Charlie Savage is the reason no one trusts journalists
Charlie Savage is the reason no one trusts journalists

By Conn Carroll, Commentary Editor

If you want to know why trust in journalism is at an all-time low, look no further than the latest apologia written by Charlie Savage of the New York Times.

Last Friday, Special Counsel John Durham filed a motion asking a federal court to secure a waiver from defendant Michael Sussmann, acknowledging that Sussmann’s defense lawyers, the firm Latham & Watkins, have an established history of representing partisan Democratic Party entities whose interests may conflict with Sussmann’s legal defense.

Durham indicted Sussmann last September on charges that he lied to the FBI about whose interests he was really serving when he came to them with a white paper in 2016 alleging that then-candidate Donald Trump had a nefarious relationship with the Russian entity Alfa Bank.

Sussmann allegedly told the FBI that he was only coming to them as a concerned citizen. According to the indictment, that was a lie — Sussmann had billed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign not only for his time creating the white paper, but also for his time strategizing with the campaign about how best to exploit its contents and share it with cooperative media sources that would help create a “narrative” harmful to Trump.

In other words, the whole purpose of Sussmann’s FBI meeting was part of his role as a partisan actor acting for Clinton’s campaign, to spread a bogus but damaging story about Trump through friendly, gullible journalists.

The data in the white paper Sussmann helped create came from Neustar Senior Vice President Rodney Joffe, who used both his own company’s nonpublic data and nonpublic data from other tech companies to collect DNS data on Trump and his organization. This was all alleged in the September indictment.

In the new filing Friday, Durham further alleged that, after Trump became president, Joffe continued to take data from his company’s contract with the Executive Office of the President and feed it to the partisan Sussmann. This time Sussmann tried to get the CIA to open an investigation into Trump.

For Savage, none of this is in any way newsworthy, except for the fact that Durham’s latest motion “set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying” on Trump.

For Savage, Sussmann is not a highly partisan lawyer who has served the Clinton Foundation and was a partner at Perkins Coie, counsel of record for the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. No Savage wants to hide the ball, calling Sussmann merely a “cybersecurity lawyer.” And Savage goes on to claim that “the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era.”

Oh really?

Well, here is what the motion says, emphasis mine:

6. The Indictment further details that on February 9, 2017, the defendant provided an updated set of allegations – including the Russian Bank-1 data and additional allegations relating to Trump – to a second agency of the U.S. government (“Agency-2”). The Government’s evidence at trial will establish that these additional allegations relied, in part, on the purported DNS traffic that Tech Executive-1 and others had assembled pertaining to Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s New York City apartment building, the EOP, and the aforementioned healthcare provider. In his meeting with Agency-2, the defendant provided data which he claimed reflected purportedly suspicious DNS lookups by these entities of internet protocol (“IP”) addresses affiliated with a Russian mobile phone provider (“Russian Phone Provider-1”). The defendant further claimed that these lookups demonstrated that Trump and/or his associates were using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House and other locations.

If the “data” used by Sussmann in the CIA meeting was not “from the Trump era,” then why does the indictment say Sussmann claimed the data showed “Trump and/or his associates were using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House?”

Savage, dutiful stenographer that he is, provides two quotations purporting to back up his claim that Sussmann did not use White House data to allege nefarious ties between Trump and Russia.

First, he quotes the defense lawyers of a Georgia Tech researcher who helped write the white paper that Sussmann first took to the FBI. “What Trump and some news outlets are saying is wrong,” the attorney says. “The cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”

Of course, this statement is completely irrelevant to the new allegation in Durham’s filing. No one is denying that Georgia Tech was hired to investigate malware in the White House. Also, the indictment never alleges that the Georgia Tech researchers analyzed data from when Trump was in office.

What the indictment does allege, however, is that Joffe accessed White House data and used it to build a case that Trump was using Russia-made phones within or in the physical proximity of the White House.

Does Joffe deny this? Not really. Savage writes, “In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr. Joffe said that ‘contrary to the allegations in this recent filing,’ he was apolitical, did not work for any political party, and had lawful access under a contract to work with others to analyze DNS data — including from the White House — for the purpose of hunting for security breaches or threats.”

Note that that is not a denial that Joffe shared Trump White House data with Sussmann. This is a claim that Joffe has “lawful access” to White House data. It does not address the possibility that he abused that access.

Also, Joffe’s claim to be “apolitical” goes completely unchallenged by Savage, even though Durham’s original indictment included an email from Joffe, stating, “I was tentatively offered the top cybersecurity job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.” Does that sound apolitical to you?

Also, Joffe was the one who had originally approached Sussmann with the bogus story about Trump’s relationship with Alfa Bank. Are we to believe that Joffe, a supposed cybersecurity expert, had no idea Sussmann worked for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats? Or that Sussmann’s firm, Perkins Coie, represented the Clinton campaign and every Democratic organization in D.C.?

Are we really supposed to believe Joffe was that ignorant or naive?

Of course not. Joffe knew exactly who Sussmann was when he first came to him with his Alfa Bank story. Sussmann, being the political operative he is, knew exactly how to weaponize that information, enlisting and informing the Clinton campaign and their top lawyers, and then planting the story with friendly members of the press.

Savage has done everything in his journalistic power to bury this story from readers and obfuscate the truth.

That is why no one trusts journalists anymore.

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