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Special counsel John Durham logged a second indictment in his investigation of the Trump-Russia investigators on Thursday.
A grand jury returned a 26-page indictment charging Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for Perkins Coie who had worked on behalf of Democratic clients numerous times, with intentionally lying to the FBI’s top lawyer in September 2016 about who he was working for when he passed along controversial allegations of secret communications between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.
“Sussmann lied about the capacity in which he was providing the allegations to the FBI,” the indictment says. “Specifically, Sussmann stated falsely that he was not doing his work on the aforementioned allegations ‘for any client,’ which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that Sussmann was acting as a good citizen merely passing along information, not as a paid advocate or political operative. In fact … this statement was intentionally false and misleading because, in assembling and conveying these allegations, Sussmann acted on behalf of specific clients, namely, a U.S. technology industry executive at a U.S. internet company, and the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign.”
Baker testified in 2018 that Sussman, a former DOJ colleague, shared the Alfa Bank claims with him during a September 2016 meeting. Notes from DOJ official Bruce Ohr’s December 2016 meeting with Glenn Simpson show the Fusion GPS co-founder said the New York Times was wrong to doubt the story that Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization were communicating through secret servers.
Durham said Sussmann provided Baker with two thumb drives and hard copies of white papers — including one he co-authored, although his name wasn’t on it — along with “eight files containing the Russian Bank Data.”
Immediately after the meeting, Durham said Baker spoke with Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division.
Priestap “took contemporaneous notes” about the Sussmann meeting, including that Sussmann had been “approached by Prominent Cyber People” and had “said not doing this for any client,” according to the indictment. Durham said Sussmann “billed” the FBI meeting to the Clinton campaign with the description of “work and communications regarding confidential project.”
Durham argued Sussmann’s alleged lie was “material” because it “misled” the FBI “concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI 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.”
Sussmann has denied any wrongdoing.
"Michael Sussmann was indicted today because of politics, not facts," Sussmann attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner 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.”
The defense lawyers continued: "In September 2016, Mr. Sussmann met with FBI General Counsel James Baker on behalf of a cyber expert client to inform him that a major news organization was about to run a story about cyber connections between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization and to give him a copy of the information on which that story was based. Mr. Sussmann met with Mr. Baker because he and his client believed that the information raised national security concerns."
A spokesperson for Perkins Coie said Sussmann "has been on leave from the firm" and "offered his resignation from the firm in order to focus on his legal defense, and the firm accepted it,” according to the Associated Press. Sussmann's team appealed the indictment decision to Justice Department leadership, but that request was rejected, a source told CNN.
The special counsel said if the FBI uncovered the underlying information, it might have learned that Tech Executive-1 “had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump” and “enlisted the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract.”
Durham said telling the truth may have also led the FBI to learn that “Sussmann, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.”
Durham said the tech executive, who has not been identified, retained Sussmann as a lawyer around February 2015 “in connection with a matter involving an agency of the U.S. government” and “Sussmann also frequently served as outside counsel to Internet Company-1, which was a significant source of revenue for Law Firm-1 and Sussmann.”
The special counsel said the tech executive claimed a few days after the 2016 presidential election: “I was tentatively offered the top [cybersecurity] job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.”
Durham said, “Sussmann, acting on behalf of Tech Executive-1 and the Clinton Campaign, disseminated the Russian Bank-1 allegations to the media” starting in the summer of 2016, and he “billed this time to the Clinton Campaign.”
Durham’s office said Sussmann “worked with the aforementioned U.S. technology executive, other cyber researchers, and a U.S.-based investigative firm to assemble the data and white papers that Sussmann ultimately provided to the FBI and the media.”
The special counsel’s office said the technology executive “exploited his access to non-public data at multiple internet companies and enlisted the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract designed to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security.”
Durham said the researchers were tasked to mine the data to establish an “interference” and “narrative” tying Trump to Russia in an effort that would please certain “VIPs.”
Durham’s office said Sussmann is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court as soon as Friday.
In the closing days of the 2016 race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
She also shared a lengthy statement from Jake Sullivan, one of her top advisers and now President Joe Biden's national security adviser.
“This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow,” Sullivan claimed in the 2016 statement. “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank. This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia ... This line of communication may help explain Trump’s bizarre adoration of Vladimir Putin.”
Sullivan added: “We can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.”
“Alfa Bank” is mentioned nine times in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report but never in reference to the alleged Trump-Russia server matter. When asked about the Alfa Bank claims during House Intelligence Committee testimony in July 2019, Mueller said, “Because I believe it’s not true doesn’t mean it would not be investigated. It may well have been investigated, although my belief at this point is that it’s not true.”
A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report from 2020 did not find "covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel." The Senate said that “based on the FBI's assessment, the Committee did not find that the Domain Name System activity reflected the existence of substantive or covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel.”
“The FBI’s investigations of these allegations ... concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel with Russian Bank-1,” Durham wrote. “In particular, and among other things, the FBI’s investigation revealed that the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients.”
Horowitz criticized the Justice Department and the FBI in December of 2019 for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page in 2016 and 2017. It also criticized the bureau's reliance on Steele’s Democratic-funded dossier, which played a "central and essential" role in the FBI's wiretap efforts.
Mueller said his team “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign” but "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Durham concluded Sussmann "did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement" when he "stated to the general counsel of the FBI that he was not acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning a Presidential candidate, when in truth, and in fact, and as the defendant well knew, he was acting on behalf of specific clients, namely, Tech Executive-1 and the Clinton Campaign.”
"Stripped of its political bluster, innuendo, and irrelevant details, what is striking about the allegations in the indictment is how few of them actually relate to the charge the Special Counsel chose to bring," Sussman's lawyers contended. "At its core, the Special Counsel is bringing a false statement charge based on an oral statement allegedly made five years ago to a single witness that is unrecorded and unobserved by anyone else. The Department of Justice would ordinarily never bring such a baseless case."
So far, Durham has obtained a single guilty plea from ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith for fraudulently editing a FISA filing to state Page was "not a source" for the CIA.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy