Here’s a breakdown of what this means for Durham, and where the investigation is headed:
The verdict is a significant blow to the Durham probe. After more than three years, Durham has racked up one guilty plea, one acquittal at trial and has one more trial scheduled for this fall.
Since Durham began his work in 2019, he has been accused by critics of running a politicized operation that is essentially chasing down right-wing conspiracies about the Russia probe. The outcome of the Sussmann case is sure to fuel these criticisms.
“Criminalizing political opposition research-related activity of this type serves no criminal justice purpose,” said Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor at the Justice Department and a former CNN legal analyst. “Hopefully, this verdict will have a chilling impact on future prosecutions if Durham intends to proceed using the same flawed theory of criminal liability.”
The verdict could raise questions about how long Durham should keep going. On paper, he is overseen by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has the power to shut down the inquiry, overturn major prosecutorial decisions, or limit Durham’s funding. But Garland appears to have taken a completely hands-off approach and has barely spoken publicly about the probe.
How long has the probe lasted?
The Durham inquiry has outlasted the underlying Trump-Russia probes that he is reviewing.
As Mueller wrapped up his work in spring 2019, then-Attorney General Bill Barr tapped Durham to “investigate the investigators” and review the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe. So far, the Durham investigation has lasted roughly three years and one month, and the probe is ongoing.
What’s Durham’s next trial about?
Danchenko has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is slated for October in Alexandria, Virginia.
Special counsel prosecutors will likely use the case to put the entire dossier on trial, much like they used the Sussmann case to shine a light on the Clinton campaign’s murky dealings with opposition research groups and its efforts to peddle unverified anti-Trump stories to the press.
What else is Durham investigating?
There is limited visibility into the inner workings of the still-ongoing Durham investigation.
Perkins Coie, where Sussmann worked in 2016, hasn’t been accused of any crimes. Joffe’s lawyers say he never broke the law and that Durham is pushing a specious political narrative.
None of these tentacles of Durham’s wide-ranging investigation have led to any charges yet.
How will this all end?
It’s unclear. As long as Garland doesn’t intervene, Durham can continue his work.
The marginal nature of the charges against Sussmann does raise questions about Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s management of the department. Their hands-off approach to Durham is intended to preempt political criticism from Republicans. But in trying to avoid political criticism, they allowed a highly politicized case to go forward based largely on the testimony of witnesses with forgetful memories, some of whom only appeared to endorse the prosecution’s theory against Sussmann after they found themselves at risk of possible prosecution.
CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.