Lawyer indicted in Trump-Russia inquiry

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FILE – This 2018 portrait released by the U.S. Department of Justice shows U.S. Connecticut Attorney John Durham. Charged with reviewing the US government’s investigation into Russian electoral interference, Special Counsel John Durham indicted Thursday, September 16, 2021, a prominent cybersecurity lawyer for making a false statement to the FBI. The case against attorney, Michael Sussmann of law firm Perkins Coie, is just the second lawsuit brought by Special Counsel John Durham in two and a half years on the job. US Department of Justice via AP, File)

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The prosecutor reviewing the US government’s investigation into Russian election interference on Thursday accused a prominent cybersecurity lawyer of making a false statement to the FBI five years ago.

The indictment accuses Michael Sussmann of concealing that he was working with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign during a conversation he had in September 2016 with the FBI’s general counsel, when he expresses concerns from cybersecurity researchers about potentially suspicious contacts between a Russian bank and a Trump Organization server. The FBI investigated the matter but ultimately found no evidence of a secret channel.

This deception was significant because it “deprived the FBI of information that could have enabled it to assess and further uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identity and motivations of the clients. de Sussmann ”, according to the indictment filed by the special advocate. John Durham and his team of prosecutors.

Sussmann’s attorneys said their client was charged because of “politics, not facts.”

“The special advocate appears to be using this indictment to advance a conspiracy theory that he has chosen not to actually charge. This case is the opposite of everything the Department of Justice is supposed to stand for. Mr. Sussmann will fight this baseless and politically inspired lawsuit, ”attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement.

The case against Sussmann is only the second lawsuit brought by Durham in two and a half years of work. Both involve false claims, but neither negates the main finding of an earlier Robert Mueller investigation that Russia had drastically interfered in the name of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. in 2016 and that the Trump campaign hailed this aid.

The indictment also bares the vast and evolving nature of the Durham investigation. In addition to scrutinizing the activities of FBI and CIA officials during the early days of the Russia investigation, he also examined the behavior of individuals like Sussman who provided information to the US government as he was trying to determine whether Trump’s associates were coordinating with Russia to tip the scales of the election outcome.

The indictment concerns a September 19, 2016 meeting at FBI Headquarters between Sussmann and then FBI General Counsel James Baker. During the meeting, prosecutors said, Sussmann provided Baker with three “white papers” and data files that purported to show a potential connection between Russian bank Alfa Bank and a Trump organization server.

According to the indictment, Sussmann said he was not presenting the documents on behalf of any particular client, which prosecutors said led Baker to believe Sussmann was acting a “good citizen” rather than as a “paid lawyer or political agent”.

Sussmann’s attorneys say he met Baker because a major news organization was about to publish an article on Alfa Bank, and he wanted to give Baker a copy of the material on which the story would be based. Also, they say, it didn’t matter who Sussmann’s clients were because the FBI would presumably have looked into whether or not there was a political connection.

The Alfa Bank case was not a central part of the Russia investigation and was not even mentioned in Mueller’s 448-page report in 2019. Yet the indictment may provide fodder to critics of the Russian inquiry who see it as politically tainted and designed by Democrats.

Sussmann’s former company, Perkins Coie, has deep Democratic ties. Marc Elias, then a partner of the company, made a deal with research firm Fusion GPS to study Trump’s trade ties with Russia. This work, carried out by former British spy Christopher Steele, produced a research brief that helped form the basis of flawed surveillance applications targeting former Trump campaign official Carter Page.

A spokesman for Perkins Coie said that Sussmann, “who has been on leave from cabinet, has offered to resign from cabinet in order to focus on his legal defense, and the cabinet has accepted him.”

The Durham investigation has already gone on for months longer than the Special Adviser’s previous investigation into Russian election interference led by Mueller, the former FBI director, and his team. The investigation has been slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic and has seen a leadership uproar following the abrupt departure last fall of a senior deputy from the Durham team.

While Trump eagerly anticipated the Durham findings in the hopes that they would be a boon to his re-election campaign, any political impact the finding might have once had have been mitigated by the fact that Trump is no longer in office. to be able to.

The appointment to Durham by then Attorney General William Barr in 2019 was intended to examine potential errors or faults in the U.S. government’s investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was conspiring with Russia to influence the outcome of the elections.

A two-year investigation by Mueller established that the Trump campaign was eager to receive and benefit from the Kremlin’s help, and documented multiple interactions between Russians and Trump associates. Investigators said they had not found enough evidence to charge a campaign official with conspiring with Russia, although a half-dozen of Trump’s aides have been charged with various offenses, including understood false statements.

So far, Durham has only brought one criminal case – a misrepresentation charge against an FBI attorney who altered an email related to Page’s surveillance to disguise the nature of Page’s pre-existing relationship. with the CIA. This lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.


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