On Thursday we learned that the Durham probe, the investigation into the origins of the FBI’s counter-intelligence probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election long touted by Donald Trump and his fellow conservatives as the investigation that would blow the lid off Democratic malfeasance, had got its man.
Was it John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman? Or former FBI Director James Comey? Or Barack Obama?
It was instead a cybersecurity lawyer named Michael Sussmann, who was indicted for allegedly lying to the FBI’s general counsel about who he was working for. (Sussmann said he wasn’t working on behalf of any client but he was allegedly representing Clinton’s campaign as well as a tech industry professional). Friday, he pleaded not guilty.
Which, look, isn’t good! You shouldn’t lie to the FBI’s lead lawyer. Especially about who you represent (or don’t represent).
But the Sussmann indictment does raise a broader question: Is that the best that Durham’s got?
After all, special counsel John Durham has been investigating the genesis of the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling for more than two years now.
“I feel it is one of the most important investigations in the history of our country,” Trump said of the Durham probe in November 2019.
In 2020, Trump went even further, saying of Durham:
“I hope he’s doing a great job. And I hope they’re not going to be politically correct and I hope they do what – because the fact this was President Obama knew everything, Vice President Biden, as dumb as he may be, he knew everything and everybody else knew everything.”
At another point, Trump declared that the Durham investigation would reveal “the greatest political crime in American history.” Trump repeatedly insisted over the intervening years that the Durham probe would show that “they spied on my campaign and they got caught,” though he never specified who the “they” was.
Except that aside from the Sussmann indictment and the August 2020 guilty plea an ex-FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith who admitted that he had changed an email sent to another official who, like him, was involved in the surveillance warrant for former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, there haven’t been any charges out of the probe.
That’s it. That’s the sum total of charges that have come out of the Durham investigation, aka “one of the most important investigations in the history of our country.”
Now, it’s worth noting here that the Durham probe isn’t totally complete. As CNN’s Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz wrote on Thursday:
“The Durham probe is in its closing stages, people briefed on the matter said, and a possible deadline on any charges looms. Yet in a statement announcing the indictment of Sussmann on Thursday, the Justice Department said Durham’s investigation is ongoing.”
So, it’s possible that Durham still has some major indictments to come that will embroil major Democratic figures. Until Durham closes his probe, that still can’t be ruled out.
But prosecutors tend to lead with their strongest stuff first. And if this is the strongest stuff that Durham has, that’s pretty thin gruel.