WASHINGTON—A former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer told members of Congress in 2017 that he took information about Donald Trump and Russia to the FBI on behalf of a client, even though he previously told the bureau that he was bringing the data of his own volition, jurors in federal court heard on May 25.
“I think it’s most accurate to say it was done on behalf of my client,” Michael Sussmann, the lawyer, told the House Intelligence Committee on Dec. 18, 2017.
Portions of the transcript were read into the record as prosecutors with special counsel John Durham’s team wrapped up their case against Sussmann, who is on trial on a charge of lying to the FBI.
Sussmann texted FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016 asking for a meeting so he could share information, although he claimed he was coming forward of his own accord, not as part of his representation of any clients.
Sussmann, then at Perkins Coie, at the time was representing both the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe, a technology executive who has said he was promised a position in the government if Clinton won the 2016 election.
Prosecutors say the parties colluded in gathering data and claiming that it showed a secret link between Trump and Russia’s Alfa-Bank. They hoped to sway the election in Clinton’s favor.
About 14 months after handing over the allegations to Baker—the FBI and the CIA both deemed the claims false—Sussmann sat before the House panel and told members that he received the Trump–Russia information from a client, whom he indicated wasn’t the Clinton campaign. He also said he did not go to the FBI and CIA on his own volition but was directed by his client to go to the agencies and present the information.
“We had a conversation, as lawyers do with their clients, about client needs and objectives and the best course to take for a client. And so it may have been a decision that we came to together. I don’t want to imply that I was sort of directed to do something against my better judgment, or that we were in any sort of conflict, but this was—I think it’s most accurate to say it was done on behalf of my client,” Sussmann told the panel.
Clinton campaign officials have testified that they didn’t approve of Sussmann going to the FBI. They hoped that media outlets would publish stories on the Trump-Alfa Bank claims, and were concerned that going to the bureau would delay the articles.
Defense lawyers, meanwhile, called their first witnesses—several former Department of Justice employees, including former Associate Deputy Attorney General Tashina Gauhar.
According to notes that Gauhar took at a March 6, 2017, meeting that involved top officials, there was an awareness that Sussmann brought the information for a client or clients.
Then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said during the meeting that the Trump–Alfa-Bank claims came from an “attorney” who “brought [them] to [the] FBI on behalf of his client,” with the last word possibly being “clients.”
Gauhar said on the stand she didn’t remember the meeting but said she recognized the notes as ones she took. When pointed to the part about McCabe, Gauhar said she didn’t recall that moment.
Another former DOJ official, Mary McCord, was questioned as the defense introduced her notes, which stated that an attorney brought the allegations to Baker and that the attorney didn’t “say who client was.”
Baker testified earlier in the trial that Sussmann told him when their meeting first started that he was not coming on behalf of any particular client, and that he was “very confident” of the recollection. He didn’t take notes of the meeting.
Baker also said he could only vaguely remember the 2017 meeting, for which he was listed as a participant, and didn’t remember anything that was said.