The Clinton campaign lawyer indicted by special counsel John Durham asked the court to strike allegations that a tech executive he was working with to weave a phony Trump-Russia collusion story gained access to White House internet traffic to seek dirt on former President Donald Trump.
Michael Sussmann argued Monday night that Durham’s Friday filing included false and irrelevant allegations "plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool.”
Sussmann was indicted last year for allegedly concealing his clients, including Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, from the FBI when he pushed since-debunked claims of a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Durham revealed last week that he has evidence that Sussmann’s other client, known to be former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe, “exploited” domain name system internet traffic at Trump Tower, Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and “the Executive Office of the President of the United States.”
The new details from Durham came in a motion related to potential conflicts of interest within the Sussmann defense team. Sussmann's team filed a motion Monday to strike those allegations from the federal court record, saying Durham’s motion was overbroad and irrelevant.
Durham said Friday that "Internet Company-1" accessed “dedicated servers for the [Executive Office of the President] as part of a sensitive arrangement whereby it provided DNS resolution services to the EOP” and that Joffe and his associates exploited this arrangement by mining the traffic and other data to gather dirt on Trump.
Durham said in the Friday filing that Sussmann told a U.S. government agency, widely believed to be the CIA, about the phony Russian bank connection in a Feb. 9, 2017, meeting and said he knew about it due to internet traffic that Joffe had access to.
Sussmann’s lawyers accused Durham of "provocatively and misleadingly" describing the internet traffic potentially associated with Trump and insisted that Sussmann only provided the agency believed to be the CIA with data from before Trump took office.
Lawyers for David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist who allegedly worked with Joffe, told the New York Times that "the cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”
A spokesperson for Joffe told NBC News that he "legally provided access to DNS data obtained from a private client that separately was providing DNS services to the Executive Office of the President."
But Durham's Friday filing pointed to the 2021 indictment of Sussmann, charging that Joffe “exploited his access to non-public and/or proprietary Internet data" and that Joffe tasked researchers to mine internet data to establish “an inference” and “narrative” tying then-candidate Trump to Russia. Durham said Joffe indicated he was doing this to please certain “VIPs” at Perkins Coie and on the Clinton campaign.
The special counsel said Sussmann claimed to the CIA in 2017 that data he had access to “demonstrated that Trump and/or his associates were using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House and other locations.”
Durham emphasized he found "no support for these allegations” and that the “more complete data” Joffe gathered but did not provide to the CIA showed that between 2014 and 2017, there were "a total of more than 3 million lookups of Russian Phone-Provider-1 IP addresses that originated with U.S.-based IP addresses” and that “fewer than 1,000 of these lookups originated with IP addresses affiliated with Trump Tower.” Durham said the allegations pushed to the CIA also omitted the lookups involving the Executive Office of the President “began at least as early as 2014” when former President Barack Obama was in office.
The special counsel's team has charged Sussmann with lying to the FBI when pushing the Alfa Bank claims. Sussmann allegedly told FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016 that he was not working for any particular client despite doing the bidding of Clinton’s campaign, as well as working on behalf of Joffe. Sussmann pleaded not guilty. Durham insists Sussmann repeated the lie in 2017.
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Sussmann’s lawyers claimed Monday that he did not meet with the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign, but Durham’s indictment says Sussmann billed the meeting to the Clinton campaign with the billing description of "work and communications regarding confidential project.”
The Alfa Bank allegations began to emerge publicly in the closing weeks of the 2016 election, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Jake Sullivan, then a Clinton campaign adviser and now President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, pushing Russian collusion claims on Halloween.
Michael Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general, said in December 2019 that the FBI "concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links” between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.