Just yesterday a federal jury essentially toppled ex-President Trump’s victimhood-laced line of attack against the Russia probe when it acquitted DNC-connected lawyer Michael Sussmann.
The acquittal was a significant swing and a miss, not just for special counsel John Durham, who was handpicked by then-Attorney General Bill Barr to look into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, but for Trumpers everywhere who have built a brand off of the long-unsubstantiated belief that the Mueller probe was nothing more than a politically motivated conspiracy of the elites to undermine Trump’s legitimacy as president.
The acquittal was three years coming. Last year, the lawyer, Sussmann, was charged with lying to the FBI. The basis of the charges centered on a meeting that Sussmann held with an FBI official in 2016, when he shared information with the bureau about the Trump campaign and a Russian bank — information that has, in the years since, largely been debunked. Sussmann, according to Durham, allegedly claimed he shared the information as a private citizen, and not on behalf of a client.
That may not sound like a grand conspiracy, but Sussmann was useful for Durham, whose probe helped to build a loose case around MAGAland allegations that the 2016 Clinton campaign was the only entity to blame for the many investigations of the Trump campaign’s many ties to the Kremlin. (The Mueller report, of course, confirmed that Russia did interfere to help Trump win in 2016.)
Alas, the jury swiftly returned its unanimous verdict: Sussmann was acquitted.
With that mess resolved, we learned even more information today that pokes holes in Trump’s years-long whining that certain anti-Trump officials in the Obama administration were acting behind the scenes to delegitimize his electoral college victory in 2016. BuzzFeed first reported on the news last night, which you can read here, but a quick rundown:
Trump’s former national security adviser-turned QAnon fanatic Michael Flynn was one of the most high profile people in the Trump sphere to actually be charged with crimes related to the Mueller probe. Flynn was charged and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his December 2016 conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which he discussed sanctions with the foreign official — which, essentially goes against laws about what can be discussed during a presidential transition period. Flynn lied to the FBI about the content of those Kislyak calls. Barr later went out of his way to get that case dismissed and Trump ultimately pardoned his former official.
But one conspiracy theory that birthed out of that whole debacle was focused on the Obama administration. Trump allies spread allegations that Obama officials “unmasked” Flynn intentionally in an attempt to ignite questions about the probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged coordination with Russia. Trump and his allies claimed that Obama administration officials specifically pushed for Flynn’s identity to be revealed in top-secret government intelligence reports regarding his call with Kislyak — and that the unredacted details of said call were leaked to the media for political reasons. In short, MAGAland claimed that the Obama administration was “spying” on Trump and his campaign.
BuzzFeed obtained a copy of a DOJ report that digs into the details of a Barr-demanded investigation into the allegations. The report in essence completely debunks the Trump-era “deep state” conspiracy theory, revealing that there were “no unmasking requests made before Election Day that sought the identity of an apparent associate of the Trump campaign,” then-U.S. Attorney John Bash wrote in the September 2020 report.
“I … examined whether any senior officials had obtained General Flynn’s identity in connection with those communications through an unmasking request made during the transition period,” Bash wrote. “The answer is no.”
“According to the FBI, the Bureau did not disseminate an intelligence report discussing those communications and containing masked [U.S. person identity information] for General Flynn before President Trump’s inauguration,” Bash wrote. “For that reason, the public disclosure of the communications could not have resulted from an unmasking request.”
In his conclusion, Bash declared that there was effectively no evidence to back up the claims made by Trump and his allies, which have always been conspiratorial, at best:
“I have not found evidence that senior U.S. officials unmasked the identities of U.S. persons contained in intelligence reports for political purposes or other inappropriate reasons during the 2016 election period or the ensuing transition period,” he wrote.
The Best Of TPM Today
Here’s what you should read this evening:
The latest on this front ^ from Josh Kovensky: GOP: Why Have A Justice System If Durham Can’t Convict Sussmann?
The latest in TPM Cafe: To Trust Election Results, We Must Trust The People Administering Them
The latest election news in Pennsylvania: McCormick Pushes For Hand Recount In Senate Race Nailbiter
Yesterday’s Most Read Story
What We Are Reading
Five Turning Points in the Evolution of Wine — Christopher Howard