Lawyer who allegedly advised Clinton campaign charged with lying to FBI in tip about possible Trump-Russia bank link

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Former U.S. Attorney John Durham, center, outside federal court in New Haven, Conn., after the sentencing of former Gov. John Rowland.
Bob MacDonnell | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

A lawyer who allegedly advised the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was indicted Thursday on a charge of lying to the FBI.

Federal prosecutors say Michael Sussmann, then a partner at law firm Perkins Coie, lied when he offered a tip that same year about the possible secret electronic channel between former President Donald Trump’s company and a Russian bank.

The charge against Sussmann was filed as part of special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of a prior probe by the FBI and former special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Then-Attorney General William Barr put Durham in charge of the investigation in early 2019 after Trump had railed about the Russia inquiry for several years.

Sussmann, a 57-year-old former federal prosecutor, has reportedly denied working for the Clinton campaign. He is accused in the indictment of lying to the FBI’s general counsel during a September 2016 meeting by falsely stating he was not representing any legal client as he relayed the information about a possible electronic link between the Trump Organization and the Alfa Bank.

“In fact, Sussmann assembled and conveyed the allegations to the FBI on behalf of at least two clients, including a U.S. technology executive and the Clinton Presidential Campaign,” Durham’s office said in a statement announcing the indictment by a Washington, D.C., federal court grand jury.

The indictment says that beginning in July 2016, Sussmann worked with the tech executive, other cyber-researchers, and an American investigative firm to assemble data and documents that Sussman later gave the FBI and media.

“The technology executive, for his part, exploited his access to non-public data at multiple internet companies and enlisted the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract designed to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security,” Durham’s office said.

The indictment charges that those researchers mined that data “to establish ‘an inference’ and ‘narrative’ that would tie then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to Russia, and which the executive believed would please certain ‘VIPs,'” Durham’s office said.

Sussmann, his law firm and the technology executive also allegedly coordinated with members of Clinton’s campaign in those efforts, according to the indictment.

Durham’s office noted in its statement that after getting Sussmann’s tip, “The FBI ultimately determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel between the Trump Organization and the Russia-based bank.”

Sussmann is due to appear in court as soon as Friday.

His profile page on the Perkins Coie website delivered a “page not found” message to viewers Thursday.

A Perkin Coie spokesman in an email to CNBC later Thursday said, “In light of the Special Counsel’s action today, Michael Sussmann, who has been on leave from the firm, offered his resignation from the firm in order to focus on his legal defense, and the firm accepted it.”

Sussmann’s lawyers, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth of Latham & Watkins, in a statement said, “Michael Sussmann was indicted today because of politics, not facts.”

“The Special Counsel appears to be using this indictment to advance a conspiracy theory he has chosen not to actually charge,” the defense attorneys said. “This case represents the opposite of everything the Department of Justice is supposed to stand for. Mr. Sussmann will fight this baseless and politically-inspired prosecution.”

The lawyers said that Sussman, who has dedicated his career to national security and cyber security, “met with FBI General Counsel James Baker on behalf of a cyber expert client to inform him that a major news organization was about to run a story about cyber connections between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization and to give him a copy of the information on which that story was based.”

“Mr. Sussmann met with Mr. Baker because he and his client believed that the information raised national security concerns,” the lawyers said. “Stripped of its political bluster, innuendo, and irrelevant details, what is striking about the allegations in the indictment is how few of them actually relate to the charge the Special Counsel chose to bring.”

They added that Durham is “bringing a false statement charge based on an oral statement allegedly made five years ago to a single witness that is unrecorded and unobserved by anyone else.”

“The Department of Justice would ordinarily never bring such a baseless case,” the lawyers said. “Nor can the Special Counsel ever prove that any of this mattered. Regardless of who Mr. Sussmann’s clients were, or even if he had no clients at all, none of that would have mattered.”

— CNBC’s Michael Calia contributed to this report.

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