Opinion | John Durham's flop is only the latest of many Trump Russia coverup failures - The Washington Post
Category: News & PoliticsVia: jbb • 4 weeks ago • 134 comments
By: Paul Waldman (Washington Post)
By Paul Waldman andGreg SargentMay 31, 2022 at 5:36 p.m. EDT Placeholder while article actions load
For three years, conservatives hyped John Durham's investigation into the origins of the FBI's original investigation of Russia's effort to help Donald Trump get elected president in 2016. Durham, a prosecutor appointed in 2019 by then-Attorney General William P. Barr, would blow the lid off the real scandal, they said, which was a conspiracy between Democrats and the FBI to get Trump. This would show there was never anything to the Russiagate scandal.
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Durham had all the time and resources he needed. As of last December, a partial accounting found he had spent about $3.8 million. So what did he come up with?
He delivered two indictments, both of people no one ever would have heard of and both for the crime of lying to investigators. On Tuesday, one of them, lawyer Michael Sussmann, was acquitted by a federal jury.
All that time and effort and expense, for one acquittal of one lawyer for supposedly not being upfront with investigators.
Durham does have one more indictment pending, of a researcher who allegedly lied about information he got pertaining to the scandal. But even if he is convicted, one has to ask: Is that all there is?
To appreciate the significance of this moment, you have to remember that Trump and Republicans have spent years working to show that there was never any serious cause for concern about the idea that Russia went to extraordinary lengths to try to swing the 2016 election to Trump.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not find evidence that Trump criminally colluded with Russia. But he found that Russia interfered "in sweeping and systematic fashion" and that Trump's campaign expected to "benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." Mueller also refrained from explicitly exonerating Trump of criminal obstruction of justice.
Durham had tried to prove that Sussmann had lied to the FBI when he came to them with supposed evidence of some kind of suspicious electronic communication between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank.
Sussmann was accused of concealing the fact that he was working for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and prosecutors painted this as part of a larger scheme by the Clinton campaign to nefariously undermine Trump. Of this Sussmann was acquitted, and jurors indicated that they thought this wasn't a particularly close call and that the prosecution was politically motivated.
Durham's probe was supposed to suggest that the FBI investigation that ultimately led to Russiagate was tainted to its core by politics, thus unmasking this whole scandal as a big nothingburger. In this sense, Durham's flop is only the latest in a long string of failures.
"The Durham probe has turned into what conservatives always accused the Mueller probe of being: a politically premised fishing expedition that has failed to discredit its original target, namely the Russia investigation," prominent national security lawyer Bradley Moss told us.
None of these efforts have been able to disappear a fundamental truth: The stubborn facts show that Russiagate actually was an extraordinarily grave and disturbing scandal.
Among them: the well-documented Kremlin effort to gin up support for Trump and opposition to Clinton on American social media. Their hacking of Democratic Party systems, resulting in data dumps by WikiLeaks to aid the Trump campaign. The copious contacts between Trump, his family and his advisers with Russian officials. The fact that his own campaign chairman was secretly sharing confidential campaign information with a Russian intelligence officer. And so much more.
Crucially, this was the culmination of years of efforts by Trump, his allies and members of the Republican Party to cast doubt on the seriousness of the Russia scandal. Here's a partial list:
- Even before the 2016 election, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Democrats against organizing a bipartisan statement decrying Russian interference, vowing to cast it as unacceptable partisan politics.
- Just before release of the Mueller report, Barr pre-spun the contents in a profoundly misleading way designed to make its conclusions appear far less serious.
- In 2019, when a Justice Department inspector general investigation revealed significant errors and omissions in the FBI's original applications for surveillance authority, Republicans widely distorted the truth about the findings, claiming this showed much more serious problems with the origins of the Russia probe.
- During the 2020 election, Trump's homeland security chief intervened to slow the release of an intelligence report raising alarms about another possible round of Russian electoral interference on Trump's behalf.
- When intelligence agencies briefed members of both parties about this specter of Russian interference, this enraged Trump, who could conceive of this only as an effort to harm him politically.
In some ways, that campaign was successful. Trump pardoned a long list of cronies with ties to the Russia scandal (Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos). And every Republican is pretty much required to say it's no big deal if a hostile foreign power helps a presidential candidate get elected, provided that candidate is a Republican.
But the long-held dream of Trump and his allies to erase the enormous significance and depravity of the Russiagate scandal stands as decidedly unfulfilled. And thus it will likely remain.