Russiagate media critics react to Sussmann indictment: 'Regurgitation' of collusion claims discredits industry

Biden national security adviser faces scrutiny after Durham indictment in Russia probe

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a Fox News contributor, explains what the indictment revealed.

Some of the most prominent critics of the last decade’s sprawling Russiagate news coverage are sharpening their knives after the indictment of a Democratic lawyer for allegedly lying to the FBI about a possible Donald Trump-Russia link in 2016.

“Although [Michael] Sussmann faces just one count on a false statement charge, the 27-page charging document offers an expansive window into how the Russiagate scam began, and how Democratic operatives, intelligence officials, and establishment media figures dishonestly fed it to the public,” progressive journalist Aaron Maté wrote.

Michael Sussmann, who was until recently a partner at the Democratic-aligned Perkins-Coie law firm, is accused by the John Durham probe into the Russia investigation of lying about working “for any client” when he presented evidence to FBI officials of a purported secret communications channel between Donald Trump through a Trump Organization server and the Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank. Sussmann was at the time working for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

There is a startling media story springing from the lengthy indictment: A Slate story, that was first sent to the research firm that spearheaded the infamous Christopher Steele dossier before publication, was peddled by the Clinton campaign as a possible smoking gun of Trump-Russia collusion, and was initially planted by a Clinton campaign lawyer. According to the indictment, the FBI later found the server in question didn’t belong to the Trump Organization, but rather was administered by a mass marketing email company.

Defenders of the probe accused the Durham probe of a politically motivated prosecution, but for critics across the spectrum, it’s another black eye for the press that feverishly pushed one Russia story after another.

“The corrupt media’s regurgitation of outlandish and unsubstantiated claims that Donald Trump was planning to steal or had stolen the 2016 election by colluding with Russia discredits the entire industry,” The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway told Fox News Digital. “That they gave themselves awards and promotions and acclaim for amplifying lies secretly financed by the Clinton campaign and weaponized by politicized government bureaucrats further discredits them.”

Slate reported on the allegations on Oct. 31, 2016, with a lengthy article by Franklin Foer headlined, “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” Although it reached no conclusions, the Clinton campaign seized on the report as a smoking gun of supposed collusion with Russia, with the election less than two weeks away.

Clinton campaign policy adviser Jake Sullivan — who is now President Joe Biden’s national security adviser — called it the “secret hotline” that was perhaps “the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.”

Adding to the strangeness, Foer admitted last week to being the journalist named in the indictment as having sent 2,500 words of the piece to the Fusion GPS research firm before publication. 

Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias, another Perkins-Coie attorney, hired Fusion GPS, which in turn hired Christopher Steele to investigate Trump. That led to the publication of the infamous Steele dossier of salacious, unverified information that alleged Trump-Russia links and helped form the foundation of the Russia investigation. Steele later acknowledged Sussmann was the one who told him about the supposed Alfa Bank server connection.

In 2018, with the Russia investigation at full tilt, The New Yorker again looked into the allegations surrounding the server and Alfa Bank and claimed to knock down any innocuous explanation for their communications. Foer then wrote a follow-up for The Atlantic defending his own maligned 2016 piece. That attracted the attention of MSNBC, where Foer acknowledged on “All In with Chris Hayes” that the story was “marginally advanced” and “we still don`t know a lot of the fundamentals about the story.”

That was still good enough for fellow Atlantic writer Natasha Bertrand, who declared, “What more evidence do you need?” that it was a covert communications channel. That appeared above a chyron about “unanswered questions,” a common media trope during the Russia investigation. Bertrand is now at CNN and was criticized upon her hire by the Washington Post for her credulous reporting on the Steele dossier.

“Predictably, the same media voices who parroted the Alfa Bank story and countless other Russia fantasies throughout the Trump era have now fallen silent or continued obfuscating,” Maté wrote.

In a withering Substack article, journalist Glenn Greenwald said the indictment of Sussmann also served as an indictment of the “Russiagate Wing of U.S. Media.”

“Spurred on by Hillary Clinton herself, the liberal sector of the corporate media used this fake claim to bolster their narrative that Trump and the Russians were secretly in cahoots. And the story of how they spread this disinformation involves not just the potential criminality outlined in this indictment of Hillary’s lawyer but, even more seriously, a rotted and deeply corrupted media,” he wrote.

He ripped Foer for being a pawn in what he framed as the Clinton campaign’s political operation to plant the Alfa Bank story.

“Both Hillary and Jake Sullivan were pretending that they had just learned about this shocking story from Slate when, in fact, it was Hillary’s own lawyers and researchers who had spent weeks pushing the story to both the FBI and friendly journalists like Foer. In other words, it was Hillary and her team who had manufactured the hoax, then pretended that — like everyone else — they were just learning about it, and believing it to be true, because a media outlet to which they had fed the false story had just published it.”

Some outlets downplayed or even criticized the Sussmann indictment, with MSNBC analyst Barbara McQuade saying it was “weak,” and Mother Jones’ David Corn saying it failed to deny the “ugly realities” of the supposed Russia conspiracy.

“Actually, the big hoax is Trump and his henchmen’s claim that the Trump-Russia scandal was a Deep State-Democratic con game. That in itself has been one of the biggest Trump cons. And there’s no end in sight,” he wrote.

Hemingway thinks the reporters who’ve unthinkingly pushed Russia-related stories that didn’t hold up should leave the profession.

“In a just world, they would repent, resign from journalism, and hang their hands in shame,” Hemingway told Fox News Digital.

Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.

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