Sep 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Clinton-linked lawyer indicted in investigation of FBI's Russia probe

FBI Building

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

A grand jury has returned an indictment against Michael Sussmann, a lawyer whose firm represented the 2016 Clinton campaign, for lying to the FBI about not representing "any client" when he presented them with allegations about a secret Trump Organization back-channel to a Russian bank.

Why it matters: It's the second criminal charge stemming from special counsel John Durham's review of possible misconduct by the intelligence community and prosecutors who investigated the 2016 Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

  • Former President Trump and his allies had long spread the narrative that Durham's investigation would result in high-profile indictments of Obama-era intelligence officials, who they allege orchestrated the Russia "collusion" narrative to take down Trump.
  • But up until now, the only criminal charge brought in the Durham investigation was against a low-level former FBI lawyer, who was sentenced to 12 months' probation after pleading guilty to altering an email used to obtain a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Details: The indictment alleges that the FBI began investigating the Trump Organization's possible "secret communications channel" with the Russian-owned Alfa Bank when they were alerted to data files by Sussmann, who worked for the high-powered Democratic law firm Perkins Coie. Sussmann was previously on leave from Perkins Coie and offered his resignation on Thursday, according to a spokesperson.

  • During a meeting with the FBI's general counsel, Sussmann is accused of stating "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 reality, the indictment alleges, Sussmann was representing a "U.S. internet company" and the Clinton campaign. The FBI's investigation of the Alfa Bank connection later concluded there was insufficient evidence of a secret communications channel with the Trump Organization.

Between the lines: Though Trump and his allies are likely to celebrate the indictment as validation of some sort of political conspiracy, the charge in fact presents the FBI as the victim of a crime — not the driving force behind an alleged plot to take down the president.

What they're saying: "Michael Sussmann is a highly respected national security and cyber security lawyer, who served the U.S. Department of Justice during Democratic and Republican administrations alike,” his lawyers Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a joint statement on Wednesday, when reports of the pending indictment first surfaced.

  • "Any prosecution here would be baseless, unprecedented, and an unwarranted deviation from the apolitical and principled way in which the Department of Justice is supposed to do its work. We are confident that if Mr. Sussmann is charged, he will prevail at trial and vindicate his good name."

The big picture: Trump piled extreme pressure on then-Attorney General Bill Barr to release the findings of Durham's investigation before the 2020 election, hoping it would hurt his political opponents. Barr refused but ultimately appointed Durham as special counsel in order to ensure the investigation would continue past Joe Biden's inauguration as president.

Read the indictment.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with news of Sussmann's resignation from Perkins Coie.

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