Doing It For Durham: The Sussmann Trial
The Media Research Center returned to hype mode when right-leaning special counsel John Durham hauled a former Clinton campaign attorney into court on a flimsy charge of making a false statement -- then threw a fit when the jury acquitted him.
By Terry Krepel
Even though Durham's claims earlier this year fizzled out, the MRC continued to place its faith in Durham as a stealth political actor. Curtis Houck huffed in an April 18 post:
Last week, ABC, CBS, and NBC refused to cover on their top morning and evening shows not one but two new and significant happenings in Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe; as not only did a judge deny indicted former Clinton attorney Michael Sussmann’s motion to dismiss, but a new Durham filing alleging the CIA knew Trump-Russia ties were “not plausible” and “user-created” on Trump servers.
Houck went on to unsurprisingly praise how Fox News ran with those claims. But as the Washington Post reported, that claim was cherry-picked out of Durham's full filing, and it's not clear which exact claim is being criticized as "not plausible."
When Sussmann's trial started, the MRC ranted about how non-right-wing media was ignoring it while cheering Fox News for lovingly detailing it, starting with a May 17 post by Kevin Tober:
On Tuesday, the prosecution and defense teams in special counsel John Durham’s trial against former Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann delivered opening arguments. Sussmann is charged with making false statements to the FBI. During opening arguments, prosecutors revealed that Sussmann used the FBI to create an October surprise during the 2016 presidential election against then-candidate Donald Trump.
In fact, the Mueller report documented dozens of contacts between Russian operatives and the 2016 Trump campaign, so it wasn't a "fairy tale" to suspect collusion, and an investigation was more than justified.
Houck returned to hype a "MASSIVE Durham Trial Bombshell" non-right-wing didn't cover (but Fox News did) in a May 20 post:
The trial of former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann took a shocking turn Friday when Clinton 2016 campaign manager Robby Mook revealed on the stand that Hillary Clinton herself greenlighted the leaking to a reporter of what they insisted was the possibility of ties between the Trump Organization and the Kremlin-friendly Alfa Bank.
Houck didn't explain why nearly 11 minutes wasn't an excessive amount of time to spend on this story or why that didn't further demonstrate Fox News's irrefutable right-wing bias, even as he dismissed the other channels as "liberal networks."
Tim Graham similarly whined about the allegedly insufficient coverage of this "bombshell" in a May 22 post:
A less Clinton-backing media elite might have found a -- well, "bombshell" in Friday's court testimony by former Clinton campaign chairman Robby Mook that "Hillary Clinton personally authorized her campaign to share since-debunked computer data linking Donald Trump with a Russian bank" in 2016, an attempt to paint Trump as compromised by the Russians.
Like Houck, Graham didn't explain why this claim deserved more prominent coverage beyond helping the MRC's pro-right-wing optics.
By contrast, the MRC has been apoplectic that the 2020 October surprise of Hunter Biden's laptop wasn't lapped up by the media outside its right-wing bubble, despite the lack of independent verification at the time.
Apparently lacking any further "massive bombshells" from Durham, the MRC then went pretty much silent on the trial until a verdict came in. But when the jury acquitted Sussmann, had to find a new narrative: attacking the justice system.
In a May 31 post, Kevin Tober suggested the verdict was illegitimate because the jury was mysteriously "dubious":
In one of the most outrageous examples of leftist media bias, ABC’s World News Tonight and CBS Evening News decided to finally report on the Durham/Sussmann Russia hoax trial, but only after Michael Sussmann was acquitted of lying to the FBI. Both networks had no interest in covering the trial while it was ongoing. It wasn’t until the Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer was found not guilty by a dubious Washington D.C. jury that they decided to take a victory lap. While NBC Nightly News made no mention of the jury verdict.
Unlike with previous articles bashing those channels' lack of coverage of the trial, Tober did not mention how Fox News covered the verdict.
When CNN's John Avlon took right-wing media to task for its embarrassing Durham cheerleading. Aidan Moorehouse had a meltdown in a June 1 post:
If you ever feel like being lectured by someone who thinks you have the mental capacity of a toddler, look no further than CNN’s John Avlon. On Wednesday’s New Day, Avlon decided to use his five-minute monologue Reality Check to gloat over the acquittal of Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann and ironically tout CNN as “reality-based media” as opposed to “partisan media.”
But if jury members had the "clear conflicts of interest" that Moorehouse claims, wasn't it Durham's duty to make sure those people never got on the jury, since both prosecution and defense attorneys must sign off on jury members?
Emma Schultz lodged a similar complaint in a June 2 post, grumbling that the acquittal means "outlets like CNN are suddenly excited to spike the football. On Tuesday night, Don Lemon and guests cheered the verdict as won 'fairly and squarely.' They also derided 'partisan folks' who watch such trials in bad faith." She then tried to raise the specter of a biased jury by citing a highly biased Fox News employee: "Fox News host and former Trump spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany explained that 'the D.C. jury pool, this is an area of the country where 76 percent of people in the District of Columbia are registered Democrats. Believing that the jury did not 'buy what Durham was selling,' she feeds right into what the left thinks." Like Moorehouse, Schultz failed to mention that Durham approved this jury.
Meanwhile, MRC writer Curtis Houck was more explicit about blaming a supposedly biased jury on his Twitter account, lashing out in one tweet at an "ultra-liberal D.C. jury" and calling Sussmann their "friend" (despite offering no evidence that any jury member had any sort of "friendly" personal connection with Sussmann). He whined in another tweet that "This [is] what happens when you try a Democratic operative in a city with Saddam Hussein-like election returns for Democrats." At no point did he mention that Durham signed off on these jurors and that if he felt they were overly biased, he shouldn't have done that.
Houck further complained: "If a Trump lawyer were to be tried in a scheme similar to how Michael Sussmann was charged with lying to the FBI and faced a D.C. jury, the trial would be held in Fulton County, PA where Trump got 85.5% in 2020." But Houck offered no evidence that Durham ever tried to move the Sussmann trial to find a supposedly less Democratic jury.
Graham went on to handwave Durham's failure as a prosecutor and cheer his work in perpetuating right-wing anti-Hillary narratives: "So in this case the prosecution failed, but in media terms, the John Durham probe keeps giving us details on how the media and the Clinton campaign colluded to create the Russian collusion narrative that ended up being false."
Graham regurgitated a lot of his podcast ranting in his June 3 column: "John Durham was guaranteed a hostile reception from journalists who wanted everyone to believe the most overwrought tales about Trump while they posed as the Guardians of Facts and Truth. Any attempt to dig into the manufacturing of their sensationalist narratives has to be disparaged as a 'debacle.'" And Durham was guaranteed a fawning reception from Graham and the MRC because he was advancing right-wing anti-Hillary narratives. That was too good of a story for anyone at the MRC to fact-check beyond his "MASSIVE" claims -- which might have revealed they weren't so massive after all.
Clay Waters cranked out a whataboutism-laden June 4 post ranting about the New York Times pointing out Durham's bias:
The New York Times, which pushed special investigator Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump-Russia collusion that proved illusory, is reveling in the acquittal of a Democratic operative in special counsel’s John Durham inquiry (an inquiry into “conspiracy theories,” according to Savage) into the possibly corrupted origins of Mueller’s own investigation.Waters went on to complain that Savage "kept railing against Durham’s filings with an unsympathetic nit-picking technique the paper never applied to Mueller’s actual case." But at no point did Waters actually defend Durham's investigation -- he simply whined that a Times reporter pointed out Durham's failure.
Perhaps sensing that there is, in fact, no defense to be made for Durham with his failed prosecution of Sussmann, Waters' post was the last time Durham has been mentioned at the MRC. Even MRC writers, on occasion, are not so blindly partisan that they want to be associated with a losing cause (though it has yet to walk back its version of Trump's Big Lie about election fraud).