A grand jury empaneled by John Durham returned an indictment on Thursday against an attorney whose firm has represented the Democratic National Committee.
The indictment charges Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity attorney at law firm Perkins Coie, with one count of lying to the FBI over statements he made in September 2016 about since-debunked ties between the Trump campaign and a Russian bank.
Durham portrays in the indictment a bizarre series of facts, alleging that the 2016 Clinton campaign teamed up with a unnamed tech executive to “create a ‘narrative’ regarding Trump.
Sussmann, Durham says, failed to tell the FBI that he was allegedly acting on the Clinton campaign’s behalf.
“Specifically, Sussmann stated falsely that he was not doing his work on the aforementioned allegations ‘for any client,’ which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that Sussmann was acting as a good citizen merely passing along information, not as a paid advocate or political operative,” the indictment reads.
The charges were filed three days before the five-year statute of limitations on the crime was reached.
The 27-page indictment will serve as a cudgel for Trump and his allies who have long claimed the Russia hoax, in their words, was a Democratic setup. The Durham indictment recites at length alleged contacts between and among Sussman, the Clinton campaign, a tech executive, reporters, and others, attempting to paint a picture of an active oppo research effort targeting Trump and his Russia ties.
Durham suggests in the document that the unnamed tech executive may have violated his own company’s policy in trying to create what prosecutors describe as a “‘narrative’ regarding the candidate’s ties to Russia.”
The executive, Durham alleges, told his subordinates in August 2016 to “search for any Internet data reflecting potential connections or communications between Trump or his associates and Russia.”
The result eventually led to a theory that a Trump organization server was communicating with one owned by Alfa Bank, which is controlled by a Russian businessman.
The unnamed person “exploited his access to non-public data” to achieve that, the indictment reads. This appears to be the first instance in which the tech executive has appeared in the saga.
The core of Durham’s charge relies on Sussmann’s alleged claim to FBI general counsel James Baker that he was delivering information about the servers not “for any client.” Durham, while delivering an elaborate narrative involving the tech executive and the Clinton campaign, says that Sussmann billed work relating to the server claim to both the Clinton campaign and the executive.
Perkins Coie’s relationship with the Democratic Party is widely known. It has served as counsel to the DNC, and Marc Elias — another partner at the firm who has since left — represented Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Durham brings up a cast of characters in alleging the charges. Beyond the tech executive, an unnamed “investigative firm” hired by Perkins Coie appears in the charging document, as do multiple reporters with various news outlets.
The indictment documents interactions between reporters and Sussmann about the Alfa Bank allegations, and also includes communications between a reporter and the unnamed investigative firm.
These discussions feature Sussmann and the firm trying to pitch reporters on the server story. The communications took place more than a month after Sussmann allegedly lied to the FBI.
Durham has been investigating the Trump-Russia investigators for more than two years.
Until now, his probe has netted a lower-level FBI lawyer.
But in this case, the FBI itself is the victim of a supposed campaign of deception orchestrated by Sussmann while working for the Clinton campaign, which the indictment says “ceased to exist” after the 2016 election. After the election, Durham says, Sussmann started billing the unnamed tech exec.
The Washington Post and the New York Times reported on Wednesday that Durham was said to be asking for an indictment against Sussmann. Sources told the Post that the special counsel is digging into a theory that Sussmann was secretly working on behalf of the Clinton campaign when he reported to FBI lawyer James Baker in 2016 his suspicions of a shady relationship between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank.
Sussmann has denied the allegation.
The New York Times report mentioned that Sussmann did represent the DNC on cyber issues related to Russian hacking of the Democrats’ servers in 2016, but noted that the work Elias and the firm did for the DNC and the Clinton campaign was part of Perkins Coie’s political law group, which was separate from the work Sussmann was doing.
Per the Post and the New York Times, Durham is looking into whether Sussmann lied about whether he was working for a client when he went to Baker. Sussmann testified to Congress in 2017 that he had gone to Baker as legal counsel to a cybersecurity expert, but sources told the Post and the New York Times that Baker told investigators that he remembered Sussmann saying he wasn’t working for any client.
Sussmann’s attorneys, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth, confirmed to the New York Times that they expect their client to be indicted even though he “has committed no crime.”
“Any prosecution here would be baseless, unprecedented and an unwarranted deviation from the apolitical and principled way in which the Department of Justice is supposed to do its work,” the lawyers said.
Given Barr’s shameless weaponization of the DOJ as Trump’s personal law firm throughout his presidency, Durham’s investigation has long been suspected to be a politically-motivated effort to legitimize Trump and his allies’ conspiracy theories that the FBI’s Russia probe was a “deep state,” anti-Trump hit job.