Jake Sullivan, already in the hot seat as President Joe Biden’s national security adviser amid the Afghanistan fallout, could find himself under further scrutiny for his 2016 role in promoting a Trump-Russia collusion claim at the heart of a possible indictment by special counsel John Durham.
Durham is reportedly seeking a grand jury indictment against Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer at Perkins Coie, a Democratic-allied law firm linked to British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier. According to the New York Times, the charge is said to be related to an alleged false statement to the FBI about a client's identity as Sussmann pushed widely refuted claims about secret communications between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization in the lead-up to the 2016 election. The report said Durham’s case against Sussmann is focused on whom he was actually representing when relaying these claims to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016.
Sussmann’s attorneys are reportedly arguing he did not meet with Baker at the direction of or on behalf of the Clinton campaign. For years, Sussmann worked with Perkins Coie political law group leader Marc Elias, who started his own firm this summer and, as general counsel for the Clinton campaign, hired Fusion GPS, which hired Steele.
In the closing days of the 2016 race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
She also shared a lengthy statement from Sullivan, one of her top advisers.
“This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow,” Sullivan claimed. “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank. This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia... This line of communication may help explain Trump’s bizarre adoration of Vladimir Putin.”
Sullivan added: “We can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.”
“Alfa Bank” is mentioned nine times in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, but never in reference to the alleged Trump-Russia server story. 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.
A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report from 2020 did not find "covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel." The Senate said that “based on the FBI's assessment, the Committee did not find that the Domain Name System activity reflected the existence of substantive or covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel.”
Trump campaign press secretary Hope Hicks denied the claims at the start of November 2016. Alfa Bank said at the time the claims were “patently false.”
Sullivan was asked about Alfa Bank during 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, saying: “I think there is ample evidence at this point in the public record of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz criticized the Justice Department and the FBI in December 2019 for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page in 2016 and 2017 and for the bureau's reliance on Steele’s dossier, which played a "central and essential" role in the FBI's wiretap efforts. Horowitz also said Steele’s main source undermined his claims of a broad Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Mueller said his team “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign” but "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Sullivan also testified that he never saw the dossier until BuzzFeed published it in January 2017. He also said he met with Fusion GPS only one time, when he and Hillary Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta met with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson in February 2017, at which point Sullivan said he and Podesta asked Simpson about the dossier.
Sullivan said Simpson called the British ex-spy “highly credible” and “really effective.”
Baker testified in 2018 that Sussman, a former DOJ colleague of his, shared the Alfa Bank claims with him during a September 2016 meeting.
The New York Times reported: “Sussmann’s lawyers have told the Justice Department that he sought the meeting because he and the cybersecurity researchers believed that the New York Times was on the verge of publishing an article about the Alfa Bank data and he wanted to give the FBI a heads-up." However, the outlet said that “in fact,” it “was not ready to run that article, but published one mentioning Alfa Bank six weeks later” — just days before the 2016 election.
Durham reportedly found an “inconsistency” in Sussmann’s story, with Baker allegedly telling investigators that Sussmann didn’t tell him he was there on behalf of any client, while Sussmann testified to the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that he had sought out the FBI meeting on behalf of an unnamed purported cybersecurity expert client. During that deposition, Sussmann indicated his client was not the Clinton campaign nor the co-founders of Fusion GPS.
"Mr. Sussmann has committed no crime,” Sussmann attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement. “Any prosecution here would be baseless.”
Steele testified in a British court that Sussman provided him with other claims about Alfa Bank’s purported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a late July 2016 meeting. These allegations made their way into a September 2016 memo that became part of Steele’s dossier, although Steele repeatedly misspells “Alfa” as “Alpha.”
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy