A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
John Durham Confirms Donald Trump Is a Liar
By David Corn October 18, 2022
Special counsel John Durham leaving the federal courthouse in Washington, on May 16, 2022. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Last week, John Durham, the federal prosecutor assigned in 2019 by then-Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, produced a bombshell in court that showed Donald Trump is a liar. And few noticed.
Durham, whom Barr secretly named as a special prosecutor weeks before the 2020 election, has been prosecuting Igor Danchenko, a US-based researcher who in 2016 supplied information to Christopher Steele that ended up in the so-called Steele dossier that assembled unconfirmed allegations related to Trump’s ties to Russia, for allegedly lying to FBI agents who were investigating the dossier. (The case went to the jury on Monday. It may be decided by the time you read this.) On the first day of the trial a week ago, Durham called to the stand a senior FBI analyst named Brian Auten, who testified that the bureau had offered Steele “up to $1 million” to prove the charges in the collection of memos he had written for a research firm that was being paid by a lawyer working for the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.
A-ha! screamed the right-wing media (Fox News, the National Review, the Washington Examiner, and others) at this revelation. But Auten noted that no such sum was paid because Steele, as we already know, did not corroborate the material in his memos. And as was already known (as Michael Isikoff and I reported in Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on American and the Election of Donald Trump), the FBI did offer Steele a $50,000 contract in October 2016—after he had shared his memos with the bureau—if he would work with the bureau. But this contract, like the “up to $1 million” payment, never happened. (Auten testified that the reward would only have been paid out had Steele’s substantiated information led to a successful prosecution.)
Trumpers are pointing to the big-money offer as a sign the FBI was wrong to use information in the Steele memos to obtain a surveillance warrant for Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign adviser who had visited Moscow in the summer of 2016. But we also already know that the FBI screwed up bigtime in citing the Steele document in its application for the Page warrant. That misconduct was well covered in a 2019 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Leaping on the $1 million factoid was just the latest move in the right’s never-ending campaign to bury the story of how Trump aided and abetted Moscow’s attack on the 2016 election—which was mounted in part to help Trump win—by focusing on the FBI’s misuse of the Steele dossier. Trump and his fellow Russia scandal denialists have obsessed over this FBI abuse—a side story—to deflect attention from the core elements of the scandal that include Trump’s treachery. (They routinely ignore the much-overlooked but damning bipartisan Senate intelligence report, released in 2020, that goes much farther than the Mueller report in detailing how Trump encouraged and sought to benefit from Putin’s clandestine operation and that concludes there was a “direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”)
In hardly a surprising move, conservative outlets—and much of the rest of the media—missed a remarkable moment at the Danchenko trial concerning a major Trump claim. Trump and his minions have long insisted that the FBI’s Russia investigation was a “hoax” that was illegitimately cooked up by the bureau (the Deep State!) to sabotage Trump. When the abovementioned IG report declared that the probe was properly launched based on reasonable concern, Durham took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement to challenge that conclusion. He declared, “we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” That was quite a proclamation, and this statement heartened Trumpland, fueling hope that Durham’s investigation would rip apart the Deep State and show that its Russia inquiry was rigged from the start and indeed a fraud. Some Trumpists envisioned Durhman indicting (and locking up!) FBI and CIA officials and top Obama administration aides.
Durham’s investigation never found anything of the sort. He nabbed an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email used to obtain the Page warrant. He lost his case against Democratic attorney Michael Sussmann, who he accused of lying to an FBI official during a conversation about data research that some cyber-experts believed indicated a backchannel between Trump and a Russian bank. (The FBI never found such a link.) None of this had anything to do with the legitimacy of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Neither does the Danchenko case. Yet when Auten was on the stand, Durham asked him about the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe. As CNN reported, “Auten confirmed what has been known for many years: the probe was launched after the US government got intelligence from a friendly country that a Trump campaign aide had bragged to one of its diplomats that the Russians had offered to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton.” CNN added:
The situation was all the more interesting because Trump has repeatedly acted as a cheerleader for Durham and has said Durham will validate his suspicions about massive government misconduct regarding the Russia probe. On Tuesday, Durham inadvertently affirmed a basic truth about the Russia probe that Trump has lied about for years.
Read that again. Durham, the last great hope of Trump and all the Russian-hoax hoaxers, presented evidence that blew up Trump’s claims of a Deep State conspiracy and that even undermined Durham’s own Trump-friendly statement. It was almost as if Durham was waving a white flag of surrender.
Of course, if you’re going to believe Auten regarding the $1 million claim, you have to accept his testimony about the legitimacy of the Trump-Russia investigation. Unless you choose to ignore it. Which is what the Fox News, National Review, and Washington Examiner stories did. The Washington Post account of Auten’s testimony also missed the key exchange. And the New York Times did not cover that day of the trial.
For years, Trump has claimed that he was the target of a phony investigation concocted by the Deep State. Barr essentially appointed Durham to find evidence of this. And Durham publicly suggested in 2019 that he had unearthed information that backed the notion that something was fishy about the origins of the FBI’s probe. Yet in what seems to be the final prosecution of his investigation, Durham produced testimony that supports the opposite and debunks Trump’s Big Lie about the Russia investigation. Oops?
Durham has not been Trump’s savior; he has ended up showing that Trump has been conning the American public about one of the most serious events of recent years: a foreign adversary’s attack on the United States. Acting as Barr’s henchman, Durham, though, has helped to divert attention from how Trump betrayed the United States. That has been a grand service for Dear Leader. Still, Durham has demonstrated that Trump’s claim of a hoax has itself been a hoax. And that’s a far bigger story than the small-fry cases Durham’s (witch?) hunt has bagged.
Got a comment on this item? Anything else to say? A tip or a lead? Email me at email@example.com.
What’s the Big Takeaway From the Cuban Missile Crisis?
In the 1980s I covered arms control issues, and, as a result, was often worried—okay, got wigged out—about the prospect of nuclear war. I feared that the bellicosity of the Reagan years would yield nuclear conflict. I remember once sharing this concern with my father. He brushed it aside, remarking, “We all thought we were going to be blown up during the Cuban missile crisis. But it didn’t happen. The world has a way of getting on.” I didn’t find that comforting. There have been plenty of nuclear close calls. (Wikipedia even has a list!) But we have made it through another four decades and up to the present moment, in which Russian thug-leader Vladimir Putin has increased nuclear anxiety by hinting he might use nuclear weapons as part of his brutal, genocidal, and illegal war in Ukraine.
This month, it’s the 60th anniversary of the Cuban crisis, which for more than a half of century has been a case study of geopolitical conflict and near-nuclear confrontation. Historians, academics, and students have pored over those tense thirteen days to glean lessons that could be applied to other high-stakes encounters. Initially, the take-away was presented in simplistic terms: JFK showed steeliness, vowing in public that the United States would use military force, if necessary, to rid Cuba of nuclear missiles that could strike the US, and Premier Nikita Khrushchev blinked. That was the post-crisis spin the Kennedy crowd pushed to make their man seem brave, strong, and heroic. Kennedy and his aides even planted a story in the influential Saturday Evening Post that cast Kennedy as a decisive leader who “never lost his nerve.” As a counterpoint, the piece slammed UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson as an appeaser who during the crisis had been eager to cut a deal with the commies by trading US bases in Europe for Soviet bases in Cuba. He was portrayed as weak for having preferred political negotiation to military threats.
Thus was born the narrative that Kennedy had triumphed by playing tough with Moscow and eschewing advice counseling negotiations. For many years, this interpretation stuck. But as my pal Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, points out in a fascinating and important article in Foreign Policy, the opposite is true. It took decades for historians to dig out the real story of the Cuban missile crisis, but Kennedy and his brother Bobby, then the attorney general, ended up resolving the dangerous face-off by negotiating a secret deal with the Soviets to trade the missiles in Cuba for US nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey. But for the Americans, this accord had to be secret. The Kennedys didn’t want the public to know they had yielded on a Soviet demand in order to avoid possible nuclear war. So they spun a tale and dumped on poor ol’ Adlai. As Kornbluh writes, “Diplomacy, negotiations, and compromise resolved the Cuban missile crisis. But that fact became the biggest secret of this near-catastrophic episode. To guard that secret, the White House spun the narrative that the Soviets had retreated in the face of the Kennedy administration’s steely resolve.”
The impact extended far beyond the issue of Kennedy’s reputation. In the following years, Kornbluh notes, “the fictional story of how the missile crisis was resolved became foreign-policy folklore. None of the early memoirs by top Kennedy aides, such as [Arthur] Schlesinger and [Ted] Sorensen, contained the real history. These incomplete accounts became the basis of the foreign-policy models and paradigms in political scientist Graham Allison’s highly influential book, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. A full generation of scholars, analysts, foreign-policy makers, and even presidents learned the wrong lessons from the most significant superpower conflict in modern history.” You should read the full article. It tells us how political spin can have dangerous consequences for years and decades.
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
“Nightshift,” Bruce Springsteen. Ahead of his mega-tour of the United States and Europe next year, Bruce Springsteen in a few weeks will release his 21st studio album, Only the Strong Survive. It’s a collection of 15 covers of soul classics from the catalogues of Motown, Stax, and other legendary labels. Here’s how Springsteen describes the disc: “I wanted to make an album where I just sang. And what better music to work with than the great American songbook of the Sixties and Seventies? I’ve taken my inspiration from Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, the Iceman Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, Dobie Gray, and Scott Walker, among many others. I’ve tried to do justice to them all—and to the fabulous writers of this glorious music. My goal is for the modern audience to experience its beauty and joy, just as I have since I first heard it.”
Springsteen has previously paid tribute to various soul masters. He covered Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” and made “War” by the great Motown songwriting team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong a prominent part of his repertoire in the 1980s. (The song—with the chorus, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing”—was initially recorded by The Temptations, but Motown did not want one of its top acts to release it as a single and risk alienating more conservative fans. Instead, Whitfield produced a different version with Edwin Starr singing the tune, and it became a No. 1 hit.) Springsteen has enthusiastically performed other Motown and soul songs over the years, including duets with Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) on “Hold On I’m Coming” and “Soul Man.” It’s no surprise he wanted to spend time in the studio with this genre.
The result, judging from a preview tune released a few days ago, will be a fan-pleaser. Springsteen’s take on “Nightshift,” the Commodores’ 1985 hit that honors Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, shows that Springsteen’s 73-year-old vocal cords are in fine and soulful condition, and his bandmates do a superb job of capturing the joy and melancholy of the original track. The new album includes two songs featuring the 87-year-old Sam Moore and a cover of one of my favorite soul classics, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest.
“All Your Friends Are Dying,” The Bad Ends. In 1995, Bill Berry, the exquisite drummer for R.E.M., one of the greatest and most reliable rock bands, suffered a cerebral aneurysm during a show in Switzerland. He recovered, but two years later, while R.E.M. was still going strong, he quit the band and the music business to become a hay farmer in Georgia. Twenty-five years down the road, he’s back. A few years ago, Berry bumped into Mike Mantione, who had been the front man of Five Eight, a group which, like R.E.M., had sprung from the influential music scene of Athens, Georgia. (Another Athens alum: the B-52s.) Mantione invited Berry to play with him and other local musicians, and The Bad Ends was born. The band, with Berry on drums, will release its first album in January, but its initial single, “All Your Friends Are Dying,” is out and accompanied by a video, largely shot at Berry’s home in Athens, with cameo appearances from assorted Athens veterans, including Mike Mills of R.E.M. (wearing an NRBQ t-shirt). When Berry quit, I was struck by his explanation. He said he wanted out because he no longer enjoyed the gig. It’s good to see him having fun banging the drums once more.
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
October 15, 2022: The Mailbag: should you worry about the midterms; the final January 6 committee hearing; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Charlie Kirk); MoxieCam™; and more.
October 12, 2022: Time to push the panic button on the midterms?; Servants of the Damned and the law firm that’s Trump’s modern-day Roy Cohn; and more.
October 8, 2022: Can the centrists hold in the era of Donald Trump?; American Psychosis in the news; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Special Herschel Walker edition); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 4, 2022: American Psychosis, Facebook, and a dog; a denizen of the economic establishment admits the elite’s big mistakes; Topdog/Underdog’s brilliance hits Broadway; and more.
October 1, 2022: How Giorgia Meloni’s win in Italy helps us understand a US Senate race; American Psychosis in the news; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Ben Stein); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
September 27, 2022: Stormy Daniels, AOC, and the long arc of Donald Trump’s possible downfall; American Psychosis in the news; Skullduggery and the Havana Syndrome; the New York Times agrees about Mark Finchem; and more.
September 24, 2022: The craziest GOP candidate in the nation; American Psychosis becomes a bestseller; Dumbass Comment of the Week (FPOTUS); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
September 21, 2022: Donald Trump and the birth of QMaga; American Psychosis in the news; House of the Dragon versus The Rings of Power; and more.
September 17, 2022: American Psychosis and the reckoning of history; the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
September 13: What Barack Obama said to me about the 47 percent video; the release of American Psychosis; and more.
September 10, 2022: A death in Washington and a very Trumpian conspiracy theory; American Psychosis update; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Donald Trump Jr.); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
September 7, 2022: Donald Trump and gaslight fascism; the conservative crazy gets crazier; American Psychosis: the first review; a brilliant after-the-Vietnam War novel and Dark Winds; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.