Latest Durham revelations put Biden's national security adviser in uneasy light

Jake Sullivan testified in 2017 it was "absurd" to suggest the Clinton campaign spread "fake Russian information." Court evidence says otherwise.

Published: February 14, 2022 7:58pm

Updated: February 14, 2022 11:13pm

Special Counsel John Durham's investigation isn't just imposing accountability for Hillary Clinton's 2016 political trick to dirty up Donald Trump with the FBI; it's also encroaching on the credibility of President Biden's current chief foreign policy adviser and point man for the current Russia-Ukraine crisis.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was a senior adviser to Clinton's 2016 campaign and, by his own admission, spread the word to reporters back then that Democrats believed Trump was colluding with Vladimir Putin to hijack the election and had a secret computer channel to the Kremlin. Neither proved true.

But long before that Russia collusion narrative crumbled like a stale Starbucks muffin, Sullivan gave sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee disputing that anything the Clinton campaign spread around Washington was misinformation.

"Are you aware of any collusion, coordination, or conspiracy by yourself or by any other members of the campaign that you were working with to procure fake Russian information to harm Donald Trump?" Sullivan was asked in December 2017.

Sullivan responded without ambiguity. "I mean, you will forgive me if I want to say more than just an emphatic 'No' to that answer, because I find that totally absurd," he answered.


But Durham's court filings in two cases last fall — one against Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann and the other against the primary source for the discredited Christopher Steele dossier — call into question that assertion. Both defendants are charged with lying to the FBI.

Sullivan is not accused of wrongdoing. But court filings in those cases state that Sullivan — identified in the Sussmann indictment only as a Clinton "foreign policy advisor" — engaged in email traffic with other Clinton campaign officials and lawyers about a story leaked to the news media suggesting Trump had a secret communications system with Russia via a computer server at the Moscow-based Alfa Bank.

"On or about September 15, 2016 Campaign Lawyer-1 exchanged emails with the Clinton campaign's campaign manager, communications director, and foreign policy advisor concerning the Russian Bank-1 allegations that Sussmann had recently shared with Reporter 1," the Sussmann indictment stated.

"Campaign Lawyer-1 billed his time for this correspondence to the Clinton campaign with the billing entry 'email correspondence with [name of foreign policy advisor], [name of campaign manager], [name of communications director] re: Russian Bank -1 article.'"


That revelation places Sullivan squarely in the loop of conversations designed to spread a story that the FBI, former Russia Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Durham's team all have deemed false.

A month after those email conversations — with the Trump-Clinton presidential race coming down to the wire — the story containing the Alfa Bank allegations surfaced in the mainstream news media in late October 2016.

And it was Sullivan who jumped into action, issuing a statement adding legitimacy to the article's claim. "This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow," Sullivan said in the statement. "Computer scientists have uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank."

His statement also gave his boss, Hillary Clinton, the opportunity to retweet it.

"Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank," Clinton crowed in an effort to get the media to cover the allegations.


By the time Sullivan issued the statement, there was already substantial reason to doubt the article. The FBI was already telling this reporter and the New York Times that it had ruled out the secret communications channel and that the pings the computer researchers allegedly found could be explained by basic marketing communications.

Durham's recent court filings reveal that some of the very computer executives who were advising the Clinton campaign and its lawyer on the allegation strongly doubted the conclusions themselves.

Durham refers to emails between the various players who assisted the research that said they were looking simply for "an inference" or a "very useful narrative" that could make it look like Trump was in bed with Russia.

But the tech company executive who led the effort himself wrote an email two months before the stories were published casting doubt on the evidence.

"Tech Executive-I expressed his own belief that the '' domain (referring to the subject of the allegations that SUSSMANN conveyed to the FBI) was not a secret communications channel with Russian Bank-1, but 'a red herring,'" Durham wrote in the Sussman indictment.


Other participants in the research expressed similar doubt. "How do we plan to defend against the criticism that this is not spoofed traffic," one wrote in an Aug. 22, 2016 email.

So Durham court fillings not only establish the story was proven false, they also show there was reason to doubt it even before Sullivan lent his name and foreign policy credentials to it.

The court filings so far provide no evidence Sullivan was told directly about the concerns, but experts told Just the News that as the senior national security adviser to the Clinton campaign he had an obligation to check it out before spreading it to the media.

"If you're the national security adviser, or you're the foreign policy advisor for presidential candidate Secretary Hillary Clinton, you got to be able to look at the information and vet it before you make a conclusion," said Daniel Hoffman, a respected CIA officer who was the agency's station chief in Moscow.

"He never challenged his own assumption, and he never challenged the information he was receiving," he added.


Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he has concerns about the accuracy of Sullivan's testimony back in 2017 and the fact that today he serves as Biden's national security adviser. Nunes recently retired to become head of Trump's new tech and social media company.

"Well, it sure doesn't look like it," Nunes said when asked about whether Sullivan's testimony was accurate. "Because he was one of the propagandists that was out there all through the 2016 election that was promoting this, promoting this in great detail.

"Look, that seems like everybody who was involved in the Russia hoax was actually promoted. So if you were in the Obama White House, and you participated in this hoax, you got a major promotion, you got a new job."


Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), another lawmaker who played a role in exposing falsehoods in the Russia collusion narrative, said Sullivan should face investigation to determine what he knows.

"Just because you're getting paid by Hillary Clinton, just because you are Hillary Clinton, or you're associated with Hillary Clinton, you don't get some free pass from the justice system," Zeldin told Just the News.

Brian Stekloff, the attorney who represented Sullivan at the 2017 deposition, did not immediately return a call Monday seeking comment.

In his 2017 testimony, Sullivan argued he was justified in pushing the Trump narrative because the Clinton campaign felt under attack by Russia after allegations of hacked emails surfaced in the summer of 2016.

"We feared that we were under attack, not just by the Russians, but by a coordinated, with the Trump campaign as well," he said at the time.

In the end, every investigation that looked at the collusion allegations concluded there was none between Trump and Russia, although U.S. officials believe Moscow on its own did engage in hacking and leaking of Clinton-related emails.

Beyond the legal implications, experts said Sullivan's role in spreading a now-disproven allegation against a campaign rival could undercut his credibility with U.S. allies in his current role as Biden's national security adviser, especially during the current Russia-Ukraine crisis.

"I can't say what the leadership in Ukraine is thinking about this White House and the various characters who populate it, as well as the State and Defense Department. But I'm sure based on what you've just said, they have a lot of questions about pronouncements coming out from those very people about intelligence that relates to their life and death," former State Department adviser Kiron Skinner told Just the News on Monday. "I think that that would absolutely be the case."

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