the suspected political motivations and conduct by several people outside of Sussmann’s legal practice who aren’t actually charged. The former prosecutors say a false statement charge is typically straightforward, and often laid out in a single sheet of paper.

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“There are two ways to take it: The way charitable and favorable to Durham is this is basically making a case for this being material,” said Ken White, a former prosecutor-turned-white collar defense lawyer in Los Angeles who follows Trump-era cases closely. “The less charitable interpretation is, this is Durham doing what he’s going to do, basically making his pitch for Trump as a victim.”

Sussmann’s legal team, in a statement, has called the breadth of the indictment a political smear.

They have already told the court they may challenge parts of his indictment for being irrelevant, in an attempt to keep them from the jury. And they maintain Sussmann committed no crime.

The larger narrative Durham describes lays out a practice not uncommon in politics and a world that’s usually opaque to the general public — in which campaigns traffic stories that could hurt their opponents, and sometimes try to get law enforcement to open investigations into alleged wrongdoing. At times, the research and authorities’ reactions to the research will leak to the news media as part of partisan attempts to affect election outcomes.

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