Special counsel John Durham has revealed that employees of the research firm Fusion GPS sent journalists hundreds of emails with unverified accusations against President Trump to trigger negative news stories.
Mr. Durham was responding to efforts of people with ties to Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign to keep potentially explosive evidence out of his hands during the upcoming trial of a Clinton campaign lawyer accused of lying to the FBI.
In a court motion filed late Monday, Mr. Durham said the slew of emails undercuts the assertion of Clinton campaign officials that Fusion GPS’s research for them should be protected under attorney-client privilege.
The Fusion GPS emails peddled to news outlets, as revealed by Mr. Durham, led to stories including:
• A Wall Street Journal article about a Trump adviser meeting with a former KGB official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
• A Washington Post story about a Trump campaign adviser investing in Russia.
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• New York Times and Reuters articles about the FBI investigating a secret communications setup between Mr. Trump and Russia’s Alfa Bank.
Republicans seized on Mr. Durham’s revelations. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said the special counsel is exposing the Clinton campaign’s “political dirty tricks.”
“We’ve known for quite some time what happened here. And what the Durham indictments are just proving is how not only complicit but the Clinton campaign did this. They literally did this,” Mr. Johnson told The Washington Times.
“What the Clinton campaign did in terms of political dirty tricks, we are still putting up with the repercussions. Would Vladimir Putin have invaded Ukraine if Trump was still in office? That’s an interesting question,” he said.
Top Clinton campaign officials John Podesta, Robby Mook and Marc Elias have maintained that Fusion GPS provided legal work that should be rendered off-limits to Mr. Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia collusion probe.
They argued in affidavits that Fusion GPS’s work was intended to provide legal advice to avoid liability for defamation or libel.
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None of the three campaign officials who signed affidavits responded to requests for comment from The Washington Times. A spokesperson for Mrs. Clinton did not return a request for comment.
If the material is privileged, Mr. Durham said, then Fusion GPS would have exercised caution before peddling unverified research to reporters.
“If rendering such advice was truly the intended purpose of Fusion GPS’s retention, one would also expect the investigative firm to seek permission and/or guidance from [the Clinton campaign] or its counsel before sharing such derogatory materials with the media or otherwise placing them into the public domain,” Mr. Durham wrote in court filings.
“In other words, if the purpose of Fusion GPS’s retention was — as Mr. Elias implies — to determine the bounds of what could (and could not) be said publicly without committing libel or defamation, then the record would reflect genuine efforts to remain within those bounds. And it would do so confidentially,” he said.
The dispute over Fusion GPS’s activities is whether Mr. Durham can use the information in his case against Michael Sussmann, a Clinton campaign lawyer charged with making false statements to the FBI.
Mr. Sussmann is accused of telling a top FBI lawyer that he was not representing a client when he gave the bureau purported evidence linking Mr. Trump to Alfa Bank in 2016.
The accusations were later proved false, but only after they had been splashed across the front pages of major newspapers citing anonymous sources familiar with the FBI probe.
Mr. Sussmann, who has pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to go to trial next month in a court battle that could reveal more details about the Clinton campaign’s efforts to tie Mr. Trump to Russia.
On Tuesday, tech executive Rodney Joffe asked a federal judge to stop Mr. Durham from using as evidence in Mr. Sussmann’s trial four emails he sent to an investigative firm in 2016.
Mr. Joffe said the emails are protected by attorney-client privilege because Mr. Sussmann, his attorney, was copied on them.
Prosecutors have not charged Mr. Joffe with a crime, but Mr. Durham has said he, Mr. Sussmann and the Clinton campaign formed a “joint venture” to spread damaging and false information about Mr. Trump’s links to Russia.
Mr. Durham said the emails are evidence “in furtherance of collaborating and promoting” the Russian bank accusations, not facilitating legal advice.
Although the special counsel filed some of Fusion GPS’s communications with reporters under seal, he did detail some emails in his filing Monday.
Mr. Durham noted that no lawyers are copied on the emails and no one asked for legal advice. Even if the information were privileged, he said, that protection was waived when Fusion GPS distributed it to the press.
In the emails, Fusion GPS employees amplified the findings of former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled and disseminated an anti-Trump dossier filed with unverified and salacious accusations about Mr. Trump’s links to Russia.
Some reporters responded with skepticism as Fusion GPS peddled the stories.
A July 2016 email from Fusion GPS to a Wall Street Journal reporter touts Mr. Steele’s accusations. “A Trump adviser meeting with a former KGB official close to Putin. … would be huge news,” the filing says.
On July 29, 2016, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson emailed a Washington Post reporter claiming that Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had investments in Russia.
The reporter wrote back that he checked with Moscow sources who said the stories were “bull——” and “impossible.” Mr. Simpson wrote back, “No worries, I don’t expect lots of people to believe it. It is, indeed, hard to believe.”
On Oct. 31, 2016, Mr. Simpson sent emails to The New York Times and Reuters pushing the Alfa Bank accusations and claims that the U.S. government was investigating. The email was sent on the same day that Slate and The Times published articles about the purported link between Mr. Trump and Alfa Bank.
“Big story on the trump Alfa server moving early pm [Off the record] [United States Government] absolutely investigating. Campaign will light up I imagine,” Mr. Simpson wrote, according to the court filing.
• Kerry Picket contributed to this report.