By Jeff Carlson and Hans Mahncke
In a coordinated legal action between a number of Hillary Clinton operatives and associates, almost two dozen separate documents were simultaneously filed on April 19 in special counsel John Durham’s case against former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann.
This sudden flurry of mass filings included responses from former Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta, campaign manager Robby Mook, Clinton campaign lead lawyer Marc Elias, contractors Fusion GPS, the Clinton campaign itself, and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The trigger for the flurry of filings was a request by Durham to unseal a number of emails involving the parties. The emails are currently being withheld on very questionable grounds of attorney–client privilege. Based on the coordinated filings, it appears that a large number of important people associated with the Clinton campaign are very concerned about the information in those emails becoming public.
Based on available metadata, it appears as if most of the individuals involved in Clinton’s scheme to vilify Trump with claims of Russia collusion were all communicating with each other as that scheme unfolded in real time.
The first person who filed in response to Durham’s request was Rodney Joffe, the tech executive who produced data that purportedly tied Trump to Russia. Joffe had been promised a top government job in case of a Hillary Clinton election victory.
Joffe claimed in his filing that his communications should be treated as privileged because they were part of his attorney-client relationship with Sussmann. Joffe was indeed a client of Sussmann’s starting in 2015. But, in an unexpected and perhaps unintentional comment, Joffe also disclosed that he had hired Sussmann specifically to advise him how to share sensitive information concerning Trump with government agencies—without revealing his identity and thereby exposing himself to potential liability.
In effect, Joffe publicly admitted that he hired Sussmann to take information about Trump to the FBI. The problem for Sussmann is that he’s been charged with lying about exactly that point. Sussmann claimed–in an email to then FBI General Counsel James Baker–that he wasn’t taking the information to the FBI on behalf of any client but instead was merely acting as a good Samaritan.
If Joffe throwing Sussmann under the proverbial bus wasn’t bad enough, the next filing was even worse for Sussmann. It came from Clinton campaign operatives Fusion GPS who also want their emails to be withheld from Durham.
In order to obtain the benefit of attorney–client privilege, Fusion now claims to have assisted Sussmann and his law firm with legal matters.
That claim is demonstrably false as Fusion’s main role—acknowledged by Fusion’s owners Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch in their book—was to conduct opposition research on Trump and seed those stories with the media.
To make matters even worse, Simpson and Fritsch admitted that in writing in their 2019 book “Crime in Progress.” It appears as if Fusion’s lawyers didn’t read their client’s book ahead of their filing. This blunder won’t have gone unnoticed by Durham’s team.
The next filing came from Perkins Coie, the legal firm for which Clinton campaign lawyers Sussmann and Elias worked in 2016. Perkins didn’t want to disclose any of its emails either, but the excuse was a lot simpler. The firm noted that Elias had left the company last year and had taken all of the related files with him.
A separate submission came from Elias himself. Elias, a well-known Democratic Party lawyer, made an argument that essentially mirrored that of Fusion, namely that Fusion was providing Perkins Coie with input that was related to legal advice, and any communications were therefore covered by privilege. Elias failed to address the basic fact that Fusion had been hired to collect and disseminate opposition research to the media. Elias similarly didn’t address that Sussmann himself had disseminated Fusion’s stories to the media, as well as to the FBI, thereby piercing any pretense of attorney–client privilege.
But the most interesting filing came from Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook. Like everyone else, Mook’s main objective was to claim that everything that had been done took place within a legal advice relationship. But unlike the others, Mook didn’t actually claim that everything was above board. Instead, he repeatedly asserted that he thought everything was done above board.
In essence, Mook’s filing essentially shifted the blame onto Elias and the other Clinton operatives. Mook’s apparent refusal to confirm that everything was done legally might end up showcasing Mook as the weak link in the Clinton campaign’s efforts to cover up the origins of the Russiagate scandal. This development is something that Durham will no doubt have taken note of.
The overarching problem with all these claims of privilege is that by legal necessity they have to be based on legal advice. If the task at hand wasn’t about legal advice—such as Fusion pushing false stories about Trump to the media—then there is no attorney-client privilege.
With that backdrop in mind, Fusion GPS claimed in its filing that it was retained by then-partner Elias at Perkins Coie to “assist in providing legal advice to its clients, the Hillary for America Campaign Committee and the DNC during the 2016 presidential campaign. As we noted earlier, Elias’s own submission mirrored this claim.
But there’s a huge problem when we compare these new claims with an Oct 24, 2017 letter from Perkins Coie, which officially detailed its retention and hiring of Fusion on April 11, 2016.
Matthew Gerringer, general counsel for Perkins Coie, noted that Fusion approached Perkins Coie in early March 2016. Gerringer stated that Fusion expressed an interest in its continuation of “research regarding then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump,” research that “Fusion GPS had conducted for one or more other clients during the Republican primary contest.”
And it wasn’t just Perkins Coie that was saying this. In their 2019 book, Fusion’s owners told a very similar story, specifically that they had pitched the idea to Elias that they would continue to collect opposition research on Trump on Elias’s behalf. There was never any mention from either Fusion or Elias of legal services or legal advice.
Fusion appears to have now twisted the meaning of its engagement, stating that it wasn’t really doing opposition research and media outreach, but instead was focused on privileged investigative work and analysis.
There are several problems with Fusion’s assertion. Dossier author Christopher Steele —who had been hired by Fusion to push Trump Russia collusion stories—told a UK court in May 2017 that he was directed by Fusion GPS to speak with a number of media outlets on several different occasions.
Steele testified that in September 2016 he had personally briefed a large number of journalists at Fusion’s instruction. Those journalists were from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN. In October 2016, Steele was instructed once again to speak to the NY Times, Washington Post, Yahoo News, and Mother Jones.
Based on Steele’s stories, many of these outlets subsequently published extremely damaging stories about Trump–Russia collusion. None more so than Mother Jones’s David Corn, who not only put out an article discussing the contents of the dossier just ahead of the 2016 election but also shared Steele’s dossier reports with James Baker of the FBI. Notably, Baker was the same person who met with Sussmann in September 2016.
Additionally, there were also multiple communications that took place between the owners of Fusion, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, and various corporate media reporters during this same time frame.
In a flurry of conversations on Oct. 5, 2016, Fusion’s Fritsch reached out to Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post, providing supposed DNS data claiming links between a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank. Fritsch then provided the same data to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News. Fritsch also provided NBC’s Matthew Mosk with a ZIP file of data in an email containing the subject line: Dude this is huge.
The actions of Fusion at the behest of Elias had nothing to do with legal advice. They did, however, have everything to do with establishing a false narrative, one that had been crafted by these Clinton operatives themselves–which is precisely why they are now panicking about their emails being released to Durham.
But the flurry of filings wasn’t the only major development in the Durham investigation. In a subsequent hearing on Wednesday, a Durham prosecutor told Obama appointee Judge Christopher Cooper that the project to link Trump and Russia through DNS data had actually originated with Joffe. The prosecution stated that Joffe’s plan was carried out through the help of Clinton campaign agents. Durham’s team also revealed that there were meetings between Elias, Sussmann and Joffe during which Joffe was allegedly encouraged to create “imprints” that would tie Trump to Russia through data.
It’s not yet known exactly how Durham’s office came to know about the meeting between Elias, Joffe, and Sussmann, but if such a meeting actually did take place, it would completely destroy any pretense that the relationship between these parties had anything to with providing legal services. This discovery also could land Elias and Joffe in significant legal trouble for lying in their filings to the court.
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