Durham probe: 5 media stories exposed by exploration into roots of Russia investigation so far

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The acquittal this week of Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann on a charge of lying to the FBI was exhaustively covered by mainstream media outlets that largely ignored the trial itself, and Special Counsel John Durham’s years-long investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. 

Durham’s investigation into the roots of the sprawling Russia investigation has been widely derided as a witch hunt and waste of time by CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post and far more, but the probe has revealed several major journalism storylines, none of them flattering to the legacy outlets that feverishly promoted Russiagate during the Trump administration.

Here are some of the biggest media headlines to come out of Durham’s probe, which remains ongoing in the face of left-wing media calls for it to shut down.

Durham probe: 5 media stories exposed by exploration into roots of Russia investigation so far

Special Counsel John Durham.
(REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson)


Slate writer submitted story drafts to Fusion GPS, asked for edits

A writer for Slate submitted the draft of a story in 2016 about Donald Trump and Russia to members of Fusion GPS, the research firm hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign to investigate her Republican rival, asking them for edits, according to a publicly filed exhibit in the U.S. case against Democratic attorney Michael Sussmann.

Franklin Foer sent the story, labeled “Manchuriancandidate.foer” in an attachment, to Fusion’s Peter Fritsch and Jake Berkowitz, according to one of the emails that was inadvertently publicly filed by Special Counsel John Durham as an exhibit to a motion in April. The exhibit containing some of the Fusion GPS emails to reporters was unredacted for a time before being sealed again, according to the Washington Examiner.

According to an email on June 28, 2016, Foer wrote, “I handed in a draft of the piece–here’s a copy. It’s not all edited, so forgive all the rawness. I have no idea what my editor will say. But can you guys scan it for omissions and errors? And obviously keep it to yourselves. (Also promise me that you won’t use it as a prod to the competition, whoever they are now.) Thank you for all your help.”

It wasn’t clear which story Foer submitted, although the next one published on Slate after he sent the message was a July 4, 2016, piece headlined “Putin’s Puppet,” with the subheading, “If the Russian president could design a candidate to undermine American interests—and advance his own—he’d look a lot like Donald Trump.” A separate Foer piece published July 27 was headlined, “Donald Trump Isn’t a Manchurian Candidate,” arguing Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were using one another.


A Slate spokesperson distanced the outlet from the saga in a statement to Fox News Digital last month; Foer is now with The Atlantic.

“What I want to make very clear is the very basic journalistic best practice and principle of not sharing drafts of stories with the people and institutions we cover is a standard we ascribe to,” Slate spokesperson Katie Rayford said.

Last year, Foer admitted to the Washington Post he was the unnamed journalist, in the federal grand jury indictment of Sussmann, who submitted part of a piece to Fusion GPS the day before it was published on Oct. 31, 2016. The article was published a week before the election, about unproven allegations that the Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank was in secret communication with a Trump Organization server, headlined, “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” The story was then pushed out by the Clinton campaign.

Durham probe: 5 media stories exposed by exploration into roots of Russia investigation so far

Former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook testified that Hillary Clinton approved the leak of materials to the media alleging a backchannel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. 
(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Hillary Clinton approved dissemination of Trump-Russian bank allegations to media, according to campaign manager

Former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook testified at the Sussmann trial that the candidate approved the dissemination of materials alleging the covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank to the media, despite campaign officials not being “totally confident” in the legitimacy of the data.

Mook said the campaign hoped to give the information to a reporter who could further “run it down” to determine if it was “accurate” or “substantive.” It was later revealed to be a false trail.

Former officials are now questioning why the Robert Mueller investigation didn’t report the Clinton campaign connections of this and other allegations in 2016 linking Trump to Russian interests, Fox News Digital reported this week.


Mook’s testimony revealing Clinton approved the plan to share the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations with the media came after Fox News first reported the CIA had information of Clinton’s “approval of a plan” to tie Trump to Russia “as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.” Clinton has long vented that the media too aggressively covered her use of a private server at the State Department and was a major contributing factor to her defeat.

MSNBC, ABC News, NBC News and CBS News nearly completely ignored Mook’s revelations last month.

Durham probe: 5 media stories exposed by exploration into roots of Russia investigation so far

The indictment of Christoper Steele sub-source Igor Danchenko further undermined discredited the Steele dossier
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Indictment of Christoper Steele sub-source Igor Danchenko further undermines discredited, media-adored dossier

The indictment of Steele sub-source Igor Danchenko by Durham underscored the glaring weaknesses of the infamous dossier that alleged a diabolical conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton, and included outlandish rumors like the infamous “pee tape” in Moscow.

According to the indictment of Danchenko for lying to the FBI, one of his sources, in turn, was longtime Democratic spin doctor Charles Dolan, who also volunteered for Clinton in 2016. 

“Talk about circular logic: The dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee — via research group Fusion GPS — yet here was a career Democrat feeding information to its primary collector,” the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote about the debacle last year.

The indictment also said Danchenko lied about ever directly speaking with a key source identified in reports as Sergei Millian, former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.

It marked yet another embarrassment for liberal and mainstream reporters and pundits that heaped credibility on the dossier for years, chief among them figures like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. She once aired a 2017 special report about the dossier that referred to Steele’s “deep cover sources inside Russia,” but it turned out that one of Steele’s primary intelligence sources was Danchenko, a Russian national living in the United States and working as an analyst at the Brookings Institute.

The Inspector General report in 2019 and the Durham probe have shown the dossier to be weakly sourced, with entire sections including discredited and salacious rumors, and the true parts simply patching together publicly available information. Nevertheless, the Steele dossier was treated with reverence by Russiagate disciples for years.

“It may be dirty but it ain’t fake,” MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said in 2017. “The dossier on its face is still considered an unverified document compiled by British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele based on raw Intelligence. To date, none of it has been disproven, and whole big parts of it are holding up… A lot of it turned out to be right on the money.”


Durham probe: 5 media stories exposed by exploration into roots of Russia investigation so far

Press didn’t care about Sussmann trial until verdict allowed Durham probe to be smeared

The mainstream media largely ignored Sussmann’s trial until Tuesday when a jury found him not guilty of making a false statement to the FBI, sparking the press’ interest in covering the story it had previously ignored. 

The trial was downplayed or flatly ignored by many of the corporate media organizations that pushed the Russian collusion narrative at every turn, with MSNBC, ABC News, NBC News and CBS News even failing to cover Mook’s bombshell testimony. But liberal news organizations suddenly found the story to be newsworthy this week and covered Sussmann’s acquittal largely as a damaging moment for Durham’s probe.

NewsBusters’ Kevin Tober reported that ABC News anchor David Muir “gloated” about the blow to Durham’s probe and CBS’ Norah O’Donnell probably confused viewers with a brief mention of the verdict because they “probably had no clue the trial was going on since CBS had kept them in the dark.”

On Wednesday’s “Morning Joe,” namesake host Joe Scarborough called the investigation by Durham and his Justice Department prosecutor’s “asinine” and claimed there has been “absolutely nothing there from the beginning.” He described the interest into Durham’s probe as “more weirdos, more conspiracy theorists” and “more freaks.”

“This investigation of the investigators is much ado about nothing,” Scarborough said.

Media Research Center executive director Tim Graham told Fox News Digital he expected the mainstream media to continue ignoring Sussmann’s trial despite the verdict going their way, but instead pivoted in order to smear Durham. 

“They ignored the trial and then when it was over, they did sort of these stories that suggested, ‘Oh, this is terrible for John Durham. How terrible for him,’” Graham said. “You know, just sort of suggesting that this was a terrible case, and it was a terrible stain on his legacy, which is always kind of funny when it’s like, you mean he has a legacy? Because you haven’t covered this guy. So what are we supposed to take away from all of that?” 

Graham also feels the not-guilty verdict will allow liberal media outlets to essentially declare the case shouldn’t have been brought, so they were right to ignore it all along. 


Controversial former New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau’s role 

Sussmann was found not guilty of making a false statement to the FBI when he told former FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016, less than two months before the presidential election, that he was not doing work “for any client” when he requested and attended a meeting where he presented “purported data and ‘white papers’ that allegedly demonstrated a covert communication channel” between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which has ties to the Kremlin.

Baker testified during the trial he was warned by Sussmann in 2016 that a “major” news outlet would be publishing a story on the Trump-Russia story, which would have made it much harder” for the FBI to investigate. Baker added that because of the potential involvement of news media, investigating the allegations of a channel between Trump Organization and Alfa Bank was “time sensitive.”

Baker testified that days after the meeting with Sussmann at the FBI on Sept. 19, 2016, the two spoke by phone in an attempt to determine the identity of the reporter he had identified in the meeting so that he could ask the reporter to slow down on publishing the article. 

Former New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was the reporter in question. Baker also testified that Lichtblau eventually agreed to slow down the publication of his story in order to help the FBI. 


One of Lichtblau’s Pulitzers was awarded for work he did covering Russia’s alleged ties to the Trump campaign, although Special Counsel Robert Mueller later determined there was no evidence of collusion. 

After a back and forth between Durham and Lichtblau on what the former reporter would be allowed to answer under oath, he never testified during Sussmann’s trial. 

Lichtblau left The New York Times in 2017. He joined CNN that same year but resigned three months later after the retraction of an article in his investigative unit about a Russian investment fund and Trump officials. 

Fox News’ Brooke Singman, Jake Gibson, and David Spunt contributed to this report.


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