The FBI opened a full-fledged counterintelligence investigation into since-debunked Trump-Russia collusion claims just four days after Michael Sussmann pushed the allegations to the bureau.
The electronic communication marking the opening of the investigation cited a “referral” from the Justice Department rather than saying the Alfa-Bank allegations came from a lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
HILLARY CLINTON SIGNED OFF ON SHARING DEBUNKED ALFA-BANK CLAIMS WITH MEDIA
The opening communication, titled “Alfa Bank,” was authored by FBI agents Curtis Heide and Allison Sands, both of whom may testify this week, and the investigation initiated on Sept. 23, 2016, four days after Sussmann's meeting with FBI General Counsel James Baker.
Sussmann was indicted in September for allegedly concealing his clients — Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and “Tech Executive-1,” former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe — from Baker when he pushed since-debunked claims of a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty.
Sussmann had worked at the Justice Department in the past, and testimony from Baker last week stated that he had a badge that allowed him access to the FBI.
The case identification was “Alfa Bank, Russia — Contacts / Agents, Sensitive Investigative Matter,” and the opening document said it “documents the opening of a Full Field Investigation into the network communications between a U.S.-based server and the Russian ALFA BANK organization.” Enclosed was a “White Paper.”
“On or about September 19, 2016, FBI received a referral of information from the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, detailing an unusually configured email server in Pennsylvania belonging to the TRUMP ORGANIZATION,” the FBI wrote in September 2016. “In that referral, the DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE provided the FBI with a white paper that was produced by an anonymous third party. According to the white paper, a U.S.-based server that is owned by the TRUMP ORGANIZATION has been communicating with the Russian-based ALFA BANK organization in Moscow, Russia.”
Andy McCarthy, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and now a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, told the Washington Examiner: “The investigation opening document is totally outrageous. It not only claims that the information came from the Justice Department. It suggests that the Justice Department commissioned and may even vouch for the white paper.”
The former federal prosecutor added, “To identify Sussmann as ‘the Department of Justice’ is especially outrageous under circumstances where (a) he is a lawyer for the Clinton Campaign, and (b) the representation that got him in the door to meet Baker was that he wasn’t representing anyone (which would include the Justice Department, if he had any such technical tie).”
Those copied on the FBI’s investigative launch document included since-fired agent Peter Strzok, who also authored the opening electronic communication for Crossfire Hurricane in July 2016.
Durham’s 2021 indictment clearly stated, “The FBI had, in fact, initiated an investigation of these allegations in response to a meeting that Michael Sussmann … requested and held with the FBI General Counsel.”
The special counsel has said Sussmann provided Baker with two thumb drives and a number of white papers in hard copy form, including one drafted by opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
Clinton campaign General Counsel Marc Elias hired Fusion, which in turn also hired British ex-spy Christopher Steele in 2016.
The FBI appeared to refer to a white paper as the “predicating report” in its opening communication.
“Based on the information above, FBI Chicago has predicated a Full Field Counterintelligence investigation into the activities of ALFA BANK, in order to conduct further investigation regarding the extent and nature of the network communications between ALFA BANK and the TRUMP ORGANIZATION," the bureau wrote.
“This matter is being treated as a Sensitive Investigative Matter based on the fact that the TRUMP ORGANIZATION is affiliated with a U.S. Presidential candidate."
The FBI’s opening communication added, “In addition, FBI investigation [REDACTED] Crossfire Hurricane was predicated based on an allegation that a member of the TRUMP campaign had received a suggestion from the Russian Government, indicating that the Russian government could help the TRUMP campaign with anonymous information during the campaign, which would be a detriment to the HILLARY CLINTON campaign.”
Strzok incorrectly claimed in his 2020 book, Compromised, that Australian diplomat Alexander Downer was spurred to inform the U.S. government about a May 2016 conversation he had in London with George Papadopoulos, in which the Trump campaign associate allegedly mentioned he was told Russia might have damaging information on Hillary Clinton, only after hearing then-candidate Donald Trump say in July 2016: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails.”
The information was actually passed to the FBI the day before Trump’s remarks.
Notes from Associate Deputy Attorney General Tashina Gauhar and Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools indicate Strzok also made that false claim during a March 2017 briefing by the FBI to DOJ officials.
Baker said he did not recall anyone at the March 2017 meeting saying the Alfa-Bank claims had been brought to the FBI by an attorney on behalf of a client.
Baker also testified that he did not remember ever being told that the matter had been referred to the bureau by the DOJ. When asked by prosecutors if that was an incorrect basis for the investigation, Baker said it “makes absolutely no sense to me.”
Baker testified he told Strzok the information had come from Sussmann but wasn’t sure if he had told him about the "no client" claim.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December 2019 report on the Trump-Russia investigation revealed the FBI had concluded that there were no links between the Trump Organization and Alfa-Bank by early 2017.
Scott Hellman, an FBI supervisory special agent leading a team investigating cybercrime, testified last week that he and a supervisor retrieved the thumb drives and other information passed to the FBI the day after the Baker-Sussmann meeting and quickly rejected the claims.
He said his document was drafted and then sent to the FBI’s Chicago office for a “special investigation” there. He said he believes FBI Chicago then opened an investigation.
He said he discussed it with Sands soon after and testified, “Chicago had looked at the data further, and they agreed with our assessment … that there was not a secret communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia.”
Durham had said that if Sussmann had told the truth, it could have affected how the FBI chose to proceed, because the source and origins of the information matter. Baker provided similar testimony last week.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, the FBI, the CIA, and a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation cast doubt on or rejected the Alfa-Bank claims touted by the Clinton campaign.
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Baker testified in detail about Sussmann’s alleged lie last week.
He said he would not have met with Sussmann if he had known Sussmann was doing so on behalf of the Clinton campaign.