NYT: Durham will ask grand jury to indict prominent Dem-connected attorney

AP Photo/Bob Child, File

It’s still game on for special counsel John Durham after all. According to the New York Times, Durham will seek an indictment against a former federal prosecutor for lying to the FBI about the Russia-collusion probe. That former prosecutor, Michael Sussman, now works as a partner at the Democrat-connected Perkins Coie — and who represented the DNC in the 2016 campaign.


And that’s no coincidence to the indictment either:

John H. Durham, the special counsel appointed by the Trump administration to scrutinize the Russia investigation, has told the Justice Department that he will ask a grand jury to indict a prominent cybersecurity lawyer on a charge of making a false statement to the F.B.I., people familiar with the matter said.

Any indictment of the lawyer — Michael Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor and now a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, and who represented the Democratic National Committee on issues related to Russia’s 2016 hacking of its servers — is likely to attract significant political attention.

Donald J. Trump and his supporters have long accused Democrats and Perkins Coie — whose political law group, a division separate from Mr. Sussmann’s, represented the party and the Hillary Clinton campaign — of seeking to stoke unfair suspicions about Mr. Trump’s purported ties to Russia.

The case against Mr. Sussmann centers on the question of who his client was when he conveyed certain suspicions about Mr. Trump and Russia to the F.B.I. in September 2016. Among other things, investigators have examined whether Mr. Sussmann was secretly working for the Clinton campaign — which he denies.

If true, Sussman makes for an interesting target, albeit a heretofore low-profile one. Sussman’s name has come up at times in the Russia-collusion narrative, but not usually as a featured player. While Richard Grenell was declassifying information about the debunked conspiracy theory last year, RealClearInvestigations did a deep dive on CrowdStrike, the firm that first accused the Russians of hacking the DNC. Guess who hired them, and guess who didn’t turn the servers over to the FBI? Emphases mine:


CrowdStrike, the private cyber-security firm that first accused Russia of hacking Democratic Party emails and served as a critical source for U.S. intelligence officials in the years-long Trump-Russia probe, acknowledged to Congress more than two years ago that it had no concrete evidence that Russian hackers stole emails from the Democratic National Committee’s server. …

Henry personally led the remediation and forensics analysis of the DNC server after being warned of a breach in late April 2016 – he was paid by the DNC, which refused to turn over its serves to the FBI. Asked for the date when alleged Russian hackers stole data from the DNC server, Henry testified that CrowdStrike did not in fact know if such a theft occurred at all: “We did not have concrete evidence that the data was exfiltrated [moved electronically] from the DNC [servers], but we have indicators that it was exfiltrated,” Henry said. …

The firm’s work with the DNC and FBI is also tainted by partisan affiliations. Before joining CrowdStrike, Henry served as executive assistant director at the FBI under Mueller. Co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch is a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, the pro-NATO think tank that has consistently promoted an aggressive policy toward Russia. And the newly released testimony confirms that CrowdStrike was hired to investigate the DNC breach by Michael Sussmann of Perkins Coie – the same Democrat law firm that hired Fusion GPS to produce the discredited Steele dossier — which was also treated as central evidence in the investigation. Sussmann played a critical role in generating the Trump-Russia collusion allegation. Ex-British spy and dossier compiler Christopher Steele has testified in British court that Sussmann shared with him the now-debunked Alfa Bank server theory, alleging a clandestine communication channel between the bank and the Trump Organization.


Sussman didn’t just favor Steele with those rumors. According to the Washington Times in May 2020, Sussman also went to the CIA as well as to the FBI with the Alfa Bank fantasy:

A Democratic Party law firm pitched to the U.S. intelligence community a now-debunked theory that the Trump Organization maintained a secret computer link to a major Moscow bank run by Vladimir Putin allies, according to a newly declassified transcript.

The testimony came from attorney Michael Sussman of the Democratic- and Hillary Clinton-hired law firm Perkins Coie. It was previously known he took Alfa bank evidence to then-FBI general counsel James Baker. Mr. Baker himself testified to House investigators in 2018 about the September 2016 meeting with Mr. Sussman.

Mr. Sussman’s newly disclosed testimony from December 2017 showed the Democrats spread the Alfa server claims far more widely.

In addition to Mr. Baker, Mr. Sussman testified, he also took the Alfa claims inside the intelligence community as well as to three journalists. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released his testimony along with 52 other declassified transcripts on Thursday.

Mr. Sussman said he contacted the intelligence community that fall. In February 2017 he personally delivered a briefing and documents to an intelligence general counsel. The agency’s identify within the IC was blacked out from the transcript. But one transcript part refers to the “agency,” an apparent reference to the CIA.

Ironically, February 2017 was the same month the FBI concluded that there was no secret dedicated Trump-Alfa server and closed the case as part of its Trump-Russia election probe. That probe never found evidence of a Trump conspiracy.


That might make Sussman either (a) an idiot who likes to run to the FBI and CIA with his spitballed hypotheses about his political opponents, (b) a fool who got hoodwinked by his own sources, or (c) an operative who wanted to kneecap the political opponents of his clients. I doubt Sussman’s an idiot, but fool is always a potential explanation. We’ve certainly seen plenty of those in the Russia-collusion nonsense.

If Durham wants to convict Sussman, though, he’d have to prove that Sussman knowingly lied to the FBI. It’s not enough to argue that Sussman passed along bad information, which he could have done in good faith, even if that strains credulity for a man who served as a federal prosecutor. Sussman blamed Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson for the Alfa Bank information in his 2017 testimony, and he’s likely to stick with that story since he’s already offered it under oath. Of course, the indictment might be about something else entirely, or a separate lie about the Alfa Bank theory. We’ll know when the indictment drops, but bear in mind that it’s not easy to get a conviction on this kind of charge without proving the misinformation was an intentional effort at deception.

Usually this kind of charge is leveraged by prosecutors seeking cooperation from witnesses, a strategy which has a spotty track record when it comes to special-counsel investigations. One has to wonder whether Sussman is Durham’s big target, or his bid to get to higher-level Democrats involved in the Russia-collusion smear. Stay tuned, but at least we know now that Durham’s not entirely focused on his memoirs.


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David Strom 10:40 AM | April 12, 2024