WASHINGTON, DC — A former FBI official delivered devastating testimony Thursday against former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann, saying he is “100% certain” the defendant denied acting “on behalf of a particular client.” ” when he delivered discredited information linking Donald Trump. Trump and Russia.
“I think it was pretty close to the beginning of the meeting. Part of his introduction to the meeting,” former FBI General Counsel James Baker told the jury in federal court in Washington, DC.
Baker’s account directly supports the only charge against Sussmann as a result of special counsel John Durham’s investigation into alleged violations of the law relating to the FBI and Robert Mueller’s investigations into alleged ties between Trump and Russia.
Sussmann, 57, is on trial on a single count of lying to the government during a meeting with Baker on Sept. 19, 2016, at FBI headquarters.
According to his indictment, the cybersecurity attorney was allegedly acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe, a technology executive and client who told him about computer data that allegedly revealed a secret channel between a Trump Organization server and the Alpha Bank of Russia.
“He said he would not appear before me on behalf of any particular client,” Baker recalled.
who’s who in the case
- Michael Susman: Cybersecurity lawyer who worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016; accused of lying to the FBI
- Rodney Joffee: Former technology executive and Sussmann client who told him about an alleged cyber channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank.
- Christopher Steele: Former British spy hired by Fusion GPS; compiled the infamous “Steele dossier” of reports on Trump and Russia
- John Durham: Special counsel investigating potential criminality in government investigations into former President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia
- James A. Baker: Former FBI General Counsel; received information from Alfa-Bank de Sussmann
- Mark Elijah: Clinton campaign general counsel, Sussmann’s former partner at the Perkins Coie law firm
- Judge Christopher Cooper: Presiding over Sussman’s trial in Washington, DC, federal court
- Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson: Former Wall Street Journal reporters who co-founded research firm Fusion GPS; worked for the Clinton campaign
- Andrew McCabe: Former Deputy Director of the FBI; allegedly contradicted the basis of the charge against Sussmann during a 2017 briefing
“He had troubling information about an apparent surreptitious communications channel between Alfa-Bank, which he described as connected to the Kremlin in Russia, and a part of the Trump Organization in the US.”
Baker testified that he was “100% sure he said that at the meeting.”
Baker said he likely would not have agreed to meet with Sussmann if he had known Sussmann was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
“That would raise very serious questions, certainly in my mind, about the credibility of the source and the veracity of the information, raising, in my mind, whether we were going to be misled or drawn into politics,” he said.
“We were aware and wary of being played, as the fact that our investigation was what allowed the press to report something flawed or incomplete.”
Baker said the fact that Clinton had been investigated by the FBI for her use of a private email server while secretary of state would also have influenced her decision.
“I think he would have said: meet with case officers associated with the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Meet with the ‘Mid-year Exam’ people,” she testified.
Baker said that Sussmann’s statements, which included a text message the night before saying “I’m coming on my own, not on behalf of a client or a company, I want to help the Bureau,” led him to treat Sussmann as a confidential FBI agent. source.
That decision blocked efforts to compile a full “chain of custody” for two data flash drives that Sussmann gave Baker, FBI agent Scott Hellman testified Tuesday.
“I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t identify who had provided these thumb drives to Mr. Baker. He wasn’t about to tell me,” Hellman said.
During testimony Thursday, Baker said Sussmann told him a reporter was working on a story about the Alfa Bank data and the threat of news coverage prompted him to take immediate action.
“It affected my thinking about the urgency of the matter because I know that if a news organization published something about an alleged clandestine communication channel … as soon as that article came out, the communication channel would be gone,” Baker told the adviser. special deputy Andrew. De Filippis.
Minutes after his meeting with Sussmann, Baker said he briefed Bill Priestap, who was deputy director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division at the time, about the Alfa Bank information.
In a phone call with Priestap, Baker vouched for Sussmann as the source, describing him as a “serious lawyer” with a background in cybersecurity who previously worked at the Justice Department.
Baker told Priestap that Sussmann was not acting on behalf of any client, a detail that Priestap recorded in notes he took during the call and which were put on display in court.
“He said he would not do this for any clients,” Priestap wrote.
Baker also alerted other top FBI officials, including Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Trisha Anderson, a former FBI attorney who oversaw legal support for his counterterrorism, counterintelligence and cyber investigations.
Anderson took notes from a meeting he had with Baker, which were also shown in court.
“No specific client,” he wrote of Sussmann.
During opening statements Tuesday, the defense contended that Baker’s recollection of his meeting with Sussmann was now “clear as clay,” and defense attorney Sean Berkowitz used his cross-examination of the witness to highlight earlier, inconsistent statements he made to Baker. investigators, including Durham. .
Berkowitz confronted Baker with a transcript of a July 2019 interview during which he told investigators from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that Sussman obtained Alfa Bank data from “some people who were his clients.”
Baker said he used that language as a “shorthand way of describing people he was connected to.”
When asked if he had lied to investigators, Baker denied that he had. “I had no intention of misleading the inspector general in any way, shape or form,” she testified.
Another transcript produced by the defense showed Baker telling Durham in July 2020 that he did not recall taking any steps to hide Sussmann’s identity from other FBI employees.
Berkowitz also asked Baker if it was possible that Sussmann mentioned his “clients” during a 13-minute phone conversation days after the meeting at FBI headquarters.
Baker said he was 75% sure Sussmann didn’t mention clients on the call, but couldn’t say definitively one way or the other.
At one point, Berkowitz goaded Baker by asking, “It’s hard to remember events from long ago, isn’t it?”
“Depends on what you’re talking about,” Baker replied.
Cross-examination was scheduled to continue on Friday.