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    The Trump Prophets Regroup

    When you are in the business of prophecy, what do you do when prophecy fails?This spring, the media mogul Stephen E. Strang made an unusual apology to readers in the pages of his glossy magazine.Mr. Strang presides over a multimillion-dollar Pentecostal publishing empire, Charisma Media, which includes a daily news site, podcasts, a mobile app and blockbuster books. At 70, he is a C.E.O., publisher and seasoned author in his own right. Despite all that, Mr. Strang worried something had gone awry.“I’ve never been a prophet,” he wrote in a pleading March editor’s note. “But there were a number of prophets who were very certain that Trump would be elected.”This had not come to pass. Mr. Strang continued, “I hope that you’ll give me the grace — and Charisma Media the grace — of missing this, in a manner of speaking.”Over the past five years, he had hitched his professional fate to the Trump presidency, in a particularly cosmic way: promoting, almost daily, the claim that Trump’s rise to power was predestined by God. Interviewed in Mr. Strang’s various platforms, a rotating cast of religious leaders spoke with mystic authority on this subject.Where secular pundits were blindsided by Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory, the prophets of Charisma had been right. And they predicted another sweeping victory for Mr. Trump in 2020. For Mr. Strang, the last year presented the following question: When you are in the business of prophecy, what do you do when prophecy fails?Mr. Strang reflected on this question in a series of interviews last month.He mused, “God has plans and purposes we don’t understand.”This month, Mr. Strang will release his first post-election book, titled “God and Cancel Culture.” The text does not dwell long on questions of prophecy, failed or otherwise. Instead, it skips into the pandemic political zeitgeist, approvingly featuring vaccine skeptics like Stella Immanuel and megachurch pastors who defied lockdowns. The election conspiracist and pillow salesman Mike Lindell does the introduction.Mr. Strang seems to have discovered that one way to handle being publicly wrong is to change the subject and to pray readers stick around.Beyond the spiritual test of unrealized prophecies, there are very earthly stakes here: Under Mr. Strang’s stewardship, Charisma had grown from a church magazine to a multipronged institution with a slew of New York Times best sellers, millions of podcast downloads and a remaining foothold in print media, with a circulation of 75,000 for its top magazine. It is widely regarded as the flagship publication of the fast-growing Pentecostal world, which numbers over 10 million in the United States. With its mash-up of political and prophetic themes, Charisma had tapped a sizable market and electoral force. In 2019, one poll found that more than half of white Pentecostals believed Mr. Trump to be divinely anointed, with additional research pointing to the importance of so-called prophecy voters in the 2016 election.In his new book, Mr. Strang mentions the former president only in passing, with far more attention going to topics such as the coming Antichrist and loathed government overlords seeking to stamp out religion wholesale.Mr. Strang summed it up, “The fact is there are people who want to cancel Christianity.”“Christians and other conservatives need to wake up and stand up,” Mr. Strang said in an interview. “It says that right on the cover of the book.”The supernatural and mass media have long been fused in the story of Pentecostalism. In 1900s Los Angeles, Aimee Semple McPherson broadcast news-style reports of miracles and prophetic words over her own radio station in Echo Park. Oral Roberts conducted healing crusades through the TV screen. The duo Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker mastered the flashy style of prime time talk shows.Mr. Strang’s journalism career began in Florida as a rookie reporter at The Sentinel Star, where he covered more mundane topics like police and town hall meetings. In 1975, Mr. Strang founded Charisma, then a small periodical put out by Calvary Assembly of God, a congregation in the Orlando area that he attended with his wife. Mr. Strang bought the magazine from the parent church in 1981 and dove into religious publishing.In time, Charisma prospered. The editorial voice had the sunny boosterism of a hometown newspaper, covering the personalities of the Pentecostal world, an audience that Mr. Strang believed was woefully underserved. While competitors such as Christianity Today courted the buttoned-up elite of American evangelicalism, Charisma cornered a niche market of what are called charismatic Christians, set apart by their interest in gifts of the spirit, including things like healings, speaking in tongues and modern-day prophecy. Mr. Strang eschewed matters of stuffy dogma for eye-popping tales about the Holy Spirit moving through current events. Editorial meetings would focus on looking for what one former employee called “the spiritual heat” behind the headlines of the day.“We didn’t want to become the kind of boring publications many ‘religious’ journals are,” Mr. Strang wrote in an early editor’s note. “That is why we went first class with this publication.”In time, he surpassed competing publications. With a slick and dependable product, Mr. Strang unified diverse groups who might otherwise squabble over doctrine or not attend the same kinds of churches at all.“Strang became the ultimate Pentecostal businessman,” said John Fea, a historian of evangelicalism at Messiah University. “At Charisma, he fused the marketplace, faith and entrepreneurship.”Mr. Strang’s project stretched to include a book imprint, several spinoff magazines and educational materials for religious schools. By 2000, the company had expanded to a plush $7.5 million, 67,000-square foot headquarters outside Orlando. At the time, The Orlando Sentinel reported that the company employed about 200 people and expected revenue that year of $30 million.Yet the internet upended the world of publishing. By 2015, when Mr. Trump began his quest for the White House, Charisma, like much of the media industry, was dealing with declines in print advertising, revenue and circulation.Mr. Strang did not initially support Mr. Trump’s candidacy, but once the nomination had been clinched, a new theme rippled through the pages of Charisma: Mr. Trump was not just some ally of political convenience, he was anointed by God.In the months to come, the pages and airwaves of Charisma featured a range of religious leaders and lay people telling of a Trump victory. Each claimed that God had revealed — in dreams, visions or ethereal signs — that Mr. Trump would take the presidency. There was, for example: Jeremiah Johnson, a youthful seer from Florida (“a relatively young man but has remarkably accurate prophetic gifts”); Kim Clement, a onetime heroin user from South Africa (“he reveals the heartbeat of God”); and Frank Amedia, a Jew-turned-evangelical preacher with a penchant for spiritual warfare (“known for his bold and accurate prophetic words”).At this time, Charisma’s staff was producing 15 stories a day, many related to the election. (Typical headlines read: “Prophecy: God Sent Donald Trump to Wage War Against Destructive Spirits” or “Prophecy: Donald Trump Is Unstoppable Because the Lord Is Unstoppable.”)“Running stories about politics got clicks. And stories about prophetic words also got clicks,” Taylor Berglund, a former editor at Charisma, said. “So you combine these two and you had the most popular articles on the site.”Monthly readership of the Charisma website rose to somewhere between two and three million, Mr. Berglund said. “There was a real incentive to keep posting like that,” he said.Leah Payne, a scholar of religion at Portland Seminary, said there has long been “a real appetite in the Pentecostal community” for the kinds of prophecies that took off at Charisma during those months, delivered by people “who believe that the Holy Spirit can and does give anyone special insight into the future.”As the polls closed in November 2016, most mainstream news outlets scrambled to explain how projections for a big Hillary Clinton victory had been so off. But Mr. Strang felt vindicated.“Those prophecies may have sounded ridiculous,” he wrote later, “but Trump was elected, just as the prophets had said.”In the next months, the Trump administration brought a cohort of Pentecostal leaders closer to the halls of power than ever before. Mr. Strang’s longtime acquaintance Paula White, a televangelist from Florida, became a spiritual adviser to Mr. Trump. At one point, the president was pictured smiling and holding Mr. Strang’s 2017 book, “God and Donald Trump.”Advocacy groups that monitor the religious right tracked Charisma’s influence with alarm, concerned about the combination of divisive politics with divine prophecy. Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at Right Wing Watch, called Mr. Strang’s work harmful “pro-Trump propagandizing” because it cast political battles as holy wars. “This extreme demonization of one’s political opponents is toxic to our political culture,” Mr. Montgomery said.Mr. Strang’s boosters and critics often portray the company as a large and influential entity, and by most available metrics it does command a relatively large audience for a religious publisher. But Charisma’s staff appears to have shrunk since the early 2000s, when The Sentinel reported that the company employed 200. According to former staff members, in 2020 there were about 60 employees, with fewer than 10 in editorial. Charisma disputed those figures but declined to provide any information about its finances or number of employees.And for all of his hagiographic overtures, Mr. Strang’s love for Mr. Trump appears to always have been lopsidedly unrequited. The two met only once, for a brief interview in Florida.“I was never on the inside circle,” Mr. Strang said. “I went to the White House zero times.”Still, he remained a dutiful fan. Mr. Strang wrote three more glowing books about the president, including “God, Donald Trump and the 2020 Election.” In one chapter, the book explored the possibility that Mr. Trump could lose, but it came down squarely on the side of a preordained victory.And so, on Election Day 2020, Mr. Strang flew to Texas to appear on the livestream of one of his friends, the televangelist Kenneth Copeland.As exit polls were trickling in, Mr. Strang donned a red MAGA hat and beamed at the camera. “I believe Trump is going to win,” he told viewers. “The prophets have been saying that.”The next morning, Mr. Strang was surprised to find that, though ballots were still being tallied, a Biden victory seemed likely, and he would not accept the outcome for some time. He instructed his readers to ignore the mainstream media and fortify themselves in prayer.“I was feeling we were in a fairly serious place,” Mr. Strang said. “The Christian community I serve was actually kind of depressed.”Charisma did not recognize Mr. Biden as president-elect until after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and the congressional certification of Mr. Biden’s victory.In the interim, Charisma gave a platform both to people who questioned the results and those who accepted that Mr. Biden was the president-elect. It also waded through a related challenge: the prickly question of what to do with all the failed divine predictions Charisma had published.Mr. Strang interviewed repentant prophets, such as Mr. Johnson, who shut his ministry after Mr. Trump was not re-elected. Mr. Strang also highlighted prophets who refused to budge, and he parroted Mr. Trump’s howls on Twitter about a stolen election. (“I personally do believe the election was stolen,” Mr. Strang said.)After the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Strang did condemn the violence in Washington in forthright language. At the same time he featured leaders who attended and heralded the gathering as a “prophetic breakthrough.”When a Charisma contributor named Michael Brown organized an open letter calling for firmer standards on prophecies (“We really had egg on our faces,” Mr. Brown recalled in a phone interview), Mr. Strang endorsed and published the plea at Charisma. But Mr. Strang also said his overall editorial approach wouldn’t change much at all. “No,” he said. “We won’t back off from the prophets.”His oft-repeated defense, in discussing the election fallout, is that he was simply doing his job, presenting alternate views.“We quoted other people,” Mr. Strang said. “I’m not a preacher. I’m a journalist.”Mr. Strang built Charisma from the ground up, he also likes to say, and will run it as he pleases. “I don’t have to answer to anybody. I don’t have a boss. I answer to God,” he said. “And I answer to Uncle Sam, you know, with the I.R.S.”Yet with division still lingering in the prophecy crowd, Mr. Strang ultimately seems to have decided to sidestep the question of 2020 and what was stolen or divinely ordained and simply to move on to boogeymen the whole family can agree on: the new administration, virus health mandates, what he has cast as liberal cultural censorship of conservative views and, most broadly, society’s diabolical scheme against Christianity.Mr. Strang’s new book was given a fitting debut at a megachurch rally in Michigan in late August, which was in part sponsored by Charisma and featured a lineup of conservative personalities who decried state health mandates over the course of the weekend.Trump flags billowed outside next to QAnon merchandise, and top billing went to MAGA stalwarts like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. Mr. Strang plugged his book onstage, speaking to an audience of several thousand, and sold copies in the foyer.In an email exchange afterward, Mr. Strang ventured a cheery, if tentative, prediction of his own: He might have another hit.“I signed books all afternoon,” he typed. “People tell me I’ve hit a chord.” More

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    Harassed and Harangued, Poll Workers Now Have a New Form of Defense

    Threatened by extremists and under fire by politicians, election workers now have their own legal defense network. It’s a perk they never expected to need.WASHINGTON — It is perhaps a metaphor for the times that even the volunteer who checked you into the polls in November now has a legal defense committee.The Election Official Legal Defense Network, which made its public debut on Sept. 7, offers to represent more than just poll workers, of course. Formed to counter the waves of political pressure and public bullying that election workers have faced in the last year, the organization pledges free legal services to anyone involved in the voting process, from secretaries of state to local election officials and volunteers.The group already has received inquiries from several election officials, said David J. Becker, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, which oversees the project. Without getting into details, Mr. Becker said their queries were “related to issues like harassment and intimidation.”The network is the creation of two powerhouses in Republican and Democratic legal circles, Benjamin L. Ginsberg and Bob Bauer. In a Washington Post opinion piece this month, the two — Mr. Ginsberg was a premier G.O.P. lawyer for 38 years and Mr. Bauer was both a Democratic Party lawyer and White House counsel in the Obama administration — wrote that such attacks on people “overseeing the counting and casting of ballots on an independent, nonpartisan basis are destructive to our democracy.”“If such attacks go unaddressed, our system of self-governance will suffer long-term damage,” they said.Mr. Ginsberg, who has broken with his party and become a scathing critic of former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims the 2020 election was stolen from him, and Mr. Bauer are themselves election experts. The two men together chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration established by former President Barack Obama in 2013, which called — with limited success — for moderniziing election procedures and equipment to make voting easier and more secure.In an interview, Mr. Bauer said he and Mr. Ginsberg were recruiting lawyers for the Legal Defense Network, hoping to build out an organization “so in any state where this happens, we’re in a position to provide election officials who are under siege with legal support.” Dozens already have signed on to the effort, with many more anticipated to join them soon, Mr. Becker said.The center is nonpartisan, offering to represent election workers of any political bent, whether they work in a red district or a blue one. But as the announcement by Mr. Ginsburg and Mr. Bauer implicitly noted, the problems confronting election workers ballooned only after the 2020 general election, and have come almost entirely from conservative supporters of Mr. Trump and legislators in Republican-controlled states.One third of election workers say they feel unsafe in their jobs, according to a survey released this summer by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. In Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and other states, ardent believers in Mr. Trump’s stolen-election lies have threatened state and local election officials and their families with violence and even death. Some election workers have gone into hiding or sought police protection.Republican-controlled state legislatures have responded to fraud claims by taking control of some aspects of election administration and by making election workers subject to fines or even imprisonment for rules violations.Trump’s Bid to Subvert the ElectionCard 1 of 4A monthslong campaign. More

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    Bob Woodward Extends His Trump Chronicles With the Chaotic Transfer of Power

    The titles of Bob Woodward’s three books about the Trump administration — “Fear,” “Rage” and now “Peril” — are appropriately blunt. The books, about the staccato stream of events that accompanied Donald Trump’s time in office, are written at a mostly staccato clip.The frantic pace is redoubled in “Peril,” written with Robert Costa, Woodward’s colleague at The Washington Post. Broken up into 72 short chapters, it hurtles through the past two years of dizzying news. But while it covers the 2020 campaign season and the course of the pandemic and the protests after George Floyd’s murder and the opening months of Joseph Biden’s presidency, the book’s centerpiece is the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and its primary concern is how President Trump behaved in the lead-up to and the aftermath of that crisis.Books in this genre like to make news, and this one doesn’t waste any time. Its opening pages recount how last October and again in January, after the riot, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had secret conversations with his Chinese counterparts to assure them that the United States was “100 percent steady,” despite what they might be seeing and hearing. “Everything’s fine,” he told them, “but democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”The Chinese were concerned that Trump might lash out on a global scale in a desperate attempt to secure his power. Milley went over the process for nuclear strikes and other acts of war with his colleagues, to make sure nothing was instigated without his awareness. He was, Woodward and Costa write, “overseeing the mobilization of America’s national security state without the knowledge of the American people or the rest of the world.”The authors then go back to begin charting the path to the extraordinary events of Jan. 6, alternating between Republicans’ attempts to corral Trump’s most outlandish behavior and scenes of Biden weighing whether to enter the 2020 race.The day after the election, speaking to Kellyanne Conway, Trump “seemed ready, at least privately, to acknowledge defeat.”Enter Rudy Giuliani.The former New York mayor becomes a more prominent player here than in the previous books. (One especially brutal set of consecutive entries for him in the index reads: “hair dye incident,” “hospitalized with coronavirus.”)Bob Woodward, the co-author of “Peril.”Lisa BergIn “Fear,” Woodward had noted that Giuliani was the only Trump campaigner to appear on a prominent Sunday morning talk show to support his candidate the week that the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked. He actually went on five shows, a rare feat. At the end, Woodward wrote, he was “exhausted, practically bled out,” but had “proved his devotion and friendship.” His reward? “Rudy, you’re a baby!” Trump reportedly yelled at him in front of staffers on a plane later that day. “I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?”It will be left to psychologists, not historians, to write the definitive account of why Giuliani remained so steadfast to the president, but in “Peril” he’s portrayed as the prime force behind Trump’s refusal to let the election go.“I have eight affidavits,” Giuliani said in a room of friends and campaign officials three days after the election, hinting at the scope of the alleged voting fraud. Later the same day, in front of Trump and others: “I have 27 affidavits!” And yet again the same day, he urged Trump to put him in charge. “I have 80 affidavits.”Woodward and Costa have Trump telling advisers that, yes, Giuliani is “crazy,” but “none of the sane lawyers can represent me because they’ve been pressured.”Lee Holmes, chief counsel for the Trump supporter Senator Lindsey Graham, is portrayed in “Peril” as “astonished at the overreach” of fraud claims by Giuliani and others. Holmes wrote to Graham that the data behind the claims were “a concoction, with a bullying tone and eighth-grade writing.” (Graham disagreed. “Third grade,” he said.)The note about this book’s sources is nearly identical to the notes in the previous two books. The authors interviewed more than 200 firsthand participants and witnesses, though none are named. Quotation marks are apparently used around words they’re more sure of, but there’s a seemingly arbitrary pattern to the way those marks are used and not used even within the same brief conversations.And as usual, though the sources aren’t named, some people get the type of soft-glow light that suggests they were especially useful to the authors. In this book, much of that light falls on Milley and William P. Barr, Trump’s attorney general from November 2018 to December 2020.It was reported when Barr resigned that his relationship with Trump had soured because Barr wouldn’t indulge the president’s belief in election fraud. In “Peril,” that resistance gets fleshed out with some long and pointed speeches suspiciously recalled verbatim. “Your team is a bunch of clowns,” goes part of one of Barr’s confrontations. “They are unconscionable in the firmness and detail they present as if it is unquestionable fact. It is not.”Robert Costa, the co-author of “Peril.”Lisa BergMilley looks admirable and conscientious if you believe — as Woodward and Costa seem to — that someone needed to surreptitiously work to counteract Trump’s destabilizing effects during the transition of power. (Milley, who remains the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Biden, has unsurprisingly taken fire from the right over his reported disloyalty to Trump. Biden has publicly expressed confidence in Milley since the book’s revelations emerged.)In addition to Milley’s actions, the book has gotten attention for a scene in which — read this next part slowly — the former Vice President Dan Quayle talks sense into Pence. Trump had suggested to Pence that he had the power to essentially rejigger the electoral outcome as head of the Senate, an idea that Quayle told Pence was “preposterous and dangerous.” Woodward and Costa write, in a rare bit of deadpan: “Pence finally agreed acting to overturn the election would be antithetical to his traditional view of conservatism.”Trump tweeted about the election ballots on the morning they were to be certified: “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” “Extreme courage” is not the first phrase one reaches for to describe Pence after reading “Peril.”The vice president talked halfheartedly about election problems in public to stay on Trump’s good side “without going full Giuliani,” Woodward and Costa write. As the certification approached, he asked many lawyers to consider his options. It doesn’t seem he wanted them to empower him as much as he wanted to simply avoid a confrontation with Trump.On his way to the Capitol on Jan. 6, Pence released a letter saying that he did not have the “unilateral authority” to decide which electoral votes got counted. His reward? About an hour later, protesters inside the Capitol chanted for him to be hanged.When Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper less than a week after the election, Milley saw it, Woodward and Costa write, as part of a “mindless march into more and more disorder.”The unfortunate truth is that disorder is dramatic. In the wake of the riot, “Peril” loses force. A protracted recounting of security efforts leading up to Biden’s inauguration feels considerably less urgent after the fact. Even more fatally for the book’s momentum, Woodward and Costa devote 20 pages — a lifetime by their pacing standards — to behind-the-scenes negotiations for President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. This involves a lot of back and forth with Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia whose crucial vote was considered uncertain. Sources may have given Woodward and Costa every detail of these negotiations, but the authors weren’t obligated to use every last one.The book mounts a final rally, helped by circumstance. In light of recent events, a late section closely recounting Biden’s decision to end the American war in Afghanistan is plenty absorbing. The authors recount Biden’s resistance to the war when he was vice president under Obama: He felt that the addition of 30,000 troops was, Woodward and Costa write, “a tragic power play executed by national security leaders at the expense of a young president.” Biden was long insistent that the point of American engagement in the country was to diminish the threat of Al Qaeda and not to crush the Taliban. He held to his strategy despite advisers who presented him with a “stunning list of possible human disaster and political consequences.”As “Peril” nears its close, the Delta variant is muddying the pandemic picture, and that’s not the only detail that makes it read like a cliffhanger. “Trump was not dormant,” the authors write. He was staging rallies for supporters, and getting good news about his place in very early polls for 2024. Like an installment of a deathless Marvel franchise, for all its spectacle “Peril” ends with a dismaying sense of prologue. More

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    Don’t Let Trump Steal the Show With ‘Stop the Steal’

    You cannot actually debunk Republican accusations of voter fraud. You can show they aren’t true (and they aren’t), but that has no bearing on the belief itself.“Voter fraud” is not a factual claim subject to testing and objective analysis as much as it’s a statement of ideology, a belief about the way the world works. In practice, to accuse Democrats of voter fraud is to say that Democratic voters are not legitimate political actors; that their votes do not count the same as those of “the people” (that is, the Republican electorate); and that Democratic officials, elected with those illegitimate votes, have no rightful claim to power.In a sense, one should take accusations of voter fraud seriously but not literally, as apologists for Donald Trump once said of the former president. These accusations, the more florid the better, tell the audience that the speaker is aligned with Trump and that he or she supported his attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election. They also tell the audience that the speaker will do anything necessary to “stop the steal,” which is to say anything to stop a Republican from losing an election and, barring that, anything to delegitimize the Democrat who won.In the last days of the California recall election that ended this week, for example, the leading Republican candidate, Larry Elder, urged his supporters to report fraud using a website that claimed to have “detected fraud” in the results. “Statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor,” the site read. Elder himself told Fox News that the 2020 election was “full of shenanigans.”“My fear is they’re going to try that in this election right here,” he said.Never mind that the results had not yet come in at the time Elder promoted this website, or that he was a long shot to begin with. The last Republican to win statewide high office in California was Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, when he ran successfully for re-election after winning the 2003 recall vote against the Democrat Gray Davis. Newsom, a Democrat, won his 2018 race for governor by nearly 24 points. Elder was not doomed to lose, but the idea that the election was rigged — that he was robbed of victory by mass cheating and fraud — was ridiculous. But again, the point of voter fraud accusations isn’t to describe reality; the point is to express a belief, in this case, the belief that Newsom and his supporters are illegitimate.There are other candidates running for office making similar claims. Adam Laxalt, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race, has promised to “file lawsuits early” in order to “tighten up the election.” Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s 2020 campaign in the state and supported the effort to overturn the results. “There’s no question that, unfortunately, a lot of the lawsuits and a lot of the attention spent on Election Day operations just came too late,” he said in a recent interview.Trump endorsed Laxalt this summer, praising his commitment to the voter fraud narrative. “He fought valiantly against the Election Fraud, which took place in Nevada,” said Trump in a statement. “He is strong on Secure Borders and defending America against the Radical Left. Adam has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”This isn’t just rhetoric either. The ideological belief in voter fraud is driving actual efforts to delegitimize Democratic Party victories and tilt the electoral playing field in favor of Republican candidates. In Florida, for instance, a member of the state House of Representatives introduced a draft bill that would require an Arizona-style election audit in the state’s largest (and most heavily Democratic) counties.In Georgia, a Trump-backed candidate for secretary of state, Jody Hice, is running on a promise to do what the incumbent Brad Raffensperger wouldn’t: subvert the election for Trump’s benefit should the former president make another bid for the White House. “If elected, I will instill confidence in our election process by upholding the Georgia Constitution, enforcing meaningful reform and aggressively pursuing those who commit voter fraud,” Hice said in a statement announcing his candidacy in March. As a congressman, he voted against certifying the 2020 election in January and, the following month, told a group of conservative activists, “What happened this past election was solely because of a horrible secretary of state and horrible decisions that he made.”There is also the question of Republican voters themselves. According to a Monmouth University poll taken in June, nearly one-third of Americans believe that Joe Biden’s victory was the result of fraud, including 63 percent of Republicans. If Republican politicians keep pushing the voter fraud narrative, it is as much because Republican voters want to hear it as it is because those politicians are themselves true believers.If this voter fraud ideology were just a matter of bad information, it would be straightforward (if not exactly easy) to fix. But as the legal scholar Ned Foley has argued, the assertion of fraud — the falsification of reality in support of narrow political goals — is more akin to McCarthyism. It cannot be reasoned with, only defeated.The problem is that to break the hold of this ideology on Republican voters, you need Republican politicians to lead the charge. A Margaret Chase Smith, for example. But as long as Trump controls the party faithful — as long as he is, essentially, the center of a cult of personality — those voices, if they even exist, won’t say in public what they almost certainly say behind closed doors.It is up to Democrats, then, to at least safety-proof our electoral system against another attempt to “stop the steal.” The Senate filibuster makes that a long shot as well, even as centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin insist that there’s a compromise to strike with Republicans. Let’s hope he’s right because at this stage of the game, it is the only move left to play.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    From TV to the French Presidency? Éric Zemmour Eyes Trump's Path

    Éric Zemmour, a writer and TV celebrity known for his far-right nationalism, dominates political talk in France as he weighs a run for president.PARIS — France’s election season began in force this week, with candidates for the presidency launching their bids or holding campaign-style events. But the person who stole the show was not a candidate, or even a politician, but a right-wing writer and TV star channeling Donald J. Trump.Éric Zemmour became one of France’s top TV celebrities through his punditry on CNews, a Fox News-like channel, even as he was sanctioned twice for inciting racial hatred. This week he dominated news-media coverage in the kickoff to elections next April.A poll released Wednesday shows him rising among potential voters, beating out declared candidates like the mayor of Paris. While his share would appear to put the presidency out of reach, he could disrupt the long-anticipated scenario of a duel between President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally.In a well-orchestrated blitz that blurred the lines between media and politics, Mr. Zemmour, 63, one of France’s best-selling writers, released a new book Thursday titled “France Has Not Said Its Last Word Yet,” with a cover showing him standing with arms crossed in front of the French flag.In a brief telephone interview, Mr. Zemmour said that the cover had been modeled after Mr. Trump’s “Great Again,” the 2015 book that outlined his political agenda ahead of his election victory the following year, and that showed Mr. Trump in front of the American flag.The cover, Mr. Zemmour said, was not the only way Mr. Trump had inspired him. While Mr. Zemmour coyly deflected longstanding rumors of a possible candidacy, this month he has sent stronger signals that he may follow Mr. Trump in a leap from television to politics.“Obviously, there are common points,” Mr. Zemmour said. “In other words, someone who is completely from outside the party system, who never had a political career and who, furthermore, understood that the major concerns of the working class are immigration and trade.”In France’s two-round presidential election, the two top vote-getters in the first round meet in a runoff. Mr. Macron has aggressively courted the traditional, more moderate right in a strategy to produce a final showdown with Ms. Le Pen, whom he beat in 2017. But the presence of Mr. Zemmour, with his appeal across the right side of France’s political spectrum, could upset that calculus.Supporters of Mr. Zemmour have put up posters all over France, like these in Paris, urging him to run for president.Olivier Morin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“French politics has become totally unpredictable,” said Nicolas Lebourg, a political scientist specializing in the right and far-right.“In this extremely fluid context, things could end with the election of a Republican president after Macron is defeated because Zemmour picks up a few points,” Mr. Lebourg added, referring to the Republicans, the party of the traditional right.The poll released Wednesday showed 10 percent of voters supporting Mr. Zemmour in the first round of the election, up from 7 percent a week earlier and 5 percent in July. He is one of the few candidates registering in the double digits, outscoring some from France’s established parties, including the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.According to a poll published on Monday, Mr. Zemmour is one of the few candidates to draw support from both the French traditional right and far-right — a point he underscored in the interview, saying that the far-right National Rally “puts off the French bourgeoisie,” while the Republicans “have only an extremely aging constituency and don’t connect with the young or the working class.”The poll also showed he is strong with the working class, men and young voters.“His straight talk appeals a lot to a generation that has been very disappointed by politicians’ lies and that is very mistrustful of the media,” said François de Voyer, a host and financial supporter of Black Book, a seven-month-old YouTube channel that has featured long interviews with Mr. Zemmour and other personalities, mostly from the right and far right. He said Mr. Zemmour gives the impression of “never hiding what he thinks, even if it means making controversial remarks,” adding, “I think it has the effect of creating trust.”Still, a run by Mr. Zemmour — whose hard-line views on immigration, Islam’s place in France and national identity are regarded as being to the right of Ms. Le Pen — would immediately inject into the election some of the most explosive issues in an increasingly polarized society.The Grand Mosque of Paris. Mr. Zemmour has said that Islam doesn’t share France’s core values. Andrea Mantovani for The New York TimesA longtime journalist for the conservative daily Le Figaro, Mr. Zemmour became a best-selling author in the past decade with books that described a France in decline, under threat from what he claimed was an Islam that doesn’t share France’s core values. His celebrity and influence rose to another level after he became the star of CNews in 2019, where, each evening in prime time, he expounded on his ideas to hundreds of thousands of viewers.He has portrayed himself as a truth-teller in a news media dominated by politically correct, left-leaning journalists. He has railed against the immigration of Muslim Africans, invoking the existential threat of a great replacement — a loaded term that even Ms. Le Pen has avoided — that will overwhelm France’s more established white and Christian population.Over the weekend, Mr. Zemmour said that, if he were president, he would ban “non-French” first names like Mohammed and Kevin, because they created obstacles to an assimilation process that used to turn immigrants into what he considered real French people.These kinds of comments have occasionally drawn the attention of French authorities. In May, the government broadcast regulator fined CNews 200,000 euros, about $236,000, for speech inciting racial hatred. On his show in September 2020, Mr. Zemmour had said that unaccompanied foreign minors should be expelled from France, calling them “thieves,” “killers” and “rapists.”Some presidential candidates from the Republicans dismissed Mr. Zemmour’s challenge. Xavier Bertrand, the leader of a region in northern France, said that Mr. Zemmour was a “great divider.” Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris region, said that he offered “no genuine proposals.”Mr. Lebourg, the political scientist, said that Mr. Zemmour’s “ethnic nationalism” was rooted in the ideology of the National Front of the 1990s, the predecessor to the National Rally that was led by Ms. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. More than any other individual, Mr. Zemmour succeeded over the years in imposing his vision on politicians in the traditional right, Mr. Lebourg said.Supporters say that is why Mr. Zemmour is the only candidate who can appeal to both the traditional right and far right.Mr. Zemmour signing copies of his book “The French Suicide” in 2015.Sebastien Salom-Gomis/Sipa, via Associated Press“Éric Zemmour opened the eyes of a certain number of people, including in my political family,” said Antoine Diers, a spokesman for Friends of Éric Zemmour, a group that is raising funds for a potential presidential bid. Mr. Diers is also a member of the Republicans and an official at the city hall of Plessis-Robinson, a suburb south of Paris.Because of Mr. Zemmour’s influence, Mr. Diers said, candidates of his party “finally take positions on immigration, on questions of identity and French culture.”Arno Humbert, another member of Friends of Éric Zemmour, said he left Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally in June after more than a decade, disillusioned by her efforts to widen her appeal by toning down her party’s positions in a strategy of “de-demonizing.”Mr. Zemmour was forced off the air on Monday after the government regulator ordered a limit on his broadcast time because he could be considered a player in national politics. He and his supporters were quick to cry censorship.Asked whether the decision would ultimately help him by burnishing his image as a truth teller among his supporters, he said, “Of course.”“It was a blessing in disguise,” he said.Léontine Gallois More

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    Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican Who Voted to Impeach Trump, Won't Run in 2022

    Representative Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump, is the first of the group to retire rather than face a stiff primary challenge.WASHINGTON — Calling former President Donald J. Trump “a cancer for the country,” Representative Anthony Gonzalez, Republican of Ohio, said in an interview on Thursday that he would not run for re-election in 2022, ceding his seat after just two terms in Congress rather than compete against a Trump-backed primary opponent.Mr. Gonzalez is the first, but perhaps not the last, of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to retire rather than face ferocious primaries next year in a party still in thrall to the former president.The congressman, who has two young children, emphasized that he was leaving in large part because of family considerations and the difficulties that come with living between two cities. But he made clear that the strain had only grown worse since his impeachment vote, after which he was deluged with threats and feared for the safety of his wife and children.Mr. Gonzalez said that quality-of-life issues had been paramount in his decision. He recounted an “eye-opening” moment this year: when he and his family were greeted at the Cleveland airport by two uniformed police officers, part of extra security precautions taken after the impeachment vote.“That’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?’” he said.Mr. Gonzalez, who turns 37 on Saturday, was the sort of Republican recruit the party once prized. A Cuban American who starred as an Ohio State wide receiver, he was selected in the first round of the N.F.L. draft and then earned an M.B.A. at Stanford after his football career was cut short by injuries. He claimed his Northeast Ohio seat in his first bid for political office.Mr. Gonzalez, a conservative, largely supported the former president’s agenda. Yet he started breaking with Mr. Trump and House Republican leaders when they sought to block the certification of last year’s presidential vote, and he was horrified by Jan. 6 and its implications.Still, he insisted he could have prevailed in what he acknowledged would have been a “brutally hard primary” against Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who was endorsed by the former president in February.Yet as Mr. Gonzalez sat on a couch in his House office, most of his colleagues still at home for the prolonged summer recess, he acknowledged that he could not bear the prospect of winning if it meant returning to a Trump-dominated House Republican caucus.“Politically the environment is so toxic, especially in our own party right now,” he said. “You can fight your butt off and win this thing, but are you really going to be happy? And the answer is, probably not.”For the Ohioan, Jan. 6 was “a line-in-the-sand moment” and Mr. Trump represents nothing less than a threat to American democracy.“I don’t believe he can ever be president again,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Most of my political energy will be spent working on that exact goal.”Mr. Gonzalez said there had been some uncertainty after the assault on the Capitol over whether Republican leaders would continue to bow to Mr. Trump.But the ouster of Representative Liz Cheney from her leadership post; the continued obeisance of Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader; and the recent decision to invite Mr. Trump to be the keynote speaker at a major House Republican fund-raiser were clarifying. At least in Washington, this is still Mr. Trump’s party.“This is the direction that we’re going to go in for the next two years and potentially four, and it’s going to make Trump the center of fund-raising efforts and political outreach,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “That’s not something I’m going to be part of.”His decision to leave rather than fight, however, ensures that the congressional wing of the party will become only more thoroughly Trumpified. And it will raise questions about whether other Trump critics in the House will follow him to the exits. At the top of that watch list: Ms. Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who are both serving on the otherwise Democratic-dominated panel investigating the Capitol riot.Mr. Gonzalez said he believed he could have prevailed in a “brutally hard primary” against Max Miller, right, a former Trump White House aide, who appeared with the former president at an Ohio rally in June.David Maxwell/EPA, via ShutterstockAsked how he could hope to cleanse the party of Mr. Trump if he himself was not willing to confront the former president in a proxy fight next year against Mr. Miller, Mr. Gonzalez insisted that there were still Republicans in office who would defend “the fundamentals of democracy.”With more ardor, he argued that Mr. Trump has less of a following among grass-roots Republicans than the party’s leaders believe, particularly when it comes to whom the rank-and-file want to lead their 2024 ticket.“Where I see a big gap is, most people that I speak to back home agree with the policies but they also want us to move on from the person” and “the sort of resentment politics that has taken over the party,” Mr. Gonzalez said.Congressional maps are set to be redrawn this year, and it’s unclear what Mr. Gonzalez’s district, the 16th, will look like afterward. But he said he would probably not take sides in the primary to succeed him, which is now likely to include additional candidates.He said he would remain in the House through the end of his term unless something changed with his family.Mr. Gonzalez was emphatic that the threats were not why he was leaving — the commute was more trying, he said — but in a matter-of-fact fashion, he recounted people online saying things like, “We’re coming to your house.”In accordance with the advice House officials gave to all members, Mr. Gonzalez had a security consultant walk through his home to ensure it was well protected.“It’s a reflection of where our politics looked like it was headed post-Jan. 6,” he said.Neither Mr. Trump nor any of his intermediaries have sought to push him out of the race, Mr. Gonzalez said.Asked about Mr. Trump’s inevitable crowing over his exit from the primary, Mr. Gonzalez dismissed the former president.“I haven’t cared what he says or thinks since Jan. 6, outside when he continues to lie about the election, which I have a problem with,” he said.What clearly does bother him, though, are the Republicans who continue to abet Mr. Trump’s election falsehoods, acts of appeasement that he said were morally wrong and politically foolhardy after the party lost both chambers of Congress and the White House under the former president’s leadership.“We’ve learned the wrong lesson as a party,” Mr. Gonzalez said, “but beyond that, and more importantly, it’s horribly irresponsible and destructive for the country.” More

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    Trump-Era Special Counsel Secures Indictment of Lawyer for Firm With Democratic Ties

    The defendant, Michael Sussmann, is accused of lying to the F.B.I. in a meeting about Trump and Russia. He denies wrongdoing.WASHINGTON — The special counsel appointed by the Trump administration to scrutinize the Russia investigation obtained a grand jury indictment on Thursday of a prominent cybersecurity lawyer, accusing him of lying to the F.B.I. five years ago during a meeting about Donald J. Trump and Russia.The indictment secured by the special counsel, John H. Durham, also made public his findings about an episode in which cybersecurity researchers identified unusual internet data in 2016 that they said suggested the possibility of a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked financial institution.He concluded that the Clinton campaign covertly helped push those suspicions to the F.B.I. and reporters, the indictment shows. The F.B.I. looked into the questions about Alfa Bank but dismissed them as unfounded, and the special counsel who later took over the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, ignored the matter in his final report.The charging of the lawyer, Michael A. Sussmann, had been expected. He is accused of falsely telling a top F.B.I. lawyer that he was not representing any client at the meeting about those suspicions. Prosecutors contend that he was instead representing both a technology executive and the Hillary Clinton campaign.“Sussmann’s false statement misled the F.B.I. general counsel and other F.B.I. personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the F.B.I. of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of Sussmann’s clients,” the indictment said.Mr. Sussmann’s defense lawyers, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth, have denied the accusation, insisting that he did not say he had no client and maintaining that the evidence against him is weak. They also denied that the question of who Mr. Sussmann was working for was material, saying the FB.I. would have investigated the matter regardless.“Michael Sussmann was indicted today because of politics, not facts,” they said on Thursday. “The special counsel appears to be using this indictment to advance a conspiracy theory he has chosen not to actually charge. This case represents the opposite of everything the Department of Justice is supposed to stand for. Mr. Sussmann will fight this baseless and politically inspired prosecution.”A former computer crimes prosecutor who worked for the Justice Department for 12 years, Mr. Sussmann in 2016 represented the Democratic National Committee on issues related to Russia’s hacking of its servers.He has been a cybersecurity lawyer for 16 years at the law firm Perkins Coie, which has deep ties to the Democratic Party. A colleague of Mr. Sussmann’s, Marc Elias, was the general counsel to the Clinton campaign. He left the law firm last month.The firm said in a statement on Thursday that Mr. Sussmann had also departed: “In light of the special counsel’s action today, Michael Sussmann, who has been on leave from the firm, offered his resignation from the firm in order to focus on his legal defense, and the firm accepted it.”The charge against him centers on a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting with the F.B.I. lawyer, James A. Baker, in which Mr. Sussmann relayed concerns about the odd internet data. Cybersecurity researchers had said it might be evidence of clandestine communications channel between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and with Russia’s Alfa Bank.The case against Mr. Sussmann turns on Mr. Baker’s recollection that Mr. Sussmann told him he was not at the meeting on behalf of any client — which Mr. Sussmann denies saying. There were no witnesses to their conversation.The indictment says Mr. Baker later briefed another F.B.I. official — apparently Bill Priestap, the bureau’s top counterintelligence official — about the meeting, and that Mr. Priestap’s notes say Mr. Baker recounted that Mr. Sussmann said he was “not doing this for any client.” (It is not clear whether such notes would be admissible at a trial.)In 2017, Mr. Sussmann testified under oath to Congress that he was representing the unnamed technology executive, and his legal team agrees that executive was his client at the meeting — but the only one.Internal law firm billing records, however, show that Mr. Sussmann had been logging his time on Alfa Bank matters to the Clinton campaign, the indictment says, contending that the campaign was his client, too. Those records are said to also show that Mr. Sussmann met or spoke with Mr. Elias about Alfa Bank repeatedly.Seeking to head off any indictment, Mr. Sussmann’s defense lawyers had argued to the Justice Department that the billing records were misleading and that he was not at the meeting at the direction or on behalf of the Clinton campaign, according to people familiar with the case. They also denied that the records could be fairly interpreted as showing that he billed the meeting with Mr. Baker to the campaign, as the indictment accuses him.Mr. Durham is known to have been closely scrutinizing the Alfa Bank episode since last fall, including using a grand jury to subpoena documents and question witnesses in ways that suggested he was pursuing a theory that the data had been manipulated or the analysis of it knowingly torqued.The 27-page indictment disclosed much of what he found, including quoting extensively from internal communications of unnamed researchers.The unidentified technology executive whom Mr. Sussmann represented was not the first researcher to scrutinize the data. But his company had access to large amounts of internet data, and he came to play an important role in driving the research and analysis, which he told Mr. Sussmann about around July 2016, the indictment said.In August of that year, the technology executive outlined to other researchers the goal of the effort, saying that unspecified “VIPs” wanted to find “true” information that would merit closer scrutiny. Noting that Mr. Trump had claimed he had no interactions with Russian financial institutions, the executive wrote that data suggesting that was false “would be jackpot” and would “give the base of a very useful narrative.”The executive also wrote: “Being able to provide evidence of *anything* that shows an attempt to behave badly in relation to this, the VIPs would be happy. They’re looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination.”But one of the researchers working on the project worried that their analysis had weaknesses and that suggested they all shared anti-Trump sentiment.“The only thing that drive[s] us at this point is that we just do not like” Trump, the indictment quoted one unnamed researcher as writing. “This will not fly in eyes of public scrutiny. Folks, I am afraid we have tunnel vision. Time to regroup?”In early September, the indictment said, Mr. Sussmann met with a New York Times reporter who would later draft a story about Alfa Bank, and also began work on a so-called white paper that would summarize and explain the researchers’ data and analysis, billing the time to the Clinton campaign.On Sept. 12, the indictment said, Mr. Sussmann called Mr. Elias, the Clinton campaign lawyer, and spoke about his “efforts to communicate” with the Times reporter about the Alfa Bank allegations. Both billed the call to the campaign. And three days later, Mr. Elias exchanged emails with top campaign officials about the matter.In the meantime, on Sept. 14, five days before Mr. Sussmann met with the F.B.I., the technology executive emailed three researchers helping him with data. The executive sought to ensure the analysis they were assembling would strike security experts as simply “plausible,” even if it fell short of demonstrably true, prosecutors said.Mr. Sussmann also continued to push the Alfa Bank story to reporters. A month before the election, as Times editors were weighing whether to publish an article the reporter had drafted, Mr. Sussmann told him he should show the editors an opinion essay saying the paper’s investigative reporters had not published as many stories regarding Mr. Trump as other media outlets, the indictment said.Michael E. Sussmann, a lawyer from the firm Perkins Coie, during a cybersecurity conference in 2016.via C-SPANAttorney General William P. Barr appointed Mr. Durham in May 2019 to scour the Russia investigation for any wrongdoing. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr stoked expectations among Mr. Trump’s supporters that the prosecutors would uncover grave offenses by high-level government officials and support claims that the Russia investigation was a plot concocted by the so-called deep state to sabotage Mr. Trump.To date, Mr. Durham’s investigation has fallen short of those expectations. Out of office, Mr. Trump has repeatedly issued statements fuming, “Where’s Durham?”The current attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, said at his confirmation hearing in February that he would let Mr. Durham continue to work and told Congress in July that he agreed with Mr. Barr’s earlier direction that Mr. Durham should eventually submit a report in a form that could be made public.Funding for most Justice Department operations, like much of the federal government, is controlled by an annual budget that covers a fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30. Spokesmen for Mr. Garland and Mr. Durham have declined to answer questions about whether Mr. Durham’s office has funding approval to continue operating beyond this month.But in announcing the indictment of Mr. Sussmann, the Justice Department said, “The special counsel’s investigation is ongoing.” More

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    Durham Is Said to Seek Indictment of Lawyer at Firm With Democratic Ties

    The lawyer, Michael Sussmann, is accused of lying to the F.B.I. in a 2016 meeting about Trump and Russia. He denies wrongdoing.WASHINGTON — John H. Durham, the special counsel appointed by the Trump administration to scrutinize the Russia investigation, has told the Justice Department that he will ask a grand jury to indict a prominent cybersecurity lawyer on a charge of making a false statement to the F.B.I., people familiar with the matter said.Any indictment of the lawyer — Michael Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor and now a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, and who represented the Democratic National Committee on issues related to Russia’s 2016 hacking of its servers — is likely to attract significant political attention.Donald J. Trump and his supporters have long accused Democrats and Perkins Coie — whose political law group, a division separate from Mr. Sussmann’s, represented the party and the Hillary Clinton campaign — of seeking to stoke unfair suspicions about Mr. Trump’s purported ties to Russia.The case against Mr. Sussmann centers on the question of who his client was when he conveyed certain suspicions about Mr. Trump and Russia to the F.B.I. in September 2016. Among other things, investigators have examined whether Mr. Sussmann was secretly working for the Clinton campaign — which he denies.An indictment is not a certainty: On rare occasions, grand juries decline prosecutors’ requests. But Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers, Sean M. Berkowitz and Michael S. Bosworth of Latham & Watkins, acknowledged on Wednesday that they expected him to be indicted, while denying he made any false statement.“Mr. Sussmann has committed no crime,” they said. “Any prosecution here would be baseless, unprecedented and an unwarranted deviation from the apolitical and principled way in which the Department of Justice is supposed to do its work. We are confident that if Mr. Sussmann is charged, he will prevail at trial and vindicate his good name.”A spokesman for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who has the authority to overrule Mr. Durham but is said to have declined to, did not comment. Nor did a spokesman for Mr. Durham.The accusation against Mr. Sussmann focuses on a meeting he had on Sept. 19, 2016, with James A. Baker, who was the F.B.I.’s top lawyer at the time, according to the people familiar with the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity.Because of a five-year statute of limitations for such cases, Mr. Durham has a deadline of this weekend to bring a charge over activity from that date.At the meeting, Mr. Sussmann relayed data and analysis from cybersecurity researchers who thought that odd internet data might be evidence of a covert communications channel between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and with Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked Russian financial institution.The F.B.I. eventually decided those concerns had no merit. The special counsel who later took over the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, ignored the matter in his final report.Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers have told the Justice Department that he sought the meeting because he and the cybersecurity researchers believed that The New York Times was on the verge of publishing an article about the Alfa Bank data and he wanted to give the F.B.I. a heads-up. (In fact, The Times was not ready to run that article, but published one mentioning Alfa Bank six weeks later.)Mr. Durham has been using a grand jury to examine the Alfa Bank episode and appeared to be hunting for any evidence that the data had been cherry-picked or the analysis of it knowingly skewed, The New Yorker and other outlets have reported. To date, there has been no public sign that he has found any such evidence.But Mr. Durham did apparently find an inconsistency: Mr. Baker, the former F.B.I. lawyer, is said to have told investigators that he recalled Mr. Sussmann saying that he was not meeting him on behalf of any client. But in a deposition before Congress in 2017, Mr. Sussmann testified that he sought the meeting on behalf of an unnamed client who was a cybersecurity expert and had helped analyze the data.Moreover, internal billing records Mr. Durham is said to have obtained from Perkins Coie are said to show that when Mr. Sussmann logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter — though not the meeting with Mr. Baker — he billed the time to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.Another partner at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, was then serving as the general counsel for the Clinton campaign. Mr. Elias, who did not respond to inquiries, left Perkins Coie last month.In their attempt to head off any indictment, Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers are said to have insisted that their client was representing the cybersecurity expert he mentioned to Congress and was not there on behalf of or at the direction of the Clinton campaign.They are also said to have argued that the billing records are misleading because Mr. Sussmann was not charging his client for work on the Alfa Bank matter, but needed to show internally that he was working on something. He was discussing the matter with Mr. Elias and the campaign paid a flat monthly retainer to the firm, so Mr. Sussmann’s hours did not result in any additional charges, they said.Last October, as Mr. Durham zeroed in the Alfa Bank matter, the researcher who brought those concerns to Mr. Sussmann hired a new lawyer, Steven A. Tyrrell.Speaking on the condition that The New York Times not name his client in this article, citing a fear of harassment, Mr. Tyrrell said his client thought Mr. Sussmann was representing him at the meeting with Mr. Baker.“My client is an apolitical cybersecurity expert with a history of public service who felt duty bound to share with law enforcement sensitive information provided to him by D.N.S. experts,” Mr. Tyrrell said, referring to “Domain Name System,” a part of how the internet works and which generated the data that was the basis of the Alfa Bank concerns.Mr. Tyrrell added: “He sought legal advice from Michael Sussmann who had advised him on unrelated matters in the past and Mr. Sussmann shared that information with the F.B.I. on his behalf. He did not know Mr. Sussmann’s law firm had a relationship with the Clinton campaign and was simply doing the right thing.”Supporters of Mr. Trump have long been suspicious of Perkins Coie. On behalf of Democrats, Mr. Elias commissioned a research firm, Fusion GPS, to look into Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia. That resulted in the so-called Steele dossier, a notorious compendium of rumors about Trump-Russia ties. The F.B.I. cited some information from the dossier in botched wiretap applications.Some of the questions that Mr. Durham’s team has been asking in recent months — including of witnesses it subpoenaed before a grand jury, according to people familiar with some of the sessions — suggest he has been pursuing a theory that the Clinton campaign used Perkins Coie to submit dubious information to the F.B.I. about Russia and Mr. Trump in an effort to gin up investigative activity to hurt his 2016 campaign.Mr. Durham has also apparently weighed bringing some sort of action against Perkins Coie as an organization. Outside lawyers for the firm recently met with the special counsel’s team and went over the evidence, according to other people familiar with their discussions, arguing that it was insufficient for any legal sanction.The lawyers for Perkins Coie and the firm’s managing partner did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.Mr. Sussmann, 57, grew up in New Jersey, attending Rutgers University and then Brooklyn Law School. He spent 12 years as a prosecutor at the Justice Department, where he came to specialize in computer crimes. He has since worked for Perkins Coie for about 16 years and is a partner in its privacy and cybersecurity practice. Mr. Sussmann and his firm have been particular targets for Mr. Trump and his supporters.In October 2018, a Wall Street Journal columnist attacked Mr. Sussmann, calling him the “point man for the firm’s D.N.C. and Clinton campaign accounts,” apparently conflating him with Mr. Elias. Perkins Coie responded with a letter to the editor saying that was not Mr. Sussmann’s role and that the unnamed client on whose behalf he spoke to the F.B.I. had “no connections to either the Clinton campaign, the D.N.C. or any other political law group client.”Four months later, Mr. Trump attacked Mr. Sussmann by name in a slightly garbled pair of Twitter posts, trying to tie him to the Clinton campaign and to the Steele dossier.Raising the specter of politicization in the Durham inquiry, lawyers for Mr. Sussmann are said to have argued to the Justice Department that Mr. Baker’s recollection was wrong, immaterial and too weak a basis for a false-statements charge. There were no other witnesses to the conversation, the people familiar with the matter said.In a deposition to Congress in 2018, Mr. Baker said he did not remember Mr. Sussmann “specifically saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client,” but also said Mr. Sussmann had told him “he had cyberexperts that had obtained some information that they thought should get into the hands of the F.B.I.”However, Mr. Durham’s team is said to have found handwritten notes made by another senior F.B.I. official at the time, whom Mr. Baker briefed about the conversation with Mr. Sussmann, that support the notion that Mr. Sussmann said he was not there on behalf of a client. It is not clear whether such notes would be admissible at trial under the so-called hearsay rule.A lawyer for Mr. Baker declined to comment.Mr. Durham has been under pressure to deliver some results from his long-running investigation, which began when then-Attorney General William P. Barr assigned him in 2019 to investigate the Russia inquiry. Out of office and exiled from Twitter, Mr. Trump has issued statements fuming, “Where’s Durham?” More