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Lawyer Accused Of Lying To FBI About Clinton Ties When Pushing Collusion Claims Pleads Not Guilty

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A top lawyer with Democratic Party ties pleaded not guilty Friday to charges brought by special counsel John Durham, who accused the Perkins Coie attorney of lying to the FBI about whom he was working for when he pushed claims about a secret Trump-Russia back channel in 2016, with Durham saying he hid that he was doing so for the Clinton campaign.

Michael Sussmann, a high-profile D.C. cybersecurity lawyer and DOJ veteran who had previously assisted the Democratic National Committee related to the Russian cyber theft targeting Democratic emails earlier in 2016, appeared in a courtroom at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia late Friday morning.

Sussmann, 57, appeared dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, purple tie, and dark mask. He let attorney Sean Berkowitz of Latham and Watkins do most of the talking. Michael Bosworth, of the same firm, was also there as defense counsel. After a discussion about Sussmann’s conditions of release and about the indictment, Berkowitz said that “we acknowledge receipt” of the indictment, “waive a reading” of it in court, and “enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of Mr. Sussmann.”

Roughly a dozen people were in the socially distanced gallery, with the judge separated from the prosecution and defense teams by plexiglass dividers.

The grand jury indictment against Sussmann centers on a September 2016 meeting between him and then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in which Sussmann, who has worked on behalf of Democratic clients numerous times, passed along allegations claiming there was a secret back channel between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. While Durham says that Sussmann told Baker he was not working for any specific client, the special counsel contends that Sussmann was actually secretly doing the bidding of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and billing her campaign for it, as well as working on behalf of a yet-unnamed technology company executive.

“Sussmann lied about the capacity in which he was providing the allegations to the FBI,” the Durham indictment stated. “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. In fact … this statement was intentionally false and misleading because, in assembling and conveying these allegations, Sussmann acted on behalf of specific clients, namely, a U.S. technology industry executive at a U.S. internet company, and the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign.”

Baker testified in 2018 that Sussmann, a former DOJ colleague, shared the Alfa Bank claims with him during a September 2016 meeting. Notes from DOJ official Bruce Ohr’s December 2016 meeting with Glenn Simpson show the Fusion GPS co-founder said the New York Times was wrong to doubt the story that Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization were communicating through secret servers.

Before Friday’s not guilty plea, Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui, a Georgetown University Law School graduate appointed to the bench in September last year, explained Sussmann’s rights to him, remarking that this was probably a bit redundant since Sussmann likely knew all of this as an experienced attorney.

Sussmann said “I do” when asked if he would promise to answer the magistrate’s questions truthfully. Faruqui told Sussmann to be truthful to avoid contempt or perjury charges and said, “We’re here to take our time. It’s your life. It’s your day.”

The prosecution team was composed of Andrew DeFilippis, a federal prosecutor from Manhattan, along with another prosecutor from Durham’s team, though Durham did not make an appearance despite camera crews standing in the light rain outside the courthouse hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

The defense agreed with the prosecution’s proposed conditions of release, including that Sussmann surrender his passport, that his travel be restricted to within 50 miles of D.C. except when visiting family in New Jersey, a $100,000 surety bond, and a transfer of his firearm to a government-approved third party. Other standard conditions of release — no further law-breaking, submission of a DNA sample, appearing in court when asked to — were also agreed to.

Berkowitz noted that the legal team already had Sussmann’s passport.

Durham’s indictment said Sussmann provided Baker with two thumb drives and hard copies of white papers — including one he co-authored, although his name wasn’t on it — along with “eight files containing the Russian Bank Data.”

Immediately after the meeting, Durham said Baker spoke with Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division.

Priestap “took contemporaneous notes” about the Sussmann meeting, including that Sussmann had been “approached by Prominent Cyber People” and had “said [he was] not doing this for any client,” according to the indictment. Durham said Sussmann “billed” the FBI meeting to the Clinton campaign with the description of “work and communications regarding confidential project.”

Durham argued Sussmann’s alleged lie was “material” because it “misled” the FBI “concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of Sussmann’s clients.”

Sussmann has denied any wrongdoing.

“Michael Sussmann was indicted today because of politics, not facts,” Berkowitz and Bosworth said in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner on Thursday. “The Special Counsel appears to be using this indictment to advance a conspiracy theory he has chosen not to actually charge. 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.”

A spokesperson for Perkins Coie said Sussmann “offered his resignation from the firm in order to focus on his legal defense, and the firm accepted it.”

Faruqui repeatedly stressed on Friday to Sussmann that “you’re presumed innocent” and said the government “must turn over any exculpatory evidence they have.”

When asked if he would abide by the conditions of release, Sussmann said, “Yes, your Honor.”

A pretrial services representative said over the phone that Sussmann would report for an interview on Monday, and the magistrate judge set a conference hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper for Sept. 22. Cooper, a Stanford Law School graduate appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, will preside over the Sussmann case.

Faruqui ended the hearing by saying to Sussmann, “Take care. Good luck to you, sir.”

The special counsel said in the indictment that if the FBI had been told the truth, it might have learned that the unnamed tech executive “had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump” 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.”

Durham said telling the truth may have also led the FBI to learn that “Sussmann, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.”

In his December 2019 report , DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the FBI “concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links” between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.

Sussmann faces up to five years behind bars if found guilty, though the sentence would likely be much lower than that.

So far, Durham has obtained a single guilty plea from ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith for editing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act filing fraudulently to state Carter Page was “not a source” for the CIA. The judge in Clinesmith’s case sentenced him to probation.

Author : Jerry Dunleavy

Source : Washington Examiner : Lawyer accused of lying to FBI about Clinton ties when pushing collusion claims pleads not guilty

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