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Durham Inquiry: Lawyer Charged With Lying To FBI In Trump-Russia Inquiry

According to the indictment, Sussmann – a prominent cybersecurity attorney whose law firm Perkins Coie worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 – lied during a September 2016 meeting with the attorney general FBI at the time, James Baker, during which Sussmann shared information about possible links between Trump. Organization and a Russian bank.

Sussmann told Baker he was not working on behalf of any client, but prosecutors allege he represented the Clinton campaign as well as a tech industry professional to provide server data, according to the act. accusation.

Sussmann’s lawyers said he would challenge the charge in court, and his law firm said in a statement Thursday that he had resigned “in order to focus on his legal defense.”

Thursday’s criminal indictment quickly became a disappointing mark in an investigation by a special advocate who for years sought to uncover failures of the FBI and the efforts of the intelligence community at the start of the Russia investigation – to result in a single charge against a discreet outside lawyer. . The information Sussmann presented to the FBI ultimately became a box that quickly fizzled out in the larger Russia investigation, which established that the Trump campaign hailed Russian interference in the 2016 election and had resulted in several convictions of six key Trump advisers.

“Sussmann’s lie was important,” prosecutors wrote, “because, among other reasons, Sussmann’s misrepresentation misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI staff regarding the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that could have enabled it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of Sussmann’s clients. “

Prosecutors allege Sussmann repeated the lie to other government employees.

Focus on communication data

An FBI investigation found no evidence of surreptitious communications between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump organization, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report. And the bank and the Trump Organization have denied these allegations.

The provenance of a USB drive provided to the FBI by Sussmann was the focus of the investigation, those briefed on the matter said.

The reader contained information about possible connections between Trump’s company and a Russian bank.

FBI investigated allegations that Trump Tower servers were communicating with servers owned by Alfa Bank, a Russian bank, as part of a larger investigation into links between Trump campaign associates and the Russians .

Former special advocate Robert Mueller’s report did not discuss Alfa Bank’s allegations and, when asked about them at a House hearing in 2019, Mueller said he believed the allegations didn’t were not true.

Durham approached the charge

Sussmann’s legal team learned about three weeks ago that investigators in Durham were preparing to seek an indictment against him, according to the person familiar with the matter.

Sussmann’s team appealed the ruling to the Justice Department leadership, which is possible in a case like this, but was dismissed this week.

His lawyers, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth, said Thursday his indictment resulted from “politics, not facts.”

Sussmann shared information about the Trump organization’s computer data with the FBI, they said, “because he and his client believed the information raised national security concerns … regardless of who the clients were. Mr. Sussmann, or even if he didn’t have clients at all, none of that would have mattered. “

Plans to search for an indictment were first reported on Wednesday by The New York Times.

Sussmann’s attorneys said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday night that he had committed no crime and that if he were to be charged he would go to court to “assert his reputation.” Lawyers noted that Sussmann served in the Justice Department during the Democratic and Republican administrations.

Law firm Perkins Coie, working for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party in 2016, paid research firm Fusion GPS to produce a series of reports from a former British intelligence agent detailing connections between the Russians and Trump and his associates.

Separately, a group of cyber experts in 2016 said they analyzed thousands of unexplained computer connections between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization servers, and the allegations were passed to the FBI through various intermediaries, including Sussmann.

Trump wanted more

Durham was appointed by then Attorney General William Barr in early 2019 to pursue suspicions by Trump and Barr that the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies had committed wrongdoing in their pursuit of the Trump-Russia investigation. In a review that has now taken longer than Mueller’s investigation, Durham largely failed to deliver what Trump wanted.

The former president has publicly stated that he wants charges against former senior FBI and intelligence officials and that he expects Durham to present a public report ahead of last year’s election.

After first examining the role of the intelligence community in the Russia investigation and finding no wrongdoing, according to Barr, Durham turned again to the FBI review, which has already done l subject of a scathing report from the Inspector General who found multiple missteps by the office.

Durham filed a relatively minor lawsuit last year against a former FBI lawyer who admitted to tampering with information used to obtain a lookout warrant against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page, but there is no got a big surprise in October from Durham as Trump expected. This failure, in Trump’s eyes, added to the tensions between Barr and the then president in the final months of the Trump presidency, according to former administration officials.

As part of Durham’s appointment as special advocate, he is expected to produce a final report to Attorney General Merrick Garland, with the intention that at least part of it be made public.

Durham’s investigation is in its closing phase, people briefed on the matter said, and a possible deadline for any charges is looming. Still, in a statement announcing Sussmann’s indictment on Thursday, the Justice Department said the Durham investigation was ongoing.

Campaign links

Thursday’s indictment describes Sussmann’s connections to the Clinton campaign as he pushed information about the Trump Organization into the hands of investigators.

Saying he was not working for a client “led the attorney general to understand that Sussmann was providing information as a good citizen rather than as a paid lawyer or political agent,” the Justice Department said .

At the time, Sussmann was representing both a cybersecurity expert who provided him with the data and the Clinton campaign. He argued, including in his own testimony to Congress, that he had met Baker on behalf of the cybersecurity client.

The Clinton campaign had not asked Sussmann to meet with Baker, said Sussmann’s legal team in Durham, the familiar person said.

However, in the indictment, Durham alleges that after obtaining the computer data, Sussmann and the technical manager “engaged in efforts with [a Clinton campaign lawyer] and individuals acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign to share information about Russian banking data with the media and others, claiming it demonstrates the existence of a secret channel of communication between the Trump Organization “and the bank Russian Alfa Bank.

Baker’s testimony to Congress

Baker also told Congress in October 2018 that he knew Sussmann got the information he was sharing from cyber experts. Baker told Congress he did not recall Sussmann “specifically saying he was acting on behalf of a particular client.”

Lawyers for Sussmann, Berkowitz and Bosworth said in their statement: “Any lawsuit here would be without merit, unprecedented and an unwarranted deviation from the apolitical and principled way the Justice Department is supposed to do its job. ”

Investigators in Durham have questioned Baker and other former FBI officials about the information Sussmann provided, people briefed on the matter told CNN.

Durham has presented evidence to a grand jury as part of his investigation, CNN previously reported. A witness who has testified in recent weeks told CNN that, based on the questions asked, they believed Durham was planning to file a complaint over the handling of the Alfa Bank case.

By the time of Sussmann’s meeting with Baker, the FBI had already opened the investigation into the links between the Russians and the Trump campaign associates. It is not uncommon for outsiders to provide information for the FBI to investigate.

A lawyer for Baker declined to comment. Spokesmen for Justice and Durham also declined to comment.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

Paula Reid contributed to this story.