Michael Sussman, a cybersecurity lawyer who worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, pleaded not guilty to lying to the FBI on Friday.
The charge stemmed from special counsel John Durham’s two-and-a-half year probe into the government’s investigation into Russian election interference in 2016.
Sussman was indicted for allegedly telling the FBI in September 2016 that he was not doing work ‘for any client’ when he requested a meeting with the FBI’s general counsel to warn them of concerns from cybersecurity researchers of potentially suspicious contact between Russia and the Trump team.
At the meeting the attorney allegedly gave the FBI data and analytics from cybersecurity researchers who thought the numbers might be evidence of hush-hush communications between Trump Organization’s computer servers and Alfa Bank – a Kremlin-linked Russian financial institution.
The FBI looked into the matter but found no connections.
Former federal prosecutor Sussmann, 57, who this week resided from his position as a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, represented the Democratic National Committee when Russia hacked its servers back in 2016.
Sussman now has a court date of September 22 for a status conference before D.C. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Sussman’s attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth of the law firm Latham & Watkins claimed that the prosecution was “baseless and politically-inspired.”
‘We are confident that if Mr Sussmann is charged he will prevail at trial and vindicate his good name.’
Sussmann’s lawyers told the Justice Department that he originally organized the 2016 meeting because he and the cybersecurity researchers believed The New York Times was about to publish an article on the Alfa Bank data.
As reported by The Times, Sussmann wanted to give the FBI a heads-up before the paper ran the story which, in fact, they never did. The Times did, however, publish an article mentioning Alfa Bank six weeks later.
Michael Sussman, a cybersecurity lawyer who worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, pleaded not guilty to lying to the FBI on Friday
Sussman, seen in Washington, DC Friday when he pled not guilty to lying to an FBI agent
Sussmann´s firm, Perkins Coie, has deep Democratic connections. A then-partner at the firm, Marc Elias, brokered a deal with the Fusion GPS research firm to study Trump´s business ties to Russia. That work, by former British spy Christopher Steele, produced a dossier of research that helped form the basis of flawed surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign official, Carter Page.
Durham found that James A Baker, the FBI’s top lawyer in 2016, reportedly told investigators he remembered Sussmann telling him he wasn’t arranging the meeting on behalf of any client.
Then, in a deposition before Congress in 2017 Sussmann testified otherwise, saying that he sought the meeting on behalf of an unidentified client who was a cybersecurity expert and assisted in data analyzation, as reported by The Times.
Durham later acquired internal billing records from Perkins Coie that show Sussmann logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter and billed the time to Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Oddly enough, those working hours did not include the time he spent at the meeting with Baker, according to The Times.
The case against the attorney, Michael Sussmann of the Perkins Coie law firm, is just the second prosecution brought by special counsel John Durham, above in two-and-a-half years of work
No case brought by Durham so far undoes the core finding of an earlier investigation by Robert Mueller that Russia had interfered in sweeping fashion on behalf of Donald Trump´s 2016 presidential campaign.
The Alfa Bank matter was not a pivotal element of the Russia probe and was not even mentioned in Mueller´s 448-page report in 2019. Still, the indictment may give fodder to Russia investigation critics who regard it as politically tainted and engineered by Democrats.
Until now, Durham had brought only one criminal case – a false statement charge against an FBI lawyer who altered an email related to the surveillance of Page to obscure the nature of Page´s preexisting relationship with the CIA. That lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.