A whitepaper obtained first by The Federalist suggests Special Counsel John Durham botched the investigation of a second Russia collusion hoax, the one concerning Yota cellphones.
In a scandal linked to the Spygate operation, Hillary Clinton cronies peddled to the CIA fake evidence they claimed established Donald Trump and his associates were using the Russian-made Yota cellphones in the vicinity of the White House and other key locations. The news of this operation broke during the special counsel’s prosecution of former Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann. However, the just-obtained Yota whitepaper that was supposed to undergird Sussmann’s claims differs substantially from the memoranda documenting what Sussmann supposedly said to the CIA.
Durham’s team has known of these discrepancies for years but has failed to hold responsible those who used the CIA to target a political opponent and the then-president of the United States with false smears of corruption with a foreign power. Now with the news that the special counsel’s office has let the grand jury expire, suggesting a winding down of the investigation, Durham’s failure to seek charges related to the Yota phone hoax is appalling. Durham offered the only apparent opportunity for justice in this entire collection of major scandals.
Sussmann Trial Unveiled Another Collusion Hoax
One year ago, almost to the day, Durham charged Sussmann with one count of lying to the then-FBI general counsel James Baker. According to the indictment, during a September 19, 2016, meeting with Baker, Sussmann provided the FBI’s general counsel information that purported to show the existence of a secret communication channel between the Trump organization and the Russian Alfa Bank.
“The indictment charged that Sussmann told Baker during that meeting that he was not working on behalf of any client, when, according to the indictment, Sussmann was actually acting on behalf of ‘a U.S. technology industry executive at a U.S. Internet company’—later identified as Rodney Joffe—and ‘the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign.’”
While a jury acquitted Sussmann of the charged offense, the prosecution of the former Clinton campaign lawyer revealed several previously unknown details related to the Russia collusion hoax, including Sussmann’s peddling of a second Trump-Russia connection to the CIA.
According to court filings, beginning in December of 2016, Sussmann sought to score a meeting with the CIA. Then on January 31, 2017, Sussmann previewed the information he hoped to hand off to the agency, telling a former CIA employee that he represented a client who had discussed “some interesting information about the presence and activity of a unique Russian made phone around President Trump.”
During his January 2017 conversation, according to a memorandum summarizing the exchange, Sussmann said the activity began in April 2016 when then President-elect Trump was working out of the Trump Tower on its Wi-Fi network. After his move to the White House, Sussmann stressed, the same phone surfaced on the Executive Office Building network.
The Narrative Web Sussmann Wove
Sussmann also relayed that his client, later identified as Rodney Joffe, claimed the phone at issue was the extremely rare Russian “Yota phone,” of which only about a dozen or so are used in the United States. Joffe also claimed Russian government officials often received Yota phones as a gift.
The memorandum then summarized the many specifics Sussmann relayed about the supposed connection between Trump and the Yota phone. After the cellphone that first surfaced in April 2016 on Trump Tower’s network, according to Sussmann’s briefing, it was also used on the Wi-Fi at Trump’s Grand Central Park West apartment.
Also, “when Trump traveled to Michigan to interview a cabinet secretary the phone appeared with Trump in Michigan,” the memorandum reported. Then, according to the memorandum, Sussmann claimed that “in December 2016 the phone disappeared from Trump Tower Wi-Fi network and surfaced on EOB network.” Sussmann added that “the phone was never noticed in two places at once, only around the President’s movements.”
Sussmann reportedly also told his contact that from April 2016 forward, the Yota phone was used to make several calls to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, and obtained systems upgrades.
Sussmann Pitches the CIA Some Documents
After highlighting these details for his contact, the memorandum notes that Sussmann indicated Joffe would most likely only provide his data to senior CIA officers, and if the agency was not interested he would most likely provide the information to The New York Times. Sussmann’s sales pitch worked, with the former CIA employee passing the information on to the agency the same day. The CIA later agreed to meet with Sussmann.
Then, during a February 9, 2017, meeting, according to a memorandum prepared by the CIA, Sussmann provided the agents “both written documents and thumb drives which he claimed contained data related to potential Russian activities connected to then Presidential candidate/elect Trump.” The memorandum also noted, inconsistently with the January 2017 memo, that Sussmann said he was not representing a specific client.
According to the memo, Sussmann then described generally the data he was providing on the thumb drive, noting it related to “domain name systems.” Sussmann further explained that his “contacts had gathered information indicating that a Russian-made Yota-phone had been seen by them connecting to WiFi from the Trump Tower in New York, as well as from a location in Michigan, at the same time that then-candidate Trump was believed to be at these locations.” Sussman also told the agents that in December 2016 his associates saw the Yota phone connecting to Wi-Fi from the Executive Office of the President.
Durham: Sussmann Misled the CIA
In a pre-trial motion filed in Sussmann’s criminal case, Special Counsel Durham first revealed Sussmann’s efforts to peddle the Yota phone theory to the CIA on behalf of Joffe. The special counsel further explained that the Yota phone internet data Sussmann provided the CIA came from Joffe and his associates’ exploitation of domain name system (DNS) Internet traffic, including at the Executive Office of the President.
According to Durham’s team, Joffe’s employer “had come to access and maintain dedicated servers for the EOP as part of a sensitive arrangement whereby it provided DNS resolution services to the EOP.”
In Sussmann’s case, the special counsel also stressed that it had found no support for Sussmann’s claim to the CIA that the DNS data showed Trump or his associates were using the Yota phones. On the contrary, Durham’s team explained that the more complete DNS data obtained by Joffe and his associates “reflects that such DNS lookups were far from rare in the United States.”
For example, data gathered by Joffe’s team, but not provided to the CIA, “reflected that between approximately 2014 and 2017, there were a total of more than 3 million lookups” of Yota phone provider’s IP addresses by U.S. users, and of those fewer than 1,000 originated at Trump Tower. Additionally, the more complete data assembled by Joffe and his associates “reflected that DNS lookups involving the EOP and Russian Phone Provider-1 began at least as early 2014,” meaning the connections came during the Obama administration. The data Sussmann provided the CIA on behalf of Joffe omitted these facts.
As I wrote at the time of the special counsel’s filing: “This revelation is huge. It means Joffe had data that disproved the very theory Sussman peddled to the CIA about Trump or his associates using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House and other locations. Further, the CIA received only the misleading data and not the full analysis Joffe had commissioned.”
Failing to Pursue This Is Inexplicable
Yet Durham did not charge Sussmann related to the Yota-phone hoax and to date Joffe has also avoided an indictment. At the time, those tracking developments in the special counsel’s probe wondered why charges were not pursued. But now, having obtained a copy of a whitepaper supposedly backing up the Yota phone theory, the special counsel’s complete inaction over this hoax proves inexplicable.
In response to an open-records request submitted to Georgia Tech seeking a copy of a whitepaper analyzing Yota-related data, The Federalist on Monday obtained a document entitled “Network Analysis of Yota-Related Resolution Events.” Georgia Tech researcher David Dagon, one of Joffe’s associates involved in mining the DNS data, had identified the document as one responsive to a special counsel subpoena. The metadata of the file shows a creation date of February 8, 2017—just one day before Sussmann provided the CIA data supposedly supporting the Yota phone theory.
Together these facts strongly suggest this document provided the basis for Joffe’s claims—relayed by Sussmann to the CIA—about the Yota phones. But the whitepaper’s claims pale in comparison to the story Sussmann told the CIA, as memorialized in the two memoranda and highlighted above.
Whitepaper Doesn’t Support Sussmann’s Claims
“Network traffic analysis strongly suggests communications between Russian networks and Trump Tower, associated Trump properties, with artifacts also present at EOP,” the paper opens. The whitepaper makes no further mention of the EOP.
The whitepaper is similarly circumspect about the Yota phones moving in tandem with Trump, stating merely: “It is possible that one or more devices is at times traveling between locations as there are sometimes gaps possibly correlated to newsworthy events such as New York, NY to Grand Rapids, MI, lifting of some sanctions on Russia, and the disappearance of the queries from New York in mid-December and from Grand Rapids, MI in mid-January 2017.”
The unidentified authors then note that the “document summarizes factual observations, so that others may infer activities associated with these Russian phones on Trump’s networks.”
What Sussmann told the CIA, however, included many more extensive details than the whitepaper, raising the question of where the inferences peddled to the CIA originated. Who concocted the theory that the Yota phone traveled with Trump to Michigan or to the EOP? On what basis? Who provided the data supposedly showing the same Yota phone calling Moscow and St. Petersburg? Who culled that data?
Whitepaper Creators Omitted Key Facts
The text of the whitepaper also makes more concrete—and more appalling—Durham’s revelation that Joffe and his associates omitted key details about the number of Yota phone lookups. While Joffe and his associates knew there were more than 3 million lookups of the Yota-phone provider from U.S.-based IP addresses from 2014 to 2017, the whitepaper included an entire section entitled, “Rarity of Yota in US,” that concluded YotaPhones are “rarely seen on US networks.”
While the special counsel’s office highlighted this omission in the Sussmann case, nothing of consequence seems to have come from that discovery. Further, given the gulf that separates what Sussmann told the CIA and the much more milquetoast assertions in the whitepaper, one must wonder what Durham’s team has done to unravel this aspect of the Russia-collusion hoax.
Finally, the evidence is now clear that Joffe shared the EOP data with someone at Georgia Tech, since the whitepaper referencing that data proved responsive to a right-to-know request served on the university. But Joffe’s right to the EOP data was limited.
So the key question becomes: Why has Durham’s team not pursued charges against anyone related to the Yota phone hoax?
Margot Cleveland is The Federalist's senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time.
As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.
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