James Baker Believed Sussmann Presented Trump-Alfa Evidence as ‘Good Citizen,’ Not on Behalf of Clinton Campaign

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Washington, D.C. — Testifying Thursday in the false-statement trial of former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann, former FBI general counsel James Baker confirmed that he believed Sussmann was acting as a “good citizen” and not “on behalf of any particular client” when he requested a meeting to pass along what he said was evidence of illicit communications between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank.

Prosecutors have alleged that Sussmann lied to Baker when he approached him with what was alleged to have been evidence of internet communications between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank in September, 2016, months ahead of the 2016 presidential contest.

Sussmann is alleged to have told Baker that he was representing no client while he was actually presenting the information on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe, who originally discovered the Domain Name System (DNS) data that was interpreted as evidence of Trump-Alfa Bank communication.

“I’m 100 percent confident he said that in the meeting,” said Baker, who noted that Sussmann emphasized that point “pretty close to the beginning of the meeting.”

While Sussmann maintains that his meeting with Baker was unrelated to his work for the Clinton campaign, he was representing the campaign as an attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based Perkins Coie law firm at the time of the meeting.

The data Sussmann provided to Baker turned out to be spam, according to FBI agent Scott Hellman, who testified Tuesday that he reviewed the data and accompanying analysis shortly after it was handed over to the bureau. The evidence didn’t “suggest secret communication of any sort,” Hellman said.

Baker was presented with notes taken by other members of FBI senior staff that confirmed that Baker relayed to them that Sussmann was not believed to be representing a client on the day of his meeting with Sussmann.

Both of those members of senior staff, Bill Priestep, then the head of counterintelligence at the Bureau, and Trisha Anderson, who was working as a deputy general counsel under Baker at the time, are expected to testify.

Baker said that in those conversations, he was trying to vouch for Sussmann, a former Department of Justice colleague whom he had been friendly with for years. Priestep wrote in his notes that Sussmann “said [he was] not doing this for any client.”

Baker also said he would have been inclined to conceal Sussmann’s identity from some at the bureau — though he does not recall doing so — because he believed Sussmann was coming to him as a “good citizen,” but would not have done so if he had believed Sussmann was coming to him on behalf of a client. This is because as a private citizen, Sussmann qualified as a source deserving of protection.

On Wednesday afternoon, Baker testified that he met with Sussmann on September 19 after receiving a text from the previous evening that read: “Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks.”

“It seemed to me at the time that it was very important,” explained Baker.

Baker said on Thursday that he trusted Sussmann and the information he provided, and his claim to be coming as a “good citizen” because “that’s the kind of person I thought him [Sussmann] to be.”

For the government, prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis also made an effort to preempt an argument expected to be made by the defense.

During an interview with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice in 2018, Baker stated that Sussmann had “clients” who Baker believed to be cybersecurity experts.

Under questioning from DeFelippis, Baker called that statement “inaccurate” and “wrong,” and insisted that Sussmann never told him that he was representing any client. His previous use of the word “clients” during his OIG interview was a “shorthand,” according to Baker, who said that it is “usually the case” that lawyers come to the FBI on behalf of clients.”

Last December, upon the discovery of Baker’s OIG testimony, defense attorney Sean Berkowitz said Baker’s statements “directly contradict” the allegations against Sussmann.

The case is being prosecuted by members of Special Counsel John Durham’s team, which has been tasked with investigating the origins of the federal government’s inquiry into ties between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government.

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