Understanding the Durham indictments: What you need to know
John Durham’s two most recent indictments indicate that the special counsel is pursuing the notion that the Clinton campaign “ginned up bogus investigations” to manufacture the narrative that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, a columnist who’s followed the scandal since the beginning told Fox News.
A researcher who added key allegations to the largely debunked Steele dossier was arrested last week on charges that he lied to the FBI during five interviews. In September, a former Perkins Coie partner who fed information tying Russia to Donald Trump – and has suspected ties to the Clinton campaign – was also accused of lying to a top FBI official.
Both men were indicted as part of Durham’s probe and pleaded not guilty.
A third person with ties to both Russia and the Clintons was also implicated, though he was neither indicted nor charged with any wrongdoing.
But to fully grasp the significance of the accusations against both defendants, it’s essential to understand the full background of the complex and ever-evolving scandal.
Eli Lake, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, broke it down to its most basic level.
“The party in power, the Democratic Party, their candidate’s campaign paid for research,” he told Fox News. “There were prominent Democrats who helped feed that research product.”
Then, those Democrats “presented that research to the FBI, who in turn used it to use its vast surveillance powers against a U.S. citizen who was working with the opposition party’s presidential campaign,” Lake continued.
But he added: “I do not expect for there to be senior Democrats that will be indicted as a result of [Durham’s] work. But that does not mean that what he uncovers is not serious, it just means that the answer to every malfeasance is not always a criminal indictment.”
What’s in the indictments?
A federal indictment accused both Igor Danchenko and Michael Sussmann of lying to federal officials.
Danchenko was a key source for the Steele dossier’s core allegations that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election. According to Durham’s indictment, the Russian-born researcher lied about having communicated with a Russian-American business magnate who’s been suspected of supplying information for the dossier.
The indictment also accused Danchenko of lying about his relationship with Charles Dolan Jr., a longtime Democratic operative with deep ties to the Clintons. Dolan has previously worked with Russia and its national oil company, Gazprom.
Dolan, who now works as a public relations executive, fed rumors to Danchenko, many of which were included in the Steele dossier, according to the indictment.
Until his indictment, Sussmann was a partner with Perkins Coie, which was representing both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. The firm also retained the group that hired Christopher Steele, who produced the dossier.
Sussmann met with a top FBI official to share information that linked Trump to a Kremlin-tied bank and lied when he said he wasn’t representing anyone, according to the indictment. The lawyer has maintained that he told the official that he was representing a tech executive and has denied that he was involved with the Clinton campaign.
‘Ginned up bogus investigations’
Together, Danchenko and Sussmann’s alleged “lies to the FBI hindered the FBI’s ability to fully evaluate the derogatory information that they were presenting to the bureau that claimed suspicious connections between Trump and Russia,” Lake told Fox News.
Had the defendants been transparent about their alleged connections to Democrats, federal investigators may have applied more scrutiny to the claims, according to Durham’s indictments.
Instead, as the bureau continued its investigation into the Trump campaign, the FBI leaned on the Steele dossier. The probe gained more traction and leaks to the media cast Trump negatively, despite that allegations tying the future president to Russia were unconfirmed.
Taken together, the indictments indicate that Durham is pursuing a broader narrative, according to Lake.
“John Durham is pursuing the theory that the Clinton campaign ginned up bogus investigations for the purposes of leaking the existence of such investigations to the press to create a cloud based on FBI activity that they helped initiate,” he told Fox News.
‘A significant rebuke’
Lake clarified that he didn’t “want to leave the impression that the FBI in this is blameless.”
FBI leadership “took the Steele dossier very seriously,” “despite objections from lower-level investigators,” he told Fox News. Then-FBI Director James Comey, for example, “fought at one point to include the allegations in this shabby piece of opposition research in the intelligence community’s vetted assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
Additionally, the FBI relied on the deeply flawed Steele dossier to secure surveillance warrants against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. But even after the dossier’s credibility began to unravel, the FBI didn’t update the surveillance court.
Years later, the court sanctioned FBI officials who vouched for the applications and two of the four warrants were declared invalid.
Lake called the move “a really significant rebuke that rarely happens.”
Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz “produced a devastating report at the end of 2019 that found, among other things, that the information that was in the Steele dossier could not be verified by the FBI and was largely worthless,” Lake told Fox News.
“It was a very, very tough report for the FBI and its leadership,” he continued.
But the investigation, as it was underway through the 2016 election and beyond, coupled with the Steele dossier, fueled a contentious atmosphere for Trump.
“The Steele dossier, as Trump was beginning his presidency, was a galactically enormous news story,” Lake told Fox News, noting the conspiracy’s international media coverage.
“Because the FBI was taking it seriously, journalists then had a news peg to retail some of these allegations, even though they could not confirm them,” he added. He noted that the dossier “was given credence” after it leaked that both then-President Obama and President-elect Trump were briefed on its allegations.
Before that, journalists wouldn’t touch the Steele dossier, which also asserted that Russia had salacious material it could use to blackmail Trump, “with a 10-foot pole because they couldn’t confirm any of this information,” Lake told Fox News.
“So, it created a political environment where Trump began his presidency almost as if it was 1974 Watergate for Richard Nixon,” he continued.
Trump was “under this enormous cloud of suspicion that he is easily blackmailed by the Kremlin and in cahoots and has secret arrangements with the Kremlin, which of course has not been proven by any stretch,” Lake said.
And despite the rebukes and refutations, Lake noted that the narrative fabricated in the dossier is still believed by some, including Steele.
“They continue to say that the allegations have not been disproven, that they stand by it,” he told Fox News. “The idea that Trump is compromised by Russia is still believed by many, many people, both in elite media and throughout the country.”
“And so that narrative frame that was started by the Steele dossier continues to stick, even though it has now been exposed as a fraud,” Lake added.