WASHINGTON—The technology executive who helped gather data on Donald Trump and Russia in 2016 sent some of the data to the FBI as a confidential source, an FBI agent revealed in federal court on May 25.
Rodney Joffe, the executive, also had his lawyer take the data separately to FBI lawyer James Baker, according to prosecutors.
Joffe approached Thomas Grasso, an FBI special agent, in October 2016 with information he said pointed to Trump having a secret communications channel with a Russian bank, Grasso said on the stand in the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington.
The same claims were passed just days earlier to Baker by Michael Sussmann, who was representing both Joffe and the Hillary Clinton campaign at the time.
Sussmann acted on behalf of his clients, who hoped to influence the 2016 presidential election in Clinton’s favor, according to special counsel John Durham’s team. Grasso was testifying during the trial of Sussmann, who was charged with lying to the FBI because he told Baker he was not bringing the information on behalf of any clients.
Baker conveyed the information to others in the FBI. Cyber experts with the bureau quickly deemed the allegations false but a full probe was launched, headed by the FBI’s Chicago office with the backing of FBI Director James Comey and other bureau leaders.
Grasso, who met Joffe in the mid-2000s and considers him a friend, knew that Joffe was a confidential source but did not contact Joffe’s handler. Grasso, who is now retired, also abided by Joffe’s request to keep his identity secret.
Grasso reached out to an agent in Pittsburgh who specialized in Russian counterintelligence matters. In an email dated Oct. 2, 2016, Grasso wrote to the agent that the FBI had received some information from an “anonymous reporter” concerning the Trump–Russia allegations.
The “reporter” was actually Joffe, who has never been a journalist, Grasso admitted on the stand.
“Ever heard of circular reporting?” Andrew DeFilippis, one of the prosecutors, asked the retired agent.
“Yes. As I understand it, I would tell you something and you would report out back to me,” Grasso said.
“Ever seen a situation where individuals try to put information into different parts of the FBI to make it look like it is coming from different places at the same time?” DeFilippis said.
“No,” Grasso said.
Joffe told Grasso that the FBI was already working on an investigation into the claims, knowledge that Grasso outlined in the email he sent to his colleague, which was forwarded to Chicago agents.
Grasso eventually spoke with Allison Sands, one of the analysts investigating the data. She told him the FBI already knew of the allegations and had found they were not true.
Sands said in messages to a different agent, Scott Hellman, introduced during the trial that her team was going through logs, including the two IP addresses that her team received from Grasso. Sands said that FBI’s headquarters was asking whether the information from the “anonymous reporter” was helping in the investigation.
Grasso said he had no further involvement and was not aware of the resolution of the case.
Joffe was later terminated by the bureau as a confidential source.
If Grasso had known Joffe was linked to the Clinton campaign—Joffe said he was promised a position in the government if Clinton won the election and later claimed he was joking—he would have passed that information to the Chicago agents, Grasso said.
“I would want them to know that this is tied to a political matter, I think that would be relevant,” he said.