Marc Elias, the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, is expected to testify today in special counsel John Durham’s case against Democratic cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann.
Elias, who last year started the Elias Law Group, was the Clinton campaign's general counsel and hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which hired Christopher Steele in 2016. Elias testified he was aware of Fusion's plans to have Steele brief reporters during the 2016 contest, met with Steele in 2016, and periodically briefed the campaign about the findings from Fusion and Steele. Elias coordinated closely with his former Perkins Coie law firm colleague Sussmann on anti-Trump research in 2016.
Elias’s testimony is expected to follow opening arguments from the prosecution and defense the day after a jury was selected.
Sussmann was charged last year with concealing his clients, Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and “Tech Executive-1,” known to be former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe, from FBI general counsel James Baker when he presented debunked allegations suggesting a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank during a September 2016 meeting.
Durham said members of the Clinton campaign, Fusion, and Perkins played a coordinated role in pushing collusion claims and that Elias was part of the “joint venture” in 2016. Sussmann and Elias worked for Perkins at the time, and Fusion pushed Alfa-Bank claims, too.
Perkins said this month that Elias left Perkins last September and “records in connection with the representation” of the Clinton campaign had been transferred to Elias last August.
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As part of the Clinton campaign’s efforts to assert attorney-client privilege in the Sussmann case, Elias submitted a redacted declaration claiming that “presidential campaigns regularly encounter offensive and defensive litigation risks in multiple ways."
Elias claimed: “I provided Fusion direction on the research and information I thought would help me perform my job. ... On some occasions, Fusion’s work was distilled and incorporated into my judgments about legal issues, while in other instances, I shared the results of Fusion’s work with my clients.”
Fusion co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch wrote in their 2019 book that they met with Elias in April 2016 and that Elias wanted "deep research on Trump.”
Fritsch told Elias, “We think you guys will really want to pay attention to the Russia angle.”
Fusion wrote: “It was obvious from Elias’s reaction that the Russia element was new to him.”
“This angle was all new to Elias, and he loved it,” Fusion said.
Fusion wrote, “Elias said Fusion would be reporting only to him" because "if Fusion’s communications were with a lawyer, they could be considered privileged and kept confidential.”
Earlier this month, Judge Christopher Cooper quoted from an email by Fritsch in which he told a reporter in October 2016 to “do the f***ing Alfa bank secret comms story."
The judge remarked: “How is that assisting Mr. Elias providing legal advice? … That is assisting a media strategy.”
Durham said the “primary purpose” of Fusion’s work related to the Steele dossier and Alfa-Bank claims “was to assemble and publicize allegations that would aid the campaign’s public relations goals.”
“The Court has no reason to question Mr. Elias’s declaration that Perkins Coie retained Fusion to assist in his provision of legal advice to the Clinton Campaign,” the judge said earlier this month.
Cooper added: “But the record before the Court establishes that Fusion did more in connection with the Alfa Bank allegations than simply provide information and analysis to Mr. Elias so that he could better advise the Campaign on defamation risk. … It is clear that Fusion employees also interacted with the press as part of an affirmative media relations effort by the Clinton Campaign.”
The Durham indictment said Sussmann, Joffe, and Elias “coordinated and communicated about the [Alfa-Bank] allegations during telephone calls and meetings, which Sussmann billed to the Clinton Campaign” during the 2016 election.
The indictment said that “on or about September 15, 2016, Campaign Lawyer-1 exchanged emails with the Clinton Campaign's campaign manager, communications director, and foreign policy advisor concerning the Russian Bank-1 allegations that Sussmann had recently shared with Reporter-1.” Durham said Sussmann billed this to the Clinton campaign.
Clinton’s foreign policy adviser was Jake Sullivan, now President Joe Biden's national security adviser. Her campaign manager was Robby Mook, and her communications director was Jennifer Palmieri. “Campaign Lawyer-1” was Elias.
Sullivan told the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that he was in meetings where Elias briefed the campaign on opposition research, claiming, “Marc wears a tremendous number of hats, so I wasn’t sure who he was representing. ... I sort of thought he was, you know, just talking to us as, you know, a fellow traveler ... in the campaign effort.”
Mook told CNN in 2017 that he authorized Elias “to investigate this, particularly the international aspect.” Mook said Elias then periodically briefed the Clinton campaign about the findings. He added: “I'm proud that we were able to assemble some of the research that has brought this to light.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s August 2020 report made more than two dozen mentions of Elias. The committee wrote that “Elias told Fusion GPS to report only to him, so Fusion GPS's communications could be solely with a lawyer and thus covered by attorney-client privilege.”
Through lawyers, Elias told the Senate he had independent authority to authorize expenditures on research and that he consulted with Mook about outside hires only at a "high level."
Steele told the committee he became aware of Perkins in August and met Elias in September. Elias told the committee he did not authorize Fusion·to provide any information to any U.S. law enforcement or to share the dossier with reporters.
Both Fusion and Elias stonewalled the Senate, with the committee writing, “The Committee was unable to fully establish how much of the Steele information was actually transferred to the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. ... Elias, through counsel, did not provide details on what information he provided to the DNC or the Clinton Campaign, citing attorney-client privilege.”
Mook told the Senate committee that “counsel starting in the summer had briefed him” along with Palmieri, Sullivan, Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta, and others on "pieces of the reporting" in the dossier.
Palmieri spoke to the Senate about the Elias briefings, saying, "He had reports. … Some of the things that I have read are in the dossier I had heard about from Marc, including the famous encounter at the hotel."
Elias was hit with sanctions last year by federal appeals court judges for a “redundant and misleading submission” and for violating his ethical “duty of candor” to the court.
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The Washington Examiner detailed how Elias attempted to fashion himself as a guardian of democracy despite his lead role in undermining the 2016 presidential election with a baseless Trump-Russia narrative. Elias responded on Twitter by accidentally referring to himself as someone who was “fighting democracy” before correcting himself.
Durham said Joffe tasked employees and associates with mining and assembling internet data that would support a “narrative” tying Trump to Russia. The tech executive's motive was demonstrated in emails that said the goal was to please “VIPs” — including Sussmann and Elias.