A federal grand jury has indicted attorney and cybersecurity consultant Michael Sussman for lying to the FBI when he presented the agency with alleged evidence that Donald Trump was in cahoots with the Kremlin. The main issue? When Sussman told the feds in 2016 that Trump’s organization had a “secret communications channel” with the the Russian-owned Alfa Bank, he claimed that he wasn’t acting on behalf of any particular client. In fact, the indictment says, he was working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Sussman’s data, like many other attempts to tie the Queens-born businessman to Russian interests, turned out to be garbage. The indictment was brought by special counsel John Durham, whose office has already convicted a former FBI agent for “falsifying a document in internal emails over surveilling former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.”
This case is a stark reminder that attempts to delegitimize American election results hardly started with the MyPillow guy’s insane claims of mass voter fraud or the Trump team’s spectacularly unsuccessful serial lawsuits aimed at showing the Joe Biden stole the 2020 race. Long before Trump tried to undermine Amtrak Joe, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic establishment, and scores of media people at The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and elsewhere were committed to what became known as “Russiagate”: a series of related, overlapping, and ultimately unsubstantiated theories that Trump was an active agent of the Kremlin, was being run by the oligarchs who financed his global empire, or was being blackmailed by Vladimir Putin’s secret service.
The most entertaining of these conspiracy theories was undoubtedly the “pee tape,” a purported recording of Trump in 2013 watching two prostitutes urinate on a bed once used by Barack Obama at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton. Sadly, the pee tape story has no more evidence supporting it than the one about J. Edgar Hoover keeping John Dillinger’s severed penis in his office. Yet Sussman’s claims about Trump and Alfa Bank helped goad really-want-it-to-be-true journalists such as Franklin Foer into writing dubious stories before and after the 2016 election that Trump was fatally compromised by a foreign power. Just as the John Birch Society once was deranged enough to denounce Dwight Eisenhower as a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy,” Trump critics such as Hillary Clinton averred he was Putin’s “puppet.”
More important, claims made to federal agents by Sussman and in the document known as “the Steele dossier” (the origin of the pee tape story) helped to jump-start an FBI investigation into a president based on faulty documents and tainted by partisan hostility. At various points identified as a good-faith, credible document, the Steele dossier was in fact poorly vetted opposition research that was funded by the Clinton campaign. (For a fantastic analysis of Fusion GPS, the private intelligence group that produced the document, read Barry Meier’s Spooked: The Secret Rise of Private Spies.)
Donald Trump needs to own his lunatic fantasies that the 2020 election was stolen from him. But his conspiracy theory was merely the latest in a series of sour-grapes stolen-election stories (out of the last six presidential races, only two—2008 and 2012—have not generated such tales). And the discredited Russiagate narrative—which involved a politically motivated investigation of a sitting president and is pushed relentlessly by the Democratic establishment and a good chunk of the media to this day—is a deeply disturbing reminder that nutbaggery is a fundamental feature of liberals and conservatives.