Special counsel John Durham reportedly seeks a grand jury indictment against Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer at a Democratic-allied law firm closely linked to British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier.
The charge is said to be related to an alleged false statement to the FBI about a client's identity when Sussmann pushed now-debunked claims about secret communications between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.
Durham “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 FBI,” the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing “people familiar with the matter.”
The report said Durham’s case against Sussmann, who works at the powerhouse Perkins Coie law firm, “centers on the question of whom his client was when he conveyed certain suspicions” about former President Donald Trump and Russia to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016.
Sussmann “relayed data and analysis from cybersecurity researchers who thought that odd internet data might be evidence of a covert communications channel” during the meeting with Baker, the report said.
Durham has until the weekend to charge Sussmann because of a five-year statute of limitations. Neither Durham nor the Justice Department has commented on the report as of press time. Sussmann has denied wrongdoing.
Special counsel John Durham. (Bob Child/AP Photo)
Baker testified in 2018 that Sussman, a former DOJ colleague of his, 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.
DOJ Inspector General Michael 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 and for the bureau's reliance on Steele’s Democratic-funded dossier, which played a "central and essential" role in the FBI's wiretap efforts.
This followed the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia investigation in April of that year.
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.”
In his December 2019 report, Horowitz said the FBI "concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links” between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. A Senate Intelligence Committee report did not find "covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel."
Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign manager, said in 2017 he authorized Marc Elias — who, until recently, headed Perkins Coie’s political law group and started his own firm this summer — to hire an outside firm to dig up dirt on Trump’s connections with Russia in 2016. Mook said Elias received information from Fusion GPS about the research into Trump and Russia in 2016, and Elias periodically briefed the Clinton campaign.
Sussman is reportedly the source for news stories in 2016 about alleged secretive server claims.
The New York Times reported, “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 FBI a heads-up." However, the outlet said that “in fact” it “was not ready to run that article, but published one mentioning Alfa Bank six weeks later” — just days before the 2016 election.
At the end of October 2016, researchers found “a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank," Slate reported.
The New York Times published a report at the start of November 2016 that stated “the FBI ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.”
Durham found an “inconsistency” in Sussmann’s story, according to the New York Times report published on Wednesday. The outlet added that Baker “is said to have told investigators that he recalled [Sussmann] saying that he was not meeting him on behalf of any client.”
However, Sussmann testified to the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that he had sought out the FBI meeting on behalf of an unnamed alleged cybersecurity expert client.
During that deposition, Sussmann indicated his client was not the Clinton campaign or the co-founders of Fusion GPS.
Durham also obtained “internal billing records” from Perkins Coie that show when Sussmann “logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter” — though not the Baker meeting — “he billed the time” to Clinton’s 2016 campaign, the news report said.
"Michael Sussmann is a highly respected national security and cyber security lawyer, who served the U.S. Department of Justice during Democratic and Republican administrations alike," Sussmann attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner. "Mr. Sussmann has committed no crime. 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."
Sussmann’s attorneys “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 Sussmann “was not charging his client for work on the Alfa Bank matter, but needed to show internally that he was working on something," the outlet said.
Sussmann’s lawyers contended he “was discussing the matter” with Elias “and the campaign paid a flat monthly retainer to the firm." Therefore, Sussmann’s hours “did not result in any additional charges," the report added.
Steele testified in a British court that Sussman provided him with other claims about Alfa Bank’s purported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a late July 2016 meeting. These allegations made their way into a mid-September 2016 memo that became part of Steele’s dossier, although Steele repeatedly misspells “Alfa” as “Alpha.”
Shortly after writing that memo, Steele met with Elias, who was the general counsel for Clinton’s campaign and had personally hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS on the campaign’s behalf.
Clinton tweeted on Halloween 2016 that “computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” She shared a statement from her campaign foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, who is now Biden’s national security adviser, who said that “the secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.”
So far, Durham has obtained a single guilty plea from ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy