A federal judge on Thursday panned a recent court filing from special counsel John Durham, chastising him for including unnecessary information that fueled a firestorm in right-wing circles about supposed spying on former President Donald Trump.
Judge Christopher Cooper of the DC District Court made the comments during a hearing in the case of Michael Sussmann, a layer who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and was charged with lying to the FBI during a meeting about Trump’s connections to Russia.
Sussmann, who has pleaded not guilty, accused Durham’s team of including unnecessary and incendiary material in a routine court filing to gin up negative coverage in Trump-friendly outlets.
The judge agreed that the information was unnecessary, rebuking Durham’s team. But notably, he said he was working off the presumption that the prosecutors were acting in good faith, and he rejected an attempt by Sussmann’s lawyers to remove the material from the court record.
“Including the material in this motion, it was not necessary for me, let alone for Mr. Sussmann,” Cooper said during the brief court hearing. “I didn’t see any link to areas that were relevant … I didn’t need any of that ancillary information … I don’t know why the information was in there.”
The disputed information was about Sussmann’s efforts to prod the US government to scrutinize Trump’s ties to Russia. Trump, Republican lawmakers and right-wing media outlets twisted and exaggerated what Durham said in the filing, and falsely claimed that it proved there was a massive “deep state” conspiracy by Clinton and others to spy on Trump during his presidency.
During the hearing, Cooper pointed out that Durham previously said some people “overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted” his filing. So, Cooper asked Durham’s team if they wanted to correct any of the inaccurate information that was spreading. They declined.
“We don’t want to enter that game of correcting misinterpretations that might be out there,” replied Andrew DeFilippis, one of the prosecutors on the special counsel team. “We will be very careful to be accurate to this court. … We think everything we said in the motion was accurate.”
Former Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham in 2018 to investigate potential misconduct in the Trump-Russia investigation. His probe has not yet unearthed any of the Watergate-level wrongdoing that Trump has claimed went on. But Durham secured a guilty plea from a low-level FBI lawyer and has charged two people, including Sussmann, with lying to FBI investigators.