Last week’s indictment of Democratic Party lawyer Michael A. Sussmann was met with a collective yawn in Washington. But, in truth, the indictment exposes a far-reaching operation launched by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign to cyberstalk Donald Trump, his friends, associates and at least one family member in search of supposed links to Russia.
By the time these hired political operatives were done inventing a mythical connection between Trump Tower and the Kremlin-connected Alfa Bank, they had successfully sparked a political frenzy, launched a massive media conspiracy to smear Mr. Trump and triggered a federal investigation that would ultimately lead to a lengthy investigation of a sitting president.
From the very beginning, the Trump-Russia connection was a complete lie. And they knew it.
Specifically, Mr. Sussmann — who worked for the Department of Justice for 12 years — is charged with lying to the FBI. When he brought the fabricated case against Mr. Trump to his former colleagues at DOJ, he failed to disclose that he was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign, as well as an unnamed technology executive who wanted a job in the Hillary Clinton administration.
As serious as that lie may be, the much bigger lie was the case against Mr. Trump itself.
How big of a lie was it?
The 27-page indictment brought by Special Counsel John Durham against Mr. Sussmann reveals that despite all their efforts, operatives working on behalf of the Clinton campaign could find no internet traffic between Trump servers and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Given this complete lack of any evidence, one researcher working with Mr. Sussmann warned, it “does not make much sense with the storyline you have.”
In another damning exchange — just one month before Mr. Sussmann took the bogus case to the FBI — a researcher said that the evidence was so flimsy, nobody would buy it.
“How do we plan to defend against the criticism that this is not spoofed traffic we are observing?” the researcher asked, according to the indictment. “There is no answer to that. Let’s assume again that they are not smart enough to refute our ‘best case’ scenario.”
That same researcher went on to warn the technology executive — named “Tech Executive-1” in the indictment — against the larger ramifications of leveling such unfounded accusations.
“[Y]ou do realize that we will have to expose every trick we have in our bag to even make a very weak association?” the researcher said. “Let[‘]s all reflect upon that for a moment. Sorry folks, but unless we get combine netflow and DNS traffic collected at critical points between suspect organizations, we cannot technically make any claims that would fly public scrutiny.”
The absurdity of the case caused the research team to even worry about the partisan nature of it all:
“The only thing that drive[s] us at this point is that we just do not like [Trump]. This will not fly in eyes of public scrutiny. Folks, I am afraid we have tunnel vision. Time to regroup?”
The case was so weak and the whole effort was so dishonest that the Sussmann-Clinton cabal even discussed making up evidence.
A techie code-named “Tea Leaves” suggested at one point “faking” email addresses in order to invent connections between Alfa Bank and Trump Tower.
In a separate lawsuit, lawyers for Alfa Bank flatly deny any connection whatsoever.
“Alfa Bank in fact engaged in no communications with the Trump Organization in 2016 or 2017 beyond the falsely generated and inauthentic DNS queries. Indeed, Alfa Bank has never had any business dealings with the Trump Organization,” according to the lawsuit against the unnamed alleged co-conspirator.
Indeed, the Sussmann indictment reveals that the conspiracy to smear Mr. Trump was far broader than previously understood. It was not just a couple of low-level computer techies Googling on the open Internet on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
The Sussmann-led operation involved at least three tech firms, a U.S. university with access to government intelligence data, and multiple researchers. An executive for one of the tech firms — “Tech Executive-1” — was an existing Sussmann client and fed the lawyer all the bogus data that was ultimately delivered to the FBI.
So extensive was the operation that, according to captured messages included in the indictment, one firm expressed discomfort about digging up so much personal data about Mr. Trump, his family and his associates for political purposes. But the firm carried out that chore anyway.
Included in the indictment is a five-page document titled “Trump Associates List” that Mr. Sussmann would later hand over to the FBI.
“The Trump Associates List contained detailed personal information for these individuals, including, for example, their names, home addresses, personal email addresses, business names, business websites and email domains, suspected IP addresses for those domains, and information pertaining to the spouse of one of these associates.”
As the operation was still building a phony case to bring to the FBI, Mr. Sussmann began pitching the fabricated story to the media. On at least one occasion, he put a researcher on the phone with reporters to explain the supposed Trump-Russia link. Records show Mr. Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign for all his Alfa Bank work.
Democratic firm Fusion GPS, organizer of another Clinton campaign flop — the Christopher Steele dossier — also worked the phones to sell reporters on the Alfa Bank tale.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sussmann’s colleague at Democratic powerhouse law firm Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, briefed Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robbie Mook, communications director Jennifer Palmieri, and a foreign policy adviser.
On Sept. 19, 2016, Mr. Sussmann traveled to FBI headquarters and presented the case to James Baker, general counsel to the FBI, and provided two thumb drives and hard-copy documents.
According to the indictment, “SUSSMANN stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client, which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that SUSSMANN was conveying the allegations as a good citizen and not as an advocate for any client.” Mr. Baker would later give closed Congressional testimony about his “personal relationship” with Mr. Sussmann.
After the September meeting, Mr. Baker immediately briefed the bureau’s counterintelligence chief, who wrote in notes that Mr. Sussmann “said not doing this for any client.”
The FBI agent opened an Alfa Bank-Trump investigation that same day.
• Rowan Scarborough is a columnist for the Washington Times.