The defense team for Michael Sussmann, the Democratic lawyer accused of lying to FBI General Counsel James Baker about his client when he passed along Trump-Russia allegations in 2016, claims testimony from Baker himself undermines special counsel John Durham’s indictment.
The indictment against Sussmann centers on a September 2016 meeting between him and Baker in which Sussmann pushed debunked allegations of a secret backchannel between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. Durham contends that while Sussmann told Baker he was not working for any particular client, Sussmann was secretly doing the bidding of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and billing his services to her, as well as working on behalf of technology executive Rodney Joffe.
Sussmann denies misleading the FBI and pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers argued on Monday that testimony newly handed over from Baker to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in 2019 and to Durham in 2020 contradicts the indictment.
“It was only last week — nearly two and a half months after Mr. Sussmann’s indictment, and in the face of persistent demands by Mr. Sussmann’s counsel — that the Special Counsel for the first time disclosed some (but not all) of Mr. Baker’s statements about the September 19, 2016 meeting,” Sussmann lawyer Sean Berkowitz said in a new court filing. “And a number of those statements directly contradict the Special Counsel’s allegation that Mr. Sussmann affirmatively told Mr. Baker that he was not meeting with him on behalf of any clients.”
DURHAM THEORY APPEARS TO BE TRUMP-RUSSIA COLLUSION WAS LARGELY CLINTON FABRICATION
Durham’s grand jury indictment specifically alleges that Sussmann “did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation” to the FBI when he stated to Baker “that he was not acting on behalf of any client” in conveying the Alfa Bank claims about Trump “when in truth, and in fact, and as the defendant well knew, he was acting on behalf of specific clients, namely, Tech Executive-1 and the Clinton Campaign.”
Sussmann’s lawyer contended Monday that the records handed over by Durham show “Baker testified that Mr. Sussmann had expressly said he was meeting with him on behalf of his clients” when meeting with Horowitz’s investigators. In an excerpt of Baker’s testimony about the 2016 meeting, he is quoted as saying “And he had some amount of information, physical evidence, printed out, and also a thumb drive or two, that he said related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients, who were, he described as I recall it, sort of cyber-security experts.”
The Sussmann defense team also said Baker “told the Special Counsel that the topic of Mr. Sussmann’s clients never even came up.”
Berkowitz quoted a short excerpt of an interview summary purportedly written by Durham’s team in 2020, which states: “Baker said that Sussmann did not specify that he was representing a client regarding the matter, nor did Baker ask him if he was representing a client. Baker said it did not seem like Sussmann was representing a client. Baker repeated his earlier assertion that he did not know Sussmann was representing the DNC at the time and Sussmann did not advise him of that fact at this particular meeting.”
Sussmann’s lawyers said the existence of what they see as exculpatory information “only underscores the baseless and unprecedented nature of this indictment and the importance of setting a prompt trial date.”
In the indictment, Durham said Baker spoke with Bill Priestap, then the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, after meeting with Sussmann, that Priestap “took contemporaneous notes,” and that Sussmann had said he was not doing his work "for any client.”
Durham’s team made it clear in October that they plan to call Baker to testify to prove their case, and the special counsel contends that Sussmann made similar misrepresentations when pushing the allegations to an unnamed “Agency-2” in early 2017.
Baker, who left the FBI in 2018, previously defended the flawed Trump-Russia investigation and the FBI’s handling of Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier. Steele’s main source, Igor Danchenko, was also indicted by Durham for allegedly lying to the FBI. Baker was involved in the sign-off process of at least the first Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant application that targeted Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
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Clinton tweeted about the Trump-Alfa allegations in the closing days of the 2016 race. She also shared a statement from Jake Sullivan, then her foreign policy adviser and now President Joe Biden's national security adviser, on "New Report Exposing Trump’s Secret Line of Communication to Russia.”
Horowitz said in his December 2019 report that the FBI "concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links” between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.
Steele testified in a British court that Sussmann provided him with other claims about Alfa Bank’s purported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a July 2016 meeting. These allegations made their way into a September 2016 memo that became part of the dossier.