by Lee Smith at Tablet Mag
Since Watergate, conventional Washington wisdom holds that the cover-up is worse than the crime. Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) tasked former intelligence operatives to break into Democratic National Committee headquarters to wiretap the opposition. To cover up his involvement in the Watergate break-in, Nixon lied about what he knew and when he knew it, resulting in his resignation from office.
Whether Hillary Clinton was aware of the crimes committed between 2016 and 2020 to further her political ambitions is a question that may never be answered. What has been proved beyond any shadow of doubt by the U.S. Justice Department over the past few months is that top operatives in her 2016 campaign used concocted falsehoods to leverage active law enforcement officials who in turn used U.S. government programs and resources to spy on the Trump campaign—a violation of American political norms whose only real parallel is Watergate. We also know that under the pretext of “investigating collusion,” at least 40 Obama officials, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, spied on the Trump team. There is circumstantial evidence that Barack Obama knew what was going on, but since, miraculously, no one has ever publicly asked him about Russiagate, not even once, he hasn’t had the opportunity to either lie or come clean.
But with Trump now safely out of office, it appears that the cover-up is now cracking wide open. In September, John Durham, the special counsel investigating the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe, charged Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann with lying to the FBI. In September 2016, Sussmann, a former Justice Department official, passed reports to the bureau that were meant to incriminate the Trump circle by claiming evidence of links between the Trump organization and a Russian bank. Sussmann had told the FBI he was not acting on behalf of a client, but records Durham obtained from Sussmann’s law firm, Perkins Coie, showed he was billing the Clinton campaign for drawing up the reports and for the meeting itself.
Last month, charges were brought against Igor Danchenko, the former Brookings Institution analyst who was ostensibly the primary source for Christopher Steele’s notorious “dossier,” which served as the legal foundation for the Russiagate conspiracy theory within the FBI. Danchenko was indicted for lying to the FBI, on five counts, with a maximum sentence of five years for each count. According to Durham’s 39-page indictment, Danchenko lied to the bureau when he said that Washington, D.C., public relations executive Charles Dolan (identified in the indictment only as “PR Executive 1”) was not one of the sources for information that he passed on to Steele. In fact, Danchenko used several pieces of information provided to him upon request from Dolan, yet another figure in the Clinton orbit.
The four other charges brought against Danchenko are for lying to the FBI about the role played by Sergei Millian, a real estate broker and former chairman of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. In a January 2017 interview with the FBI, Danchenko said that Millian was the source for some of the dossier’s central claims, like the story about the infamous “pee tape” and the allegation that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Danchenko told his FBI interviewers that he obtained that information during a 15-minute phone conversation with an anonymous caller that Danchenko said he assumed was Millian. During three follow-up FBI interviews, Danchenko continued to insist Millian was one of his sources, even though there is no evidence that the two men ever spoke.
But just because Durham indicted Clinton contractors for making false statements to federal law enforcement doesn’t mean he sees the FBI team that ran the Trump investigation as impartial enforcers of the law. Durham now appears to be using well-documented and relatively easy cases to pressure Sussmann and Danchenko to give up accomplices one rung up, likely under the threat of jail time. The fact that even after dossier source Danchenko effectively confessed he’d made it all up, the FBI still obtained two more warrants to spy on Trump after he’d become president suggests that the agents who had him under surveillance may now also be under Durham’s scrutiny.
Now the media is scrambling to distance itself from the dossier, with the New York Times “explaining” that just because the prestige press poisoned the public sphere with Clinton-funded smears doesn’t mean that the larger Russiagate story they peddled is also fake. That is, the press has taken another page from the Watergate playbook. As that scandal started to unfold, Nixon’s White House aides discussed strategies to deal with the looming disaster. They talked about a standard spy service ploy called a “limited hangout.” When it’s no longer possible to sustain a phony cover story, dangle some partial truths in public and acknowledge some small, albeit honest, miscues in order to keep the most damning parts of the truth under wraps. Just as this strategy failed to protect Richard Nixon and his men, chances are it won’t help culpable reporters and news organizations avoid responsibility for their active role in the country’s biggest political crime of the past half-century. But it does show quite plainly what the American press has become…