Imagine, if you will, that a special counsel appointed by the federal government declared in a court filing that he had evidence that a major political figure—let’s call her Hillary Clinton—had paid spies to infiltrate the White House and run surveillance on Donald Trump in order to frame him as a foreign asset. The whole thing would be a big flipping deal! One for which there would be major, major consequences and far-reaching fallout. The country, nay, the world would be gripped by the story, and for good reason—a former candidate for office spying on the president? In the White House? That would be crazy! And you’re right—it would be crazy if something like that had actually happened. Which it didn’t, though unfortunately for reason, logic, and the concept of the truth, Donald Trump, Fox News, and various other deranged conservatives cannot be convinced of that.
Yes, as you’ve probably heard, on Saturday the former president released a statement claiming “Special Counsel Robert Durham”—he meant to say “John Durham” but was apparently too angry to keep his Johns and his Roberts straight—had uncovered “indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia,” a “scandal far greater in scope and magnitude than Watergate” for which Trump suggested those involved should be executed but would settle for criminal prosecution. The problem? Neither Robert Durham nor John Durham nor anyone else for that matter had actually provided evidence of any such crime, let alone even suggested it.
Per The New York Times:
When John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel investigating the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference, filed a pretrial motion on Friday night, he slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump. But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news—the latest example of the challenge created by a barrage of similar conspiracy theories from Mr. Trump and his allies.
The latest example began with the motion Mr. Durham filed in a case he has brought against Michael A. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to the Democratic Party. The prosecutor has accused Mr. Sussmann of lying during a September 2016 meeting with an F.B.I. official about Mr. Trump’s possible links to Russia. The filing was ostensibly about potential conflicts of interest. But it also recounted a meeting at which Mr. Sussmann had presented other suspicions to the government. In February 2017, Mr. Sussmann told the C.I.A. about odd internet data suggesting that someone using a Russian-made smartphone may have been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.
According to the filing, Sussmann had gotten his information from technology executive Rodney Joffe, whose company, Neustar, had performed server-related work for the White House. In Durham’s estimation, Joffe and his colleagues had “exploited this arrangement by mining [certain records] for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump.” Fox News took this line from Durham’s filing and ran with it, claiming Durham had said he had found that the Clinton campaign had paid the technology company to “infiltrate” White House servers. The lack of similarly baseless claims from the mainstream media led Trump to declare “The press refuses to even mention the major crime that took place. This in itself is a scandal, the fact that a story so big, so powerful and so important for the future of our nation is getting zero coverage from LameStream, is being talked about all over the world.”
Strangely, there wasn’t a lot of fact-checking going on down at Mar-a-Lago, but the actual reason that the “LameStream” media hadn’t covered the story was likely because, as the Times notes: (1) Sussmann’s conversation with the CIA had already been reported last October (2) Durham never once said anything about the White House being “infiltrate[d]” (3) the special counsel also never claimed the Clinton campaign had paid Joffe’s company and (4) perhaps most importantly, “the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era.” In fact, lawyers for the data scientist who helped develop the data analysis in question, say this happened during— wait for it—Barack Obama’s presidency.
“What Trump and some news outlets are saying is wrong,” attorneys Jody Westby and Mark Rasch told the Times. “The cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”
In other words, Trump and company got the whole thing hilariously, mortifyingly incorrect. But fear not: We’re sure they’ll issue a lengthy correction and heartfelt apology to the people whose reputations they impugned—and the ones Trump suggested should be put to death—in no time.
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