Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, said Michael Sussmann met with the bureau in September 2016 on behalf of a client, according to notes from March 2017 made public by the Democratic cybersecurity lawyer.
The briefing notes contradict contemporaneous FBI notes and the defendant's own text message, though the defense team thinks they could prove decisive in special counsel John Durham's case against Sussmann.
Sussmann was indicted for allegedly concealing his clients, Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and “Tech Executive-1” Rodney Joffe, from FBI general counsel James Baker in late summer 2016 when he presented internet data that suggested a now-discredited back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank.
Sussmann's lawyers argue the FBI notes they released Sunday are a game-changer.
“This new information directly contradicts the Special Counsel’s core allegation in this case: that Mr. Sussmann falsely told Mr. Baker that he was not meeting with Mr. Baker on behalf of any client,” the defense team wrote. “The FBI apparently came to believe that Mr. Sussmann did have a client in connection with his meeting with Mr. Baker.”
An FBI briefing of high-level DOJ officials on March 6, 2017, about the Trump-Russia investigation seemed to have been spurred at least in part by March 4, 2017, tweets by then-President Donald Trump about having his “wires tapped" by the Obama administration.
Handwritten notes during the meeting by Associate Deputy Attorney General Tashina Gauhar put “attorney” in quotation marks and said the attorney “brought to FBI on behalf of his client," though it may actually say "clients." The notes add, “Alerted others in media. NYT.”
The notes by acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord say, “Attorney brought to Jim Baker and d/n [did not] say who client was. Said computer researchers saw contact."
DURHAM SAYS SUSSMANN PUT LIE TO FBI IN WRITING
Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools did not use the word “client” in his March 2017 notes, writing, “An attorney brought info to Baker … Source attorney — [REDACTED].”
Durham stressed last week these DOJ officials "were not present for the defendant’s 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel.”
Judge Christopher Cooper, presiding over the case, ruled this weekend that notes taken by Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap and FBI Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson being allowed as evidence “depends both on whether Mr. Baker’s credibility is attacked and on Mr. Priestap and Ms. Anderson’s testimony.”
Baker met with Priestap and Anderson after his Sussmann meeting in 2016. Priestap wrote that Baker said Sussmann “said not doing this for any client.” Anderson wrote in part, “No specific client.”
Durham revealed last month that Sussmann also put his lie down in writing in a text message to Baker the night before their meeting.
“I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss,” Sussmann wrote to the FBI's top lawyer, adding, "I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau.”
Durham says Baker plans to testify as a prosecution witness.
Cooper said Saturday, “If Mr. Baker’s memory is challenged on cross examination [this strikes the Court as no sure thing given the recent revelation of a text message apparently sent by Mr. Sussmann to Mr. Baker the day before their meeting indicating that he was not attending the meeting on behalf of a client], his prior consistent statement would be admissible."
The notes released by Sussmann's team go well beyond the "client" debate, showing an FBI attempting to justify and explain its ongoing Trump-Russia investigation in the early days of the Trump administration. Since-fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok presented falsehoods about the basis for Crossfire Hurricane as the bureau planned how to respond to a flurry of tweets by Trump.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump had tweeted two days before the 2017 FBI meeting.
Notes from Schools show that McCabe talked at length about Trump’s “tweet activity.” McCord’s notes said, “FBI trying to determine what is behind POTUS tweets.”
The FBI officials speculated Trump may have been referring to the FISA wiretaps of Trump campaign associate Carter Page and to the Alfa-Bank allegations.
The bureau thought Trump was likely citing a March 2017 Breitbart article that stated, “the Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign.”
The FBI also speculated that some of the issues raised may have been sourced from a New York Times article published on Halloween 2016 about the FBI and the Alfa-Bank claims.
Gauhar wrote, “Leak around October —> that FISA being denied —> [REDACTED].”
The notes from Schools indicate McCabe said the “goals” at the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were to “level set investigation” and “level set issue re: POTUS.” Gauhar’s notes echoed this.
“I have no information that supports those [Trump's] tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” then-FBI Director James Comey told Congress on March 20, 2017.
Durham revealed he has evidence Joffe “exploited” domain name system internet traffic at Trump Tower, Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and the Executive Office of the President.
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Gauhar’s notes also referred to an overview of the October 2016 FISA surveillance of Page, calling the FISA “fruitful." Her notes reference “Crown Source Reporting,” referring to British ex-spy Christopher Steele.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Page and for the bureau's reliance on Steele’s discredited dossier. The Justice Department told the FISA court it believed at least the final two of four FISA warrants on Page were “not valid." FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed there had been at least some illegal surveillance, and the bureau worked to “claw back” FISA information.
The FISA Court condemned the FBI’s actions, and ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to fraudulently changing an email to state Page was “not a source” for the CIA as he pushed for FISA renewal.