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Special counsel Durham rejects claims that he's politicized high-profile prosecution

This 2018 portrait released by the U.S. Department of Justice shows Connecticut's U.S. Attorney John Durham, tasked with examining the U.S. government's investigation into Russian election interference.
AP
This 2018 portrait released by the U.S. Department of Justice shows Connecticut's U.S. Attorney John Durham, tasked with examining the U.S. government's investigation into Russian election interference.

Justice Department special counsel John Durham is rejecting allegations that he has sought to politicize the high-profile prosecution of a Washington lawyer charged as part of his investigation into the FBI's Trump-Russia probe.

The pushback, which came in a court document late Thursday, is the latest in a series of back-and-forth legal filings that have generated headlines in recent days about Durham's investigation and what it has — and has not — found so far. It directly addressed accusations made by lawyers for Michael Sussmann in court documents earlier this week.

"Defense counsel has presumed the Government's bad faith and asserts that the Special Counsel's Office intentionally sought to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool," Durham's filing stated. "That is simply not true."

During the Trump administration then-Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham to investigate the origins of the FBI's Trump-Russia probe.

Sussmann, a Washington attorney who worked at a firm with longstanding ties to the Democratic Party, has pleaded not guilty to a single false statements charge stemming from Durham's investigation, for allegedly lying to the FBI in a conversation ahead of the 2016 election about possible ties between Donald Trump and Russia.

Last Friday Durham submitted a court filing about potential conflicts of interest in Sussmann's case, but included other information about a meeting Sussmann had in 2017 with the CIA to pass along information about suspicious internet data related to Trump and Russia. Durham said the information was mined from Trump Tower, the Executive Office of the President and other locations to try to dig up derogatory material about Trump.

Over the weekend, Trump and his allies spun that filing, falsely claiming it said Hillary Clinton had paid operatives to spy on Trump's campaign and presidency. Durham said no such thing in the document.

Still, Trump's spying allegations dominated headlines in conservative media and on Monday Sussmann's attorneys accused Durham of acting in bad faith.

"The Special Counsel has again made a filing in this case that unnecessarily includes prejudicial—and false—allegations that are irrelevant to his motion and to the charged offense, and are plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool," Sussmann's attorneys wrote in their court filing.

They said that Sussmann and several uncharged researchers had lawful access to the internet data, and that the material related to the Executive Office of the President dated to Barack Obama's time in office.

They also asked the judge to strike part of Durham's filing that they say contains misleading allegations that were not in the indictment.

Late Thursday, almost a full week after his initial filing set off the firestorm, Durham submitted another document to the court to defend his actions.

He also said the information that Sussmann's team wants struck from the record is pertinent and admissible material.

But at the same time, Durham appeared to distance himself from the way his initial filing was presented in the media.

"If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government's Motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the government's inclusion of this information," Durham wrote in the filing.

Since he was tapped in 2019, Durham has brought criminal action against only three people in his investigation, including Sussmann.

The others are Kevin Clinesmith and Igor Danchencko.

Clinesmith, a former low-level FBI attorney, who pleaded guilty to doctoring an email that was used to get surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser. Clinesmith was sentenced to one year of probation.

Danchenko, who was a key source for the infamous Steele dossier about alleged Trump-Russia ties, was indicted in November on five counts of making false statements to the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty.

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