A researcher tasked by tech executive Rodney Joffe with mining internet data to create a “narrative” of Trump-Russia collusion expressed doubt about the Hillary Clinton campaign project in an August 2016 email cited by Special Counsel John Durham — writing at one point, “This will not fly,” according to court documents.
The message emerged in an explosive motion filed late Monday, in which Durham alleged that Joffe, Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and attorney Michael Sussmann took part in a “joint venture” to gather and spread damaging information about then-Republican nominee Donald Trump.
In the filing, Durham argued that communications between Joffe and online sleuths should be admitted as evidence in Sussmann’s upcoming trial on a charge of lying to the FBI about his work for the Clinton campaign while suggesting that the Trump Organization had ties to a Russian bank.
According to prosecutors, Joffe told his subordinates that “VIPs” — a phrase Durham says refers to Sussmann, Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias, and the campaign itself — were “looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination.”
“Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru [web domains] other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe [sic] pageant,” Joffe allegedly wrote. “He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.”
A couple of days later, the researcher responded to Joffe that his ask was all but impossible.
“[Y]ou do realize that we will have to expose every trick we have in our bag to even make a very weak association?” wrote the person, identified only as Researcher-1. ” … [U]nless we get … traffic collected at critical points between suspect organizations, we cannot technically make any claims that would fly public scrutiny.”
“In this case we will have not only the Trump folks trying to sho[o]t this down, but all the privacy freaks trying to come up with a crazy conspiracy theory on how we obtain the data,” the researcher added. “Sorry to say this, we are nowhere close coming with a plan to attack this problem that will fly in the public domain. The only thing that drive us at this point is that we just do not like [Trump]. This will not fly in eyes of public scrutiny. Folks, I am afraid we have tunnel vision.”
Despite the skepticism, Joffe and Sussmann pressed on, eventually drafting a “white paper” of information claiming that Trump Organization computer servers were communicating with servers at Moscow-based Alfa-Bank.
Sussmann turned over the white paper to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker on Sept. 19, 2016, after allegedly texting him that he had “time-sensitive (and sensitive)” information to discuss.
“I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau,” Sussmann added in his message to Baker, which was reproduced in Durham’s filing.
In addition to the FBI, the special counsel alleges, the allegations about Trump and Alfa-Bank were shared with State Department personnel by Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the now-infamous dossier of allegations about the 45th president’s links with Russia. The firm that hired Steele on behalf of the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, also shared the allegations with at least one Department of Justice official, according to prosecutors.
Four days before Sussmann met with Baker, Joffe allegedly asked his researchers for feedback on the draft white paper of Alfa-Bank allegations.
“Please read as if you had no prior knowledge or involvement, and you were handed this document as a security expert … and were asked: ‘Is this plausible as an explanation?’” Joffe wrote in an email. “NOT to be able to say that this is, without doubt, fact, but to merely be plausible. Do NOT spend more than a short while on this (If you spend more than an hour you have failed the assignment). Hopefully less.”
The email was accompanied by a smiley-face text emoji.