In February 2022, Special Counsel John Durham inserted what seemed to be a bombshell allegation into an otherwise drab court filing: a firm paid by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign had accessed White House data.
It was stunning to those who, in 2016, had crowed about Clinton’s emails and, who, in 2017 and 2018 found themselves battling accusations that the Russian government aided their preferred candidate, President Trump.
On Newsmax TV, sometimes Trump attorney and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani jumped on it, claiming to have similar — perhaps starker — evidence of Clinton’s corruption.
“I happen to have it in my bedroom, or my den, actually,” Giuliani said. “I’ve had it there for years.”
“There’s a lot more to come out,” he added.
Giuliani’s remarks are really only one example of a trend in which the country’s largest Big Lie promoters have come to see Durham as a useful legitimator of themselves, and of various conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated claims that they spread. President Trump recently filed a lawsuit that ties together several allegations made by Durham’s office, while various entrepreneurs in the Trump conspiracy universe have claimed to have provided evidence to the investigation.
For much of the MAGA right, Durham’s investigation has come to serve a second function: he’s not only crafting a narrative to suggest that the Trump-Russia investigation was unfounded, but also serving as a lighting rod and, in some cases, legitimator of those with far stranger axes to grind.
In Giuliani’s case, the ex-president’s erstwhile lawyer was one of many conservatives who misinterpreted the filing, claiming that it vindicated claims that Trump was spied on when, in fact, it asserted that a tech executive “exploited” an arrangement to maintain some White House servers, without specifying which President was in the White House.
Durham himself claimed in the initial filing that the unnamed tech executive took actions “for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump.” Later on, after Giuliani and others, including Trump, ran with the incorrect interpretation, Durham wrote to the judge that he would submit further filings under seal if they included “information that legitimately gives rise to privacy issues or other concerns that might overcome the presumption of public access to judicial documents.”
“If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the government’s motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the government’s inclusion of this information,” Durham wrote.
Maria Strollo Zack, a former lobbyist, has spent the past 18 months claiming that the Italian government and CIA successfully conspired to change the outcome of the 2020 election via an Italian defense contractor named Leonardo — a theory dubbed ItalyGate. Zack has claimed that Leonardo hacked American voting machines via satellites, which, according to her, zapped votes away from Trump.
Zack told a Kansas State Senate committee in March that she had uncovered a motive for the Italian involvement, and presented the evidence to none other than John Durham. In this case, Zack fumed, it all went back to President Obama, who motivated the Italians to overthrown Trump via a $400 million bribe.
“I am making this very clear to everyone — John Durham is in possession of documents from me that include the moving of pallets of cash by Barack Obama through the Dubai embassy,” Zack claimed. “Our United States government CIA agent was present, $400 million were moved from there with the help of Italians.”
Durham began his investigation in May 2019, empowered then by then-Attorney General Bill Barr to conduct a non-criminal, administrative review of the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. It morphed into a criminal probe and, in October 2020, Barr gave Durham a near-permanent role, making him a special counsel and granting him the independence and budget that come with the office.
Zack was far from the first to use the probe to add a sheen of legitimacy to outlandish public claims.
Former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne claimed in August 2019 to have given the Durham investigation texts and emails, telling conservative journalist in a now-deleted news story that the information would “become the greatest political scandal in U.S. history.”
Three years on, Durham has a trial next week in the case of Michael Sussmann, a former Perkins Coie lawyer charged with one count of false statements for allegedly failing to tell the FBI general counsel in 2016 that he was offering a Trump-Russia related tip on behalf of a client.
Trump used the investigation in his recent lawsuit, which named a number of his political opponents.
In a 108-page complaint, Trump alleged that — you guessed it — he was the victim of an elaborate conspiracy, one with Hillary Clinton and numerous members of the supposed deep state at the head.
“The full extent of the Defendants’ wrongdoing has been steadily and gradually exposed by Special Counsel John Durham, who has been heading a DOJ investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia conspiracy,” he wrote in the suit.