Michael Sussman Trial Underway

Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer who represented the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016, arrives to the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, Monday, May 16, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(Washington Post/Hamodia) – Prosecutors hoping to prove a top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign lied while trying to get the FBI to investigate a suspected secret link between Donald Trump’s company and a Russian bank are having a hard time getting their own witnesses to confirm the claim.

Michael Sussmann, a prominent cybersecurity lawyer with close ties to the Democratic Party, is on trial for allegedly concealing the identity of his client when he met with the FBI’s general counsel two months before the election to provide evidence of communications between computer servers at the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.

But after a week of testimony in Washington, some of the government’s main witnesses have so far thrown water on the claim that Sussmann met with the FBI on Clinton’s behalf, even though evidence presented to the jury shows Sussmann billed the campaign for his time at the meeting.

On May 18th, prosecutors spent hours asking Marc Elias, the campaign’s former general counsel and a top Democratic election lawyer, about the billing practices of the law firm that both he and Sussmann worked for at the time, Perkins Coie. But on cross-examination by the defense, Elias said Sussmann’s billing of the campaign was a mystery.

“Did you tell him to go to the FBI?” Sussman’s lawyer, Sean Berkowitz, asked Elias.

“No,” Elias said.

“Did he seek your permission to go to the FBI?” Berkowitz said.

“No,” Elias responded.

Elias also testified that taking the purported evidence to the FBI would not have been helpful to the campaign. He pointed to the failure of the FBI and then-Director James Comey to stop Democratic Party emails from being published after they were hacked by Russia.

“The FBI in my view had not been particularly helpful in investigating or doing anything to prevent the leaks of the emails,” Elias said. Comey “had taken public stances around that time period that in my view were unfair and putting the thumb on the scale against Hillary Clinton.”

Prosecutors argue the alleged lie was part of a broader effort by Sussmann and the campaign to sway members of the media to report on the suspected link and damage Trump before the election. It’s the first trial stemming from Special Counsel John Durham’s probe into the origins and conduct of the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, which Trump has long argued was a “witch hunt.”

The FBI ultimately determined the disputed computer server was used for sending spam marketing emails and the communications weren’t a national security threat. The discredited theory was the brainchild of another Sussmann client, Rodney Joffe, a prominent expert in computer-communication data who was an executive at Neustar Inc. and was once a source for the FBI.

Other government witnesses included Deborah Fine, a former Clinton campaign deputy general counsel, and Laura Allison Seago, a former analyst at Fusion GPS, the research firm hired by Perkins Coie to dig up dirt on Trump. Both women confirmed they played roles in looking into the purported Trump-Alfa Bank link, but didn’t back the key government claim that Sussmann went to the FBI on the campaign’s behalf.

“At any time prior to Mr. Sussmann’s charge in this case, did you have any knowledge that he went to the FBI?” Berkowitz asked Fine.

“No, I did not,” she said.

Seago also testified she wasn’t aware of any effort to get the server evidence to the FBI.

Even so, the testimony is a rare look into the Clinton campaign’s sprawling effort to find negative information about Trump and leak it to the press — even information that was later discredited. Trump has filed a federal lawsuit against Clinton and others in Florida alleging the effort amounted to an illegal conspiracy against him.

“The evidence and testimony I’ve heard has given a crystal clear picture of the collective efforts of the Clinton Campaign, the DNC, their attorneys at Perkins Coie, Fusion GPS and Neustar to take down Trump by disseminating fabricated and unverified data to law enforcement and spreading false narratives through the media,” Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, said in a statement.

The witnesses reminded the jury about the environment they were working in at the time, when unusual connections between Trump and Russia were frequently in the news. Elias called Trump a “bully” and noted that the Republican had pushed the GOP to make its platform pro-Russia and had personally called on Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails after the DNC hack. All that made the Alfa Bank claim “plausible,” Elias said.

On May 23, the prosecution began its 2nd week of questioning. Bill Priestap, the FBI‘s former counterintelligence chief, said he couldn’t remember the events. The prosecution discovered notes that Priestap had taken during the Sussman meeting, which indicated that Sussman was not working for anyone. When he was shown notes he took about those events, which clearly stated that Sussman “said not doing this for any client”, Mr. Priestap said he didn’t recall taking the notes, or if he showed them to anyone.

Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, Robby Mook, testified that the Democratic candidate approved the move to leak to the media allegations of a supposed connection between Trump and Russia.

Former FBI General Counsel James Baker took the stand and said that he was “100 percent confident” that Sussmann had stated that he was not there “on behalf of any particular client.” Baker also testified that Sussmann wrote via text that “I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company. [W]ant to help the Bureau.” Prosecutors showed a copy of the text, allowing jurors to see the incriminating message with their own eyes.

The defense pleaded their case to the Jury, telling them to ask themselves “What would Michael Sussmann gain by lying to Mr. Baker? Nothing. What would he lose? Everything. He’d lose his credibility, his relationship with Baker, his security clearance, his livelihood. For what?” In short, “the government’s theory doesn’t make sense,” the defense said.

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!