Saunders: It’s Simple. Fake News Snookered Big Media

“Court Filing Started a Furor in Right-Wing Outlets, but Their Narrative Is Off Track,” read The New York Times headline for a story about special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the FBI’s ill-starred Crossfire Hurricane probe into the 2016 election.

An alternative headline would be: “Don’t Read This. It’s Too Complicated.”

Subhead: “You might get a headache.”

The story warns that “narratives” on the probe “tend to involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims.”

Subhead: “We shouldn’t even have to write this.”

But Big Media do have to write the story because they got snookered in 2016 and 2017.

On Feb. 11, Durham released a filing against attorney Michael A. Sussmann. In September, Durham charged Sussmann with lying to an FBI biggie about the identity of his legal clients, including Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, as he peddled a false story about former President Donald Trump and a Russian bank.

“Sussmann stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client, which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that Sussmann was acting as a good citizen merely passing along information, not as a paid advocate or political operative,” the indictment charges. The FBI initiated its investigation of Trump and Alfa Bank based on Sussmann’s meeting.

If Sussmann had not lied and disclosed that he was working for Clinton and company, presumably, federal investigators might have acted differently.

Sussmann says he did nothing wrong and has pleaded not guilty. In a legal response, his attorneys charged that Durham’s filing includes “prejudicial — and false — allegations” that are “plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool.”

The charge involves the sort of process crime that federal prosecutors try to use to build a bigger case.

Legal issues aside, the real outrage here is that the phony story got traction. Just as the Steele dossier was a fraud, the Trump-Alfa Bank story was bogus as well.

Major news organizations reported the story, if at times with disclaimers, even though it was held together with chewing gum and paper clips.

Sussmann and company knew how to push journalists’ buttons. As Durham reports, one member of the team urged a reporter to “hurry” to score a hot scoop. The reporter responded by sending “the first 2,500 words” of a draft story. That’s wrong on so many levels.

Clinton’s team knew the “data” they had were not “incriminating,” a former deputy special counsel to the Trump White House during the Mueller probe told me.

“Their own tech experts have told them that. They just want to create an ‘inference’ of wrongdoing.”

“That’s the drill,” the former Trump staffer added. “Generate fake opposition research, give it to the FBI without Hillary’s fingerprints on it, then tip off the dutiful press to write stories about it so you can tweet it out.” Which is exactly what Clinton and her then-campaign foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan did.

I’m old enough to remember when opposition research involved digging up actual dirt on candidates.

The worst part is: It’s not as if there weren’t mountains of real dirt on Trump, a New York real estate baron who paid off women to buy their silence about their sexual relations.

Sussmann and company didn’t have to make up dirt on Trump, but they did it anyway. That’s who they are.

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Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute's Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at

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