Washington DC (22/05 – 46.15) Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, said that Clinton “agreed” to leak allegations that the Trump Organization had a secret communications channel with Russia’s Alfa Bank to the media during his Friday testimony in the Michael Sussmann false-statement trial.
Mook said that he and the campaign were unsure of the evidence’s credibility at the time, and that part of the purpose of leaking it to the press was to have a reporter “run it down” further and “vet it out.”
After a discussion with senior campaign staff, Mook said that he “discussed it with Hillary as well” and that “she agreed to” their decision to hand the evidence over to the press.
Sussmann, a former partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, is on trial for allegedly misrepresenting himself to then–FBI general counsel James Baker in the fall of 2016 when he presented the evidence to Baker.
The prosecution alleges that he brought the evidence to Baker as an attorney for both the Clinton campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe, while telling Baker he was bringing the evidence to “help the bureau.”
Baker, who had known Sussmann for years after working with him at the Department of Justice, testified Wednesday that he was “100 percent confident” that Sussmann said he wasn’t representing a client when they met. A text message from Sussmann to Baker from the day prior reads: “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.”
The former FBI general counsel said that he would have treated the meeting and subsequent investigation differently had he known Sussmann was coming forward on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
The evidence that Sussmann delivered to Baker came in the form of Domain Name System (DNS) data that allegedly showed frequent communications between servers associated with the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. The data was provided to Sussmann by Joffe, an executive at the cybersecurity firm Neustar, which was also being represented by Sussmann as part of his role as a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm.
FBI agent Scott Hellman testified Tuesday that he was immediately skeptical of the data and accompanying analysis that suggested illicit communications between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. In fact, the quality of the analysis was so poor, that Hellman questioned whether its source had a “mental disability” in a private chat with FBI colleagues, obtained by prosecutors.
Opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which Perkins Coie hired to work on behalf of the Clinton campaign, translated the DNS data into laymen’s terms and pitched it to various reporters, including Franklin Foer, a writer for Slate.“
We certainly hoped that he would publish an article,” former Fusion GPS employee Lauren Seago testified.
Foer obliged them, touting the claims in an article published on October 31, 2016, a little over a week before Election Day.
Under questioning, Seago explained that she was “conversant” but not an expert on DNS data.
Prominent Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, who worked alongside Sussmann at Fusion GPS in 2016, testified earlier in the week that efforts to publicize opposition research can be helped if the FBI begins looking into the claims, as the fact of an investigation can encourage media attention. Though he insisted that he didn’t think Sussmann’s decision to bring the Trump-Alfa evidence to Baker benefitted the Clinton campaign.
After the Trump–Alfa Bank evidence was made public via media leaks, Clinton touted the claim on Twitter.