Of all the subplots in “The Trump Presidency” series, one that you might not have had the energy or bandwidth to pay attention to or follow closely was the one involving the former U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, John Durham. It’s hard to blame anyone for overlooking this thread – Durham appeared on the scene in October 2020, after Impeachment I (a very exciting season with lots of foreshadowing), during the onset of COVID (a dark and unexpected plot twist), and before Impeachment II (when the series took a horrifying and deadly turn). Because the Durham character recently made a sudden return in the Trump spin-off, “The Biden Presidency,” I’m here to give you a quick recap and to reassure you that you really didn’t miss anything important.
Let me first set up the plotline: More than two and a half years ago, former Attorney General Bill Barr secretly appointed Durham to be a Special Counsel as part of his plan to “investigate the investigators” – that is, to get to the bottom of the “deep-state” conspiracy inside the FBI to bring down Trump prior to the 2016 election. After an early prosecution of an FBI lawyer who altered an email connected to the Carter Page FISA warrant (which had no connection to the opening of the investigation into the Trump campaign), Durham disappeared from view. Right-wing media salivated about what kind of evidence Durham could be uncovering in his stealth investigation, and speculated on the number of FBI agents and Obama administration officials that would go to jail and whether there would even be enough room at Gitmo to house them all. In November 2021, Durham brought an indictment against Igor Danchenko, a Russian national who provided information to former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, author of the so-called Steele Dossier which you might remember from Season 1. Durham alleged that Danchenko lied to the FBI when agents were doing due diligence to verify the dossier – a somewhat awkward admission, considering that Durham’s appointment was premised on the idea that the FBI had accepted the dossier without question and had even used it to open an investigation on Trump (spoiler: they didn’t).
Which brings us to the most recent episode. Last September, Durham brought an indictment against Michael Sussman, a seemingly rando lawyer no one had ever heard of before. Sussman is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and a former partner at the law firm Perkins Coie. Sussman had also represented the Democratic National Committee after Russia conducted a hack and dump operation with the organization’s emails in the months leading up to the 2016 election. The indictment charged Sussman with lying to the FBI when he provided internet traffic data to the Bureau that he claimed showed that the Trump Organization was communicating with Moscow through a secret server. The alleged lie, according to Durham’s indictment, was that when Sussman met with the FBI’s General Counsel, James A. Baker, he told Baker that he was not acting on behalf of any client, when in fact he was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign. The allegation was odd, considering that according to the same indictment, contemporaneous notes taken during a subsequent meeting between Baker and the FBI’s Assistant Director state that Sussman “[r]epresents DNC, Clinton Foundation, etc.” Former prosecutors noted that the charge was especially flimsy considering that there were no witnesses to the Baker-Sussman conversation, and Baker himself had offered differing recollections of what Sussman said previously, including in prior testimony to Congress. The case went to trial last month, and last week a unanimous jury acquitted Sussman, with the foreperson telling reporters on her way out that the entire enterprise had been a waste of time.