WASHINGTON – A prominent cybersecurity attorney was charged with lying to the FBI five years ago during a meeting on Donald J. Trump and Russia, the Justice Department said Thursday.
The indictment of the lawyer, Michael Sussmann, was expected. Mr Sussmann – of the Perkins Coie law firm, which has close ties to the Democratic Party – is accused of making a false statement about his client at the meeting.
Defense attorneys for Mr Sussmann have denied the charge, saying he did not make a false statement, that the evidence he provided was weak and that the person he represented was not in no case an important fact. They pledged to fight any accusation in court.
The prosecution focuses on a September 19, 2016 meeting with an FBI official in which Mr Sussmann raised concerns from cybersecurity researchers who believed unusual internet data could be evidence of a communication channel. secrecy between computer servers associated with the Trump organization and Alfa Bank, a Russian financial institution linked to the Kremlin.
The FBI examined the concerns about Alfa Bank but dismissed them. The special advocate who later took over the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, ignored the case in his final report.
According to people familiar with the matter, the FBI official Mr. Sussmann met, James A. Baker, who was then the office’s principal lawyer, recalled that Mr. Sussmann had told him he was not there on behalf of of any customer. Prosecutors say it was a false statement; Mr Sussmann’s legal team denies saying this.
Mr Sussmann testified separately that he represented a cybersecurity expert who had helped examine the weird internet data and who wanted to remain anonymous.
In addition, internal law firm billing records obtained by Special Advocate John H. Durham would show that when Mr. Sussmann had done work on the Alfa Bank case, he had recorded it as time for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (A colleague of Mr. Sussmann, Marc Elias, was general counsel for the Clinton campaign.)
In addition to saying that Mr. Baker’s memory is inaccurate, Mr. Sussmann’s legal team said his client was the cybersecurity researcher and the billing records are misleading.
An attorney for the researcher, speaking on condition that his client remain unidentified, said his client believed Mr Sussmann was representing him when meeting with Mr Baker.
The indictment represents the first criminal case developed by the special advocate the Trump administration appointed in May 2019 to scour the Russian investigation for any wrongdoing, John H. Durham.
Mr Trump and the attorney general who appointed Mr Durham, William P. Barr, fueled the expectations of Mr Trump’s supporters that prosecutors would uncover serious offenses committed by senior government officials and support claims that the investigation into Russia was a concocted plot. by the so-called deep state to sabotage Mr. Trump.
To date, Mr. Durham’s investigation has failed to meet those expectations. Previously, the only other case he brought was a misrepresentation charge against a former FBI attorney who pleaded guilty to altering an internal email used to request a repeat wiretap. avoided any prison sentence. In addition, this matter had been investigated by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, and not by Mr. Durham’s team.
Last September, a senior contributor to Mr. Durham and a trusted contributor to his many years in the United States attorney’s office for Connecticut, Nora R. Dannehy, abruptly left his team. She has not spoken publicly, but The Hartford Courant, which first reported her departure, cited unidentified colleagues in Mr Durham’s office as saying she had expressed concerns over Mr Barr’s pressure to that it deliver results before the 2020 elections.
The following month, Mr Barr secretly granted special adviser status to Mr Durham, forcing him to continue working with some degree of independence after Mr Trump lost the election and the Biden administration took office.
It is still unclear whether Mr. Durham is writing some sort of lengthy report intended for public consumption, similar to the one produced by Mr. Mueller. In his absence, Mr Trump has repeatedly issued angry statements: “Where is Durham?” “
Current Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said during his confirmation hearing in February that he would let Mr. Durham continue to work, but did not commit to details, including how he would treat any final report if Mr. Durham submits one.
Funding for most operations of the Department of Justice, like much of the federal government, is controlled through an annual budget that covers a fiscal year that begins October 1 and ends September 30.
Spokesmen for Mr Garland and Mr Durham declined to comment in response to questions about whether Mr Durham’s office had funding approval to continue operating after September 30.