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Lawyer Charged in Trump-Russia Probe   09/17 06:18

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The prosecutor tasked with examining the U.S. 
government's investigation into Russian election interference charged a 
prominent cybersecurity lawyer on Thursday with making a false statement to the 
FBI five years ago.

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

   That deception mattered because it "deprived the FBI of information that 
might have permitted it to more fully assess and uncover the origins of the 
relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations 
of Sussmann's clients," according to the indictment filed by special counsel 
John Durham and his team of prosecutors.

   Sussmann's lawyers said their client was charged because of "politics, not 
facts."

   "The Special Counsel appears to be using this indictment to advance a 
conspiracy theory he has chosen not to actually charge. This case represents 
the opposite of everything the Department of Justice is supposed to stand for. 
Mr. Sussmann will fight this baseless and politically-inspired prosecution," 
attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement.

   The case against Sussmann is just the second prosecution brought by Durham 
in two and a half years of work. Both involve false statements, yet neither 
undoes the core finding of an earlier investigation by Robert Mueller that 
Russia had interfered in sweeping fashion on behalf of Donald Trump's 2016 
presidential campaign and that the Trump campaign welcomed that aid.

   The indictment also lays bare the wide-ranging and evolving nature of 
Durham's investigation. In addition to having scrutinized the activities of FBI 
and CIA officials during the early days of the Russia probe, it has also looked 
at the behavior of private individuals like Sussman who provided the U.S. 
government with information as it scrambled to determine whether Trump 
associates were coordinating with Russia to tip the election's outcome.

   The indictment concerns a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting at FBI headquarters 
between Sussmann and the FBI's then-general counsel, James Baker. During the 
meeting, prosecutors say, Sussmann provided Baker with three "white papers" and 
data files that purported to show a potential connection between Russia-based 
Alfa Bank and a Trump Organization server.

   The indictment notes that the FBI investigation determined that the email 
server was not actually owned or operated by the Trump Organization but was 
instead administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements 
for Trump hotels.

   According to the indictment, Sussmann said he was not presenting the 
materials on behalf of any particular client, which prosecutors say led Baker 
to believe that Sussmann was acting as a "good citizen" rather than a "paid 
advocate or political operative."

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

   The Alfa Bank matter was not a pivotal element of the Russia probe and was 
not even mentioned in Mueller's 448-page report in 2019. Still, the indictment 
may give fodder to Russia investigation critics who regard the probe as 
politically tainted and engineered by Democrats.

   Sussmann's former firm, Perkins Coie, has deep Democratic connections. 
Sussmann represented the Democratic National Committee in connection with a 
Russian government hack of its email servers. A then-partner at the firm, Marc 
Elias, brokered a deal with the Fusion GPS research firm to study Trump's 
business ties to Russia.

   That work yielded a dossier of research from former British spy Christopher 
Steele that helped form the basis of flawed surveillance applications targeting 
a former Trump campaign official, Carter Page.

   A spokesman for Perkins Coie said Sussmann, "who has been on leave from the 
firm, offered his resignation from the firm in order to focus on his legal 
defense, and the firm accepted it."

   The Durham investigation has already lasted months longer than the earlier 
special counsel probe into Russian election interference conducted by Mueller, 
the former FBI director, and his team. The investigation was slowed by the 
coronavirus pandemic and experienced leadership tumult following the abrupt 
departure last fall of a top deputy on Durham's team.

   Though Trump had eagerly anticipated Durham's findings in hopes that they'd 
be a boon to his reelection campaign, any political impact the conclusion may 
have once had has been dimmed by the fact that Trump is no longer in office.

   The Durham appointment by then-Attorney General William Barr in 2019 was 
designed to examine potential errors or misconduct in the U.S. government's 
investigation into whether Trump's 2016 presidential campaign was conspiring 
with Russia to sway the election.

   A two-year investigation by Mueller established that the Trump campaign was 
eager to receive and benefit from Kremlin aid, and documented multiple 
interactions between Russians and Trump associates. Investigators said they did 
not find enough evidence to charge any campaign official with having conspired 
with Russia, though a half-dozen Trump aides were charged with various 
offenses, including false statements.

   Until now, Durham had brought only one criminal case -- a false statement 
charge against an FBI lawyer who altered an email related to the surveillance 
of Page to obscure the nature of Page's preexisting relationship with the CIA. 
That lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.

 
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