Former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussman went on trial in May 2022 for allegedly lying to the FBI. Sussmann took claims of a secret link between Donald Trump and Russia to the FBI ahead of the 2016 election. He told the bureau he was not acting on behalf of a client. Under oath in late 2017 (pdf), he said he was acting on behalf of a client.
Sussmann was acquitted on May 31.
Among the disclosures during the trial: Clinton personally approved giving the same information Sussmann took to the FBI to reporters.
See trial transcripts and exhibits below, as well as a timeline.
- Morning of May 16
- Afternoon of May 16
- Morning of May 17
- Afternoon of May 17
- Morning of May 18
- Afternoon of May 18
- Morning of May 19
- Afternoon of May 19
- Morning of May 20
- Morning of May 23
- Afternoon of May 23
- Morning of May 24
- Afternoon of May 24
- Morning of May 25
- Afternoon of May 25
- Morning of May 26
- Morning of May 27
- Morning of May 31
Trial Exhibits Presented by Prosecution
- 0052 — Oct. 31, 2016, Twitter post from Hillary Clinton promoting a story based on Trump-Russia claims the Clinton campaign sent to reporters.
- 0053 — October 2016 New York Times article reporting that the FBI analyzed the Trump-Russia allegations and concluded there could be “an innocuous explanation” for connections between Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. The article remains uncorrected to this day.
- 0054 — Copy of Slate article published the same day that also remains largely uncorrected.
- 0057 — Excerpt from committee interview of FBI General Counsel James Baker conducted Oct. 3, 2018
- 0061 — Excerpt from congressional committee interview of Baker conducted Oct. 18, 2018
- 0065 — Excerpt from Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general interview of Baker conducted July 15, 2019
- 0666 — Emails showing Slate reporter Franklin Foer sending a draft of an article that was later published on the Trump-Alfa Bank claims.
- 0111 — Aug. 20, 2016, email from Georgia Institute of Technology researchers Manos Antonakakis to Neustar’s Steve DeJong and Rodney Joffe.
- 0132 — Sept. 14, 2016, email from Joffe to George Institute of Technology researchers, including a copy of the white paper.
- 0200 — Electronic communication memorializing the opening of an FBI investigation into an alleged connection between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.
- 0206 — Document summarizing contents of one of the thumb drives Sussmann gave to the FBI.
- 0207 — Document put together by Joffe and others on Russia’s Alfa Group, which owns Alfa Bank.
- 0208 — Logs of Domain Name System lookups that were on one of the thumb drives given to Baker.
- 0209 — More logs.
- 0210 — WHOIS information for THETRUMPNETWORK.com
- 0211 — Comments on one of the white papers.
- 0212 — Additional logs.
- 0213 — Additional logs.
- 0214 — Additional logs.
- 0215 — Additional logs.
- 0216 — List of websites.
- 0217 — Copy of one of the white papers Sussmann gave to Baker.
- 0233 — FBI document on the closing of the probe into the Trump-Russia claims.
- 0240 — Document memorializing Sept. 19, 2016, meeting between Baker and Sussmann. Nobody else attended and no notes were taken.
- 0242 — Handwritten notes by FBI Principal Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson dated Sept. 19, 2016.
- 0243 — Excerpts of handwritten notes taken by FBI Assistant Director William Priestap.
- 0247 — FBI cyber team’s assessment of information brought to the bureau by Sussmann. Authored by agents Scott Hellman and Nathan Batty.
- 0249 — Internal FBI messages from September 2016 showing officials leaning toward the allegations being false.
- 0257 — Messages from FBI agent Curtis Heide telling FBI official Joseph Pientka his team wanted to interview the source of the white paper.
- 0265 — Internal FBI emails regarding Trump-Russia allegations.
- 0270 — Internal FBI emails regarding Trump-Russia claims.
- 0279 — FBI notes on Trump-Russia claims.
- 0282 — Chain of custody documentation for documents and thumb drives given to Baker by Sussmann.
- 0283 — FBI emails regarding inquiry from Hosenball.
- 0284 — Emails regarding media queries about Trump Organization–Alfa Bank claims.
- 0285 — Email from FBI official Bill Priestap to Baker.
- 0286 — Email exchange between New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau and Michael Kortan of the FBI.
- 0288 — Page of notes handwritten by Trisha Anderson on March 6, 2017.
- 0289 — Notes handwritten by Bill Priestap on September 19, 2016.
- 0300 — Perkins Coie letter to Joffe detailing legal representation.
- 0301 — Perkins Coie letter to Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign’s manager. Dated April 1, 2015, it says Mook selected the firm to serve as the Clinton campaign’s legal counsel.
- 0302 — Consulting agreement between Fusion and Perkins Coie effective April 1, 2016.
- 0304 — Document indicating a daily meeting involving Clinton campaign officials and Fusion GPS operatives from June 6, 2016, until Oct. 31, 2016.
- 0307 — Document indicating a meeting with Sussmann and Elias took place on July 29, 2016, with Fusion being discussed.
- 0312 — Note on Sept. 8, 2016, meeting between Sussmann and Joffe.
- 0316 — Aug. 11, 2016, email from Sussmann to Fusion co-founders Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson, with Elias cc’ed.
- 0317 — Aug. 11, 2016, email from Fusion operative Fritsch to Sussmann, Fusion co-founder Simpson, and Clinton campaign counsel Marc Elias.
- 0318 — Sept. 12, 2016, message from Fusion operative Fritsch to Sussmann.
- 0319 — Document indicating Sussmann met with Joffe in Elias’ office on Aug. 12, 2016.
- 0320 — Document indicating Elias met with Fusion operatives and Clinton campaign lawyer Debbie Fine on Aug. 12, 2016.
- 0326 — Document indicating Elias, Fusion and Fine met on Aug. 17, 2016.
- 0327 — Document indicating Sussmann and Elias had a teleconference with Joffe on Aug. 17, 2016.
- 0328 — Document indicating Sussmann had a teleconference with Elias on Aug. 17, 2016.
- 0331 — Document indicating Sussmann met with Joffe in Elias’s office on Sept. 19, 2016.
- 0332 — Aug. 19, 2016, email from Joffe to Sussmann.
- 0333 — Email showing Sussmann had a confidential meeting with Elias on Aug. 19, 2016.
- 0336 — Aug. 15, 2016, email from Fritsch to Sussmann.
- 0342 — Aug. 29, 2016 email from Sussmann to Joffe titled “key.”
- 0344 — Aug. 29, 2016, email from Joffe to Sussmann and Fusion researcher Laura Seago.
- 0348 — Aug. 30, 2016, message from Joffe to Sussmann.
- 0349 — Emails showing Sussmann and Lichtblau preparing to meet.
- 0350 — Aug. 30, 2016 reply from Sussmann.
- 0352 — Aug. 31, 2016, email from Fritsch to Sussmann, Simpson, and Elias.
- 0353 — Aug. 31, 2016, reply from Simpson to Sussmann, Fritsch, Elias.
- 0356 — Document indicating Sussmann had a confidential meeting on Sept. 1, 2016.
- 0357 — Email from Sussmann to Lichtblau on Sept. 1, 2016.
- 0358 — Email showing Sussmann met with Lichtblau on Sept. 1, 2016.
- 0362 — Email from Fritsch to Sussmann on Sept. 5, 2016.
- 0363 — Email from Sussmann to Fritsch on Sept. 5, 2016.
- 0364 — Reply from Fritsch.
- 0367 — Document indicating Sussmann met with Elias on Sept. 6, 2016.
- 0368 — Document indicating Sussmann had a confidential meeting on Sept. 6, 2016.
- 0371 — Document indicating Sussmann had a call on Sept. 8, 2016.
- 0372 — Document indicating Sussmann had a confidential meeting on Sept. 8, 2016.
- 0377 — Document indicating Elias had a teleconference with Sussmann on Sept. 12, 2016.
- 0379 — Document indicating Sussmann had a meeting on Sept. 13, 2016.
- 0380 — Billing record for flash drives bought by Sussmann on Sept. 13, 2016.
- 0382 — Document indicating Sussmann met with Joffe for 90 minutes on Sept. 14, 2016.
- 0384 — Email from Fritsch to Sussmann and Elias on Sept. 15, 2016.
- 0386 — September 2016 email from Elias to campaign officials.
- 0389 — Emails between Sussmann and Lichtblau.
- 0390 — Document indicating Clinton campaign officials met on Sept. 15, 2016, and discussed attempts to get media outlets to report on Trump-Russia claims.
- 0402 — Document indicating Sussmann spent time on Aug. 19, 2016, working on Clinton campaign matters.
- 0427 — Email from Sussmann to Lichtblau on Sept. 27, 2016.
- 0432 — Oct. 3, 2016, email from Joffe to Sussmann regarding a meeting the following day.
- 0433 — Oct. 4, 2016, message from Joffe to Sussmann on the meeting.
- 0434 — Document indicating Sussmann was busy for a portion of Sept. 30, 2016.
- 0435 — Document indicating Sussmann was busy for a portion of Oct. 4, 2016.
- 0436 — Document indicating Sussmann was busy for a portion of Oct. 4, 2016.
- 0474 — Email from Sussmann to Nancy Cordes of CBS on Oct. 31, 2016, regarding Slate story.
- 0480 — Nov. 2, 2016, email from Sussmann to Washington Post reporter Ellen Nakashima.
- 0495 — Oct. 31, 2016, email from Clinton campaign official Deborah Fine to Elias asking him to print something out; Fine said on the stand the document related to the Trump-Russia allegations.
- 0552 — Billing records from Perkins Coie for Clinton campaign.
- 0553 — Additional billing records from Perkins Coie for Clinton campaign.
- 0553.1 — Billing records for Sussmann’s work on “confidential project.”
- 0553.10 — Billing records for Sussmann’s work on “client issues” and “confidential project.”
- 0553.11 — More billing records for Sussmann’s work on “confidential project.”
- 0553.12 — Billing records for Sussmann’s “work on white paper,” among other tasks.
- 0553.16 — Billing records for meetings with Elias.
- 0553.17 — More billing records for Sussmann’s work on a “confidential project.”
- 0553.18 — More billing records for Sussmann’s work on a “confidential project.”
- 055.19 — Billing records for purchase of flash drives purchased several days before Baker meeting.
- 0553.2 — Billing records for Sussmann’s communications with Elias “regarding server issue.”
- 0553.22 — Billing records regarding a confidential project Sussmann was working on in the days ahead of meeting with Baker.
- 0553.23 — More billing records Sussmann’s work on a “confidential project.”
- 0553.24 — More billing records.
- 0553.27 — Additional billing records.
- 0553.3 — Billing records for confidential meetings with Elias and “others.”
- 0553.30 — More records. More billing records, for communications with media outlets.
- 0553.4 — Billing records for teleconference with Elias and Joffe.
- 0553.6 — Billing records on confidential meeting with Elias.
- 0553.9 — Additional records.
- 0559 — Billing records from Perkins Coie to Clinton campaign.
- 0562 — Billing records for Clinton campaign from Perkins Coie.
- 0563 — Additional billing records.
- 0602 — Aug. 30, 2016 email from Joffe to Seago, with Sussmann cc’ed.
- 0603 — Aug. 30, 2016 email Seago to Joffe.
- 0604 — Aug. 30, 2016 email from Joffe to Seago and Sussmann.
- 0605 — Aug. 31, 2016 email from Joffe to Seago and Sussmann.
- 0612 — Oct. 5, 2016, message from Seago to Fritsch containing attachments with the Trump server Domain Name System lookups.
- 0631 — Oct. 5, 2016, message from Fritsch to Seago and Fusion co-founder Simpson.
- 0634 — Oct. 5, 2016, reply from Seago to Fritsch and Fusion co-founder Simpson titled “Re: alfa.”
- 0635 — Another Oct. 5, 2016, message from Seago to Fritsch and Simpson.
- 0648 — Oct. 17, 2016, message from Fritsch to Seago regarding the Alfa Bank claims.
- 0652 — Emails between Reuters reporter mark Hosenball and Fritsch.
- 0668 — Communications between Fritsch and Yahoo reporter Michael Isikoff.
- 0677 — Nov. 1, 2016, message from Seago to other Fusion operatives titled “What the other side is saying.”
- 0680 — Nov. 3, 2016, message from Seago to other Fusion operatives regarding Foer.
- 0687 — Email from Fritsch to Edward Baumgartner, a UK-based intelligence consultant, and Simpson.
- 0688 — Email from Baumgartner to Fusion operatives regarding Alfa Bank.
- 0689 — Fusion email on Alfa Bank.
- 0716 — September 2016 emails from DeJong to Joffe.
- 0717 — Sept. 16, 2016, email from Joffe to DeJong.
- 0719 — July 18, 2017, message from DeJong to Joffe.
- 0809 — Emails between former CIA officer Mark Chadason and CIA officers regarding Sussmann.
- 0812 — Initial memorandum detailing Feb. 9, 2017, meeting between CIA officers and Sussmann.
- 0817 — Email from one of the agents about the meeting, and a revised memorandum.
- 1200 — Information from Jared Novick, CEO of Bitvoyant, who was tasked by Joffe to dig up information on Trump associates.
- 1400 — Excerpt of Sussmann’s Verizon phone bill with a partial log of calls placed Sep. 17–23, 2016.
- 1500 — Text messages between Sussmann and Baker.
- 1600 — Domain names from Joffe request to DeJong.
- 1602 — Scripts DeJong ran in response to request.
- 1700 — Presentation delivered by FBI cyber expert David Martin during trial.
- 1703 — Phone records detailing calls Sussmann and Joffe made ahead of and after Sussmann met with Baker.
- 1704 — Summary of billing entries for Sussmann’s work around the time of Baker meeting.
- 1705 — Summary of Sussmann calendar entries for work for Clinton campaign and Joffe.
- 1800 — Picture of Joffe with others.
- 1900 — Perkins Coie document sent Aug. 15, 2016, on effort to arrange a teleconference with Sussmann, Joffe, and Elias.
- 2201 — Court record regarding transcript of Sussmann’s 2017 testimony before Congress.
- 2202 — Court record of agreement between Perkins Coie and Neustar.
- 2204 — Court record regarding former Department of Justice official Scott Schools and notes he took during a March 6, 2017, meeting.
Trial Exhibits Presented by Defense
- 008 — List of nominees for FBI’s award for excellence in 2013. Includes Joffe.
- 029 — Perkins Coie agreement to represent Joffe. Dated Feb. 25, 2015.
- 031 — Perkins Coie charges for Sussmann representation of Joffe.
- 033 — Invoice for Sussmann’s representation of Joffe.
- 036 — Perkins Coie billing for representation of Neustar.
- 102 — Internal FBI emails from June 2016 about statements regarding compromise of Democratic National Committee (DNC) network.
- 105 — Documents on June 2016 meeting with Sussmann, CrowdStrike’s Shawn Henry, DNC official Amy Dacey, and top FBI officials.
- 106 — Internal FBI messages regarding investigation into DNC network compromise.
- 107 — June 2016 emails between Dacey and FBI.
- 109 — July 2016 emails from FBI regarding release of Democrat documents by an alleged hacker.
- 110 — Emails in July 2016 between FBI and Sussmann regarding DNC emails published by WikiLeaks.
- 112 — Emails showing Sussmann was upset in July 2016 with a statement from the FBI on the compromise of the DNC network.
- 114 — Sussmann introducing FBI officials to Clinton campaign IT worker Tim Ball.
- 115 — July 2016 emails setting up a meeting between FBI officials and Sussmann regarding purported DNC hack.
- 117 — Emails showing FBI agreed to alter statement on reported intrusion into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) network.
- 118 — FBI attempting in August 2016 to speak with Sussmann.
- 120 — Email sent Aug. 2, 2016, describing Sussmann as the point of contact for both the DNC and the DCCC.
- 121 — FBI emails regarding extortion threat Clinton campaign received in August 2016.
- 123 — Article alleging Russians hacked DNC network.
- 124 — FBI messages in August 2016 regarding potential cyberattack against Clinton campaign.
- 125 — FBI emails in August 2016 regarding compromise of DCCC network.
- 127 — Emails arranging meeting including DNC Chair Donna Brazile, Sussmann, and the FBI.
- 128 — FBI emails concerning August 2016 threat briefings to DNC and Clinton’s campaign.
- 130 — Wall Street Journal article on DNC forming cybersecurity advisory board in the wake of the network compromise.
- 132 — Internal FBI chat on Aug. 15, 2016, regarding report on DNC intrusion.
- 134 — August 2016 emails involving FBI, Sussmann, and CrowdStrike.
- 136 — Internal FBI messages on DNC files and Wikileaks.
- 137 — August 2016 messages showing FBI officials trying to get information from Sussmann regarding the compromise of the DNC network.
- 138 — Messages between FBI employees on report on alleged DNC hack.
- 140 — FBI alerting Sussmann in August 2016 of possible effort to target Clinton campaign.
- 141 — Messages regarding possible compromise of Microsoft account owned by Leslie Dach, a Clinton campaign official.
- 142 — September 2016 emails between Sussmann and FBI workers.
- 144 — FBI document on hacking threat made to Clinton campaign in August 2016.
- 145 — Communications in September 2016 regarding meeting between Sussmann and Department of Justice (DOJ) employees.
- 146 — Internal FBI emails on DNC network.
- 147 — List of documents FBI wanted from DNC on network issues.
- 148 — FBI official in September 2016 asking for data regarding the network problems.
- 149 — Internal FBI messages from October 2016 regarding purported evidence of Trump-Russia link.
- 150 — Emails between Perkins Coie employees and Sussmann.
- 151 — Sussmann saying on Oct. 13, 2016, that he’ll connect DOJ officials with CrowdStrike.
- 152 — Messages involving Crowdstrike, Sussmann, and FBI officials.
- 153 — Internal FBI messages from October 2016.
- 154 — Messages between Perkins Coie employees and FBI workers in September and October 2016 on DNC network compromise.
- 155 — Internal FBI messages from late 2016.
- 164 — Timeline of FBI response to information from DNC.
- 165 — More messages between Perkins Coie and FBI employees.
- 200 — Washington Post article on DNC network issues.
- 300 — Emails between Sussmann and Lichtblau in August 2016.
- 301 — Sussmann email to Lichtblau on Sept. 1, 2016.
- 302 — More emails between Sussmann and Lichtblau.
- 307 — Internal FBI emails from September 2016 regarding effort to delay publication of story about Trump-Russia claims.
- 405 — Email from Sussmann to Joffe on Aug. 8, 2016.
- 431 — Sept. 18, 2016, email from Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook to campaign officials sharing a memorandum from longtime Clinton associate Sidney Blumenthal.
- 433 — Clinton campaign counsel Marc Elias forwarding the email to Fusion operatives and Sussmann.
- 436 — Billing records for Sussmann taxi rides to and from meeting with Baker.
- 440 — Perkins Coie document regarding activities Sussmann performed on Aug. 16, 2016.
- 509 — September 2016 messages between Batty, chief of FBI’s cyber unit, and Hellman or agent Jordan Kelly, who was listed as jrsmith7.
- 511 — Internal FBI messages from September 2016.
- 513 — September 2016 messages between FBI personnel, including Kelly, regarding the evidence given to Baker.
- 514 — FBI cyber team’s assessment of Trump-Russia allegations.
- 516 — Internal FBI emails regarding Trump Organization-Alfa Bank claims.
- 518 — FBI officials talking about Trump-Russia white paper delivered by Sussmann.
- 519 — Additional internal FBI emails regarding the claims.
- 520 — Messages between FBI agent Heide to Pientka on Sept. 22, 2016.
- 521 — Additional messages from Heide to Pientka.
- 523 — FBI cyber team’s analysis of white paper and thumb drives Sussmann brought.
- 524 — One page of handwritten notes penned by FBI agent Ryan Gaynor.
- 525 — Electronic communications memorializing the opening of a full investigation into the Alfa Bank claims. Dated Sept. 23, 2016.
- 531 — FBI emails regarding an “anonymous reporter” who brought information on Alfa Bank to FBI agent Thomas Grasso; the source was later identified as Joffe.
- 533 — October 2016 emails between FBI agent Allison Sands and Grasso.
- 534 — Messages between Sands and FBI agent Scott Hellman on Oct. 4, 2016.
- 537 — FBI emails containing updates on investigation into Trump-Russia allegations.
- 538 — FBI updates on probe into allegations brought by Sussmann.
- 539 — Internal FBI messages from September and October 2016.
- 542 — Confidential source reporting document dated Oct. 6, 2016.
- 543 — Notes on what source said regarding allegations Sussmann brought.
- 545 — Message from Sands to FBI agent Christopher Trifiletti regarding the notes.
- 546 — Reams of internal FBI messages sent as agents investigated the allegations from Sussmann, including messages sent to and from case agent Allison Sands.
- 548 — Message from FBI agent Ryan Gaynor updating colleagues on investigation.
- 556 — Handwritten notes taken by DOJ official Mary McCord from a March 6, 2017, DOJ-FBI meeting in which the Trump-Russia allegations were discussed.
- 558 — Additional handwritten notes, taken by DOJ official Tashina Gauhar.
- 559 — List of officials who participated in said meeting.
- 563 — July 24, 2017, email from FBI official Jonathan Moffa to Priestap concerning bureau assessment that Alfa Bank and Trump Organization servers “almost certainly did not communicate intentionally or covertly.”
- 567 — FBI report dated April 3, 2017, on Mandiant and Alfa Bank.
- 707 — Excerpts of DOJ Office of Inspector General report on extracted data from Baker’s phone.
- 801 — Messages from Heide to Pientka on desire to interview the source of the Trump-Russia white paper.
- 803 — Additional messages from Heide to agent Scott Hellman.
- 804 — FBI chat messages from September 2016.
- 806 — Emails to and from former CIA officer Mark Chadason regarding his 2017 meeting with Sussmann.
- 809 — April 20, 2022, missive from Sussmann’s lawyer to Baker.
- 810 — Text messages from May 2019.
- 811 — May 2019 exchange between Baker’s email and Durham.
- 812 — June 13, 2019, Twitter post from Baker telling people to contact the FBI if they have information about suspicious activities.
- 818 — Emails between FBI officials, Sussmann, and Crowdstrike’s Shawn Henry from June 2016.
- 824 — Messages between Sussmann and CIA officials in December 2016.
- 825 — Additional messages between Sussmann and CIA officials.
- 829 — Billing records for Sussmann flash drives purchased “for use in confidential project.”
- 830 — Billing records for flash drives Sussmann purchased in Washington days before handing over flash drives to the FBI.
- 900 — Matrix of FBI communicating and meetings related to Sussmann’s representing the Clinton campaign and other Democrats.
Day One (May 16)
Seating jurors was a day-long affair, with more than 40 candidates interviewed by District Judge Christopher Cooper, prosecutor Michael Keilty, and lead defense attorney Sean Berkowitz. Juror candidates answered the same questions based on responses to a questionnaire all had completed.
In that questionnaire, potential jurors were asked if they voted in the 2016 election, worked for or volunteered for a 2016 campaign, attended religious services, how often they use social media, and if they’ve had any contact with special counsel John Durham or members of his team.
Juror candidates were asked if they had “strong feelings” about the 2016 presidential election, reminding them the Clinton campaign isn’t on trial in this case. They were also asked for their views on the CIA and law enforcement, including the FBI.
Cooper told prospective jurors: “We’re not here to re-litigate the 2016 election. … Donald Trump is not on trial. Hillary Clinton is not on trial.”
Several candidates were struck. Prosecutors objected to a Virginia Tech program coordinator who attended the same school as Clinton. Sussmann’s team took issue with an accountant whose firm did taxes for FBI General Counsel James Baker. Cooper dismissed a mortician because serving on the jury would be a hardship for his business.
Ultimately, 16 jurors were sworn in, of whom 12 would eventually be selected to deliberate on a verdict.
Key Witness Seeks to Limit Testimony
Former New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau filed a motion on May 12 requesting to restrict the range of questions he can be asked on the stand if he is called to testify.
On Oct. 31, 2016, The New York Times published an article by Lichtblau titled, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” An affidavit revealed that Sussmann was the “confidential source” for the report.
According to the indictment against Sussmann, Lichtblau had communicated with Sussmann before Sussmann met with Baker on Sept. 19, 2016.
Sussmann subpoenaed Lichtblau to testify on his behalf at the trial. He was granted a confidentiality waiver to do so.
But Lichtblau’s motion says he still has “concerns about protecting other privileged and still-confidential news sources and unpublished newsgathering information.”
Day Two (May 17)
In the prosecution’s opening statement, Assistant Special Counsel Brittain Shaw said, “The evidence will show this is a case about privilege—privilege of a well-connected DC lawyer with access to the highest level of the FBI” who believed “he could use the FBI as a political tool.”
Sussmann’s “tip” to the FBI “was all part of a bigger plan” by the Clinton campaign to plant stories in the media and spur the FBI to investigate Trump in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, she said.
“It was a plan to create an October surprise on the eve of the presidential election,” Shaw said, adding that the plan “largely succeeded.”
In the defense’s opening statement, Sussmann attorney Michael Bosworth said the case wasn’t about privilege but long-term relationships.
Bosworth said Sussmann’s meeting with Baker was not what the Clinton campaign or Rodney Joffe wanted, but he did it anyway because he wanted to give the FBI a heads-up that a news story about the alleged Trump-Russian bank connections was to be published soon in The New York Times.
“Relationships matter, especially in the small world of national security lawyers,” Bosworth said. “Do you think Mr. Sussmann would throw his career away, his life away, to tell a lie to that guy?”
Joffe was among the clients Durham alleged Sussmann was representing when he delivered the Trump-Alfa Bank data and documents to the FBI. The South African native was chief technology officer at Neustar, which had a contract with the Executive Office of the President to monitor DNS traffic after the 2015–16 Russian hacking of White House networks.
Referenced as “Tech Executive-1” in Sussmann’s indictment, Joffe was a long-established FBI confidential human source in 2016. He is credited as being instrumental in thwarting the 2008 Conficker computer worm and was awarded a 2013 FBI Director’s Award for his role in destroying the Mariposa botnet.
Durham alleged in February 2022 that Joffe had exploited his access to White House DNS data to seek derogatory information on Donald Trump and that he worked with data scientists to concoct the Trump-Alfa allegations in July–August 2016.
Sussmann’s attorneys wanted Joffe immunized so he could testify for the defense. Prosecutors objected. Joffe pleaded the Fifth. He did not appear during the trial.
Bosworth showed jurors internal FBI emails and reports “littered” with references to Sussmann as a lawyer for Democrats.
FBI Agents Took Less Than a Day to Determine the Tip Bogus
FBI Cyber Action Team (CAT) Supervisory Agent David Martin testified that he collected the thumb drives and documents the day after Baker got them from Sussmann and, within a day, determined they didn’t support the allegations.
Both Martin and fellow FBI agent Scott Hellman testified that analysts were frustrated that Baker would not reveal the source of the data and documents.
Hellman called the methodology that the paper’s authors used “questionable” and said the claim of a secret backchannel “just didn’t make sense to us.”
“Why would a presidential candidate put their own name on a supposedly secret domain name?” he said, calling Baker’s refusal to identify the origin, other than “a sensitive source,” unusual.
As for the “white paper” providing the narrative, Hellman said: “I think the person who drafted [it] was suffering from a mental disability.”
Joffe’s Terminated as FBI Source
While questioning Martin, Shaw revealed that Joffe’s status as an FBI “confidential informant” was terminated “for cause” because he didn’t provide the Trump-Russia claims to his handler, but rather used Sussmann to introduce them to the bureau.
Berkowitz objected and raised concerns during a closed session, with jurors out of the room, asserting the comments about Joffe were “prejudicial.”
Cooper agreed and ordered prosecutors not to discuss the topic again.
Joffe was later identified as an “anonymous reporter” who spread some of the same information to a different FBI agent shortly after Sussmann met with Baker.
Neustar Executive Testifies
Steve DeJong, an executive with Neustar, took the stand later on Tuesday, telling the court that Joffe was “very well respected.” He said Joffe asked him, as a favor, in August and September of 2016 to look through data logs to find queries for names in political campaigns.
“In retrospect, it was mostly around the Trump campaign,” DeJong said.
DeJong said he was also doing things for Joffe, like gathering data on “DNS traffic between utility companies during a hurricane.” Sussmann, to his knowledge, was not “in any way involved” in collecting or analyzing the data. He had never heard of Sussmann before.
Elias Takes the Stand
The day ended with Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias acknowledging that he hired Fusion GPS to provide “consulting services in support of the legal advice” and that about “two dozen” Perkins Coie attorneys were engaged in various capacities on behalf of the campaign.
He said the firm was paid a flat $130,000 a month to represent the campaign.
Fusion also worked on opposition research and promotion of the research to media outlets, according to a recent Federal Elections Commission finding. The campaign agreed to pay a fine based on the probable cause finding that it misreported disbursements to Fusion.
Day Three (May 18)
Elias returned to the witness stand. After an extensive foray into attorney billing practices—they bill in six-minute blocks—Elias said that he learned of the allegations from Sussmann in August 2016 and sought to get media outlets to report it.
“I thought that if there were a news account of the allegations,” it would “benefit the campaign,” he said.
Elias said he did not authorize or encourage Sussmann to meet with Baker. He didn’t think going to the FBI was a good idea because it could have caused The New York Times to delay publishing the article.
Elias said Fusion attempted to seed stories about Trump and Russia in news outlets before the 2016 election. Sussmann communicated with Lichtblau, the New York Times reporter, and Franklin Foer, a Slate reporter, among others, he said.
The New York Times and Slate, on Oct. 31, 2016, reported on the claims. The former said that the FBI examined the information and concluded there might be an innocuous explanation for it. The stories remain largely uncorrected, despite the subsequent revelations that both the bureau and the CIA determined the claims were unsupported.
Clinton Campaign Lawyer Debbie Fine Says It ‘Wasn’t Me’
Attorney Debbie Fine, who worked at the campaign’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, said her job was to work on thwarting anticipated “Trump-related litigation.”
She said she learned of the allegations during an Aug. 17, 2016, meeting. Before that, she said she did not know Fusion was conducting opposition research for the campaign.
“Elias, to my knowledge, he was directing” that effort for the campaign. “He regularly spoke with [Fusion] in the campaign, and I was not present” for most of those conversations.
When defense attorney Michael Bosworth asked if she leaked the allegations to the media, Fine said: “It wasn’t me.”
Fusion Analyst Laura Seago Testifies
Fusion analyst Laura Seago explained her role was to use open-source research to analyze the allegations and translate technical data for her colleagues and others to understand. She first learned of the Trump-Alfa Bank claims at a meeting on Aug. 29, 2016, that included Fusion co-founder Peter Fritsch, Elias, Sussmann, and Joffe.
Seago corresponded with Joffe multiple times after the meeting. The contents of those emails were withheld as protected by attorney-client privilege, though some were introduced as evidence so their senders, recipients, and titles could be seen.
Seago recounted a meeting with reporter Franklin Foer, then with Slate, in 2016 about the claims. “We certainly hoped he would publish an article,” she said.
That meeting involved Seago, Foer, Fritsch, and Fusion analyst Jake Berkowitz and lasted about an hour. Seago described it as a “verbal briefing” on the claims. She was asked to attend “to explain the technical aspects of these allegations in lay terms that a journalist, like Mr. Foer, would understand.”
On Oct. 31, 2016, Foer published a story that asked: “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” He cited anonymous sources alleging that there was “a sustained relationship between a server registered to The Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.” Slate and Foer have not responded to requests for comment.
Baker Takes the Stand
Baker, now a lawyer with Twitter, recounted learning at some point in 2016 that Sussmann was representing Clinton or the DNC but believed that representation was connected with cyber matters, “not with political issues.” He acknowledged that he never pressed Sussmann on the sourcing for the data he conveyed.
Baker testified that Sussmann told him he was not seeking a meeting on behalf of any clients when he texted his personal phone on Sept. 18, 2016. Sussmann wrote he had “something time-sensitive (and sensitive)” and was seeking a meeting not on behalf of any clients but to “help the bureau.”
The text was introduced as evidence, as were others showing that Baker and Sussmann messaged for years after the meeting.
Prosecutors first revealed in April that they had obtained the text but had not indicated how they got it. Baker said he found it on his phone after being asked by Durham’s team to hand over any evidence pertaining to the case, so that prosecutors could pass it on to the defense to comply with legal obligations. Baker took a picture of the text on his phone and sent it to prosecutors. Asked why he had not located the text before, Baker said: “The way I thought about it, I’m not out to get Michael. This is not my investigation; this is your investigation.”
Baker ended up meeting with Sussmann the day after receiving the text. “I kind of wondered how [he] got my personal phone number but didn’t worry about it. He’s a friend. I trust him. I thought I should meet with him right away,” he said.
Baker said he had known Sussmann since they worked together in the Department of Justice and maintained a friendship to this day. He said he generally knew Sussmann was involved with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He described Sussmann as a friend.
The prosecution and defense grilled Baker about varied responses about the meeting and his subsequent actions.
Day Four (May 19)
Mistrial Bid Rebuffed
Sussmann’s attorneys said Elias strayed into improper areas in his testimony the day before, prejudicing the defendant, and motioned for a mistrial.
Cooper on Thursday agreed to strike certain portions of Elias’ testimony but rejected the request for a mistrial.
Berkowitz had asked Elias if Sussmann took the information to the FBI on behalf of Clinton’s campaign. Elias responded: “From my standpoint, I would say no,” before adding, “You’d have to ask Mr. Sussmann.”
“Mr. Elias’s nonresponsive testimony on cross-examination, as well as the repeated, improper questioning by the special counsel, directly suggested to the jury that to answer a key question in this case—whether Mr. Sussmann went to the FBI on Sept. 19, 2016, on behalf of a client—Mr. Sussmann would need to testify,” defense lawyers said. “But as the special counsel and Mr. Elias are well aware, a defendant in a criminal trial has a constitutional right not to testify. And commenting, either directly or indirectly, on a defendant’s decision to testify or not testify is entirely improper.”
After Cooper agreed to strike portions of the testimony, Berkowitz said Sussmann had not yet decided whether he will testify during the trial.
Cooper Retains Juror With Sussmann Link
Cooper denied the prosecution’s request to remove Juror #5, who said she learned on Wednesday night that her daughter and Sussmann’s daughter are on the same sports team.
The woman said she did not know of this until her daughter mentioned it and immediately reported the fact to court officials.
She said she does not know Sussmann’s daughter and still doesn’t even know the girl’s name. There are 30 to 40 girls on the team. she said, adding her daughter is a senior while Sussmann’s daughter is a freshman.
The juror said she’s never seen Sussmann or his wife at any of the meets or practices or other team-related social events.
“If she had known this when she was filling out the questionnaire, it certainly would have been something that she would have included, and the government would have moved to strike her for cause,” Shaw said. “I have no reason to doubt that she’s being truthful and would try to be fair to the best of her ability but anyone that’s been a parent knows that you can’t really separate what might be best for your child from sort of how you think through things, and we believe it could weigh on her.”
In rejecting the motion, Cooper said the separation in years between the girls and a large number of students on the team was enough distance for the juror to be impartial. He praised the juror for her honesty in coming forward.
Baker on Stand All Day
Baker testified on Thursday that former FBI Director James Comey and his top deputy Andrew McCabe were briefed on the Alfa Bank claims.
“It seemed to me of great urgency and seriousness that I would want to make my bosses aware of this information,” he said, noting both were “quite concerned” about the allegations.
According to an email introduced as evidence, Baker wrote to Comey and McCabe on Sept. 22, 2016, telling them that a New York Times reporter was planning to write about the Alfa Bank-Trump claims. “Perhaps we can discuss for a few minutes at the prep for Andy at noon,” he said.
Baker said on the stand that Sussmann, during their meeting, alleged that multiple media outlets were preparing to publish stories on the claims.
Sussmann also insisted he was not there on behalf of any clients.
“It was part of his introduction to the meeting, ‘I’m not here on behalf of any particular client.’ I’m 100 percent confident that he said that,” Baker said.
Within minutes of getting the data, Baker said he called Priestap.
“It involved Russia, and this bank had links to the Kremlin. That seemed to me, on its face, to be a potential national security threat,” Baker said, noting that the bureau was already investigating alleged connections between the Trump Organization and Russia. “It was a very high priority for me.”
Baker said he gave the data the next day to Peter Strzok, an FBI official, who would go on to draw national attention over his text messages with FBI attorney Lisa Page in which they shared about their hatred for Trump, steps for stopping Trump from becoming president, and an “insurance policy” in case Trump won the election.
“I wanted to get rid of this material as quickly as possible. I hated having it on my desk. I didn’t want to have this material any longer than I needed to,” Baker said.
Baker said that same day, Priestap asked him to learn what media outlet(s) had caught wind of the allegations. Baker said he called Sussmann to get the identity of the reporters, one of whom turned out to be Lichtblau.
Baker said he met twice with Lichtblau. During the first meeting, the reporter agreed to delay the story. In the other, FBI officials conveyed they had concluded the materials they’d been given didn’t substantiate the “surreptitious connection” allegations.
In afternoon cross-examining, Berkowitz portrayed Baker as an unreliable witness, noting that he had told the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General that Sussmann had said in their meeting that he had information “that he said related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients,” who Sussmann described as cyber experts.
Baker also told special counsel John Durham’s team in 2020 that the topic of Sussmann’s clients did not come up during the meeting.
On the stand, Baker said his statement to the IG was mistaken and that the truth is that Sussmann told him in person he wasn’t bringing the information on behalf of a client. He said he didn’t consult his texts or prepare before speaking to the DOJ watchdog or prosecutors, but is now “100 percent confident” in his recollection. His mention of clients was “shorthand way” of referring to what was more accurately described as experts with whom Sussmann was working.
Baker also challenged notes taken of a March 2017 meeting involving himself and high-ranking DOJ officials, during which the Trump-Russia allegations were raised. According to the notes, taken by DOJ lawyer Tashina Gauhar, McCabe said that the allegations were sourced from an “attorney” who “brought [them] to [the] FBI on behalf of his client,” though the last word may have said “clients.”
Baker said he did not recall that moment during the meeting. He also said he would not have injected himself in the case if he knew of involvement from the Clinton campaign. He said he would have directed Sussmann to other FBI personnel—bureau lawyers don’t typically receive information—or would have still met with Sussmann but made sure other personnel were present.
“I was willing to meet with Michael alone because I had high confidence in him and trust,” Baker said. “I think I would have made a different assessment if he said he had been appearing on behalf of a client.”
Day Five (May 20)
Baker Testimony Concludes
On Friday, Berkowitz completed his cross-examination, and prosecutor Andrew DeFillipis closed out a redirect, focusing on Baker’s varied responses over the three-year investigation and other related probes.
Baker testified under oath for nearly eight hours.
Clinton Approved Planting Story in Press
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, a defense witness who was allowed to testify Friday so he could leave for a 10-day vacation in Spain, recalled being briefed on the Alfa Bank claims by Elias, who said they came from cyber experts.
He said the campaign didn’t immediately act on the allegations because it was uncertain if they were credible. They ultimately decided to give them to a reporter so the reporter could “run it down.”
“Our hope was they were going to run it down, that it would be substantive and accurate,” Mook said.
Mook said Clinton approved reaching out to the media with the unfounded allegations but couldn’t recall exactly when she did so.
“All I can remember is that she agreed with the decision,” he said. “I don’t really remember the substance of the conversation, but notionally the discussion was, ‘hey, we have this, and we want to share it with a reporter.’ She agreed to that.”
Within hours of stories being published about the claims on Oct. 31, 2016, Clinton herself promoted them.
“Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank,” Clinton wrote in a Twitter post. Mook suggested a campaign staffer may have written the post, which also included a statement from campaign official Jake Sullivan—currently the Biden administration’s national security adviser.
Echoing Elias, Mook said the campaign did not authorize Sussmann to go to the FBI. He said he was “not aware” when asked if Clinton approved Sussmann’s meeting. “I don’t know why she would,” he said.
Sussmann Made Inconsistent Statements to CIA Officers
One retired CIA officer said Sussmann told him he had information from a client while another recounted the opposite.
Sussmann met for a Jan. 31, 2017, breakfast with Mark Chadason, a former CIA officer who was already retired at the time. Chadason said Gilman Louie, who ran the CIA’s venture capital In-Q-Tel fund, asked him to meet Sussmann “because he had information of importance to national security.”
Sussmann said he was representing “an engineer with a number of patents” and “a Republican” who “had some allegations against President Trump that he wanted me to hear,” Chadason testified.
That matches a memo of the conversation that states “Sussmann said that he represents a CLIENT who does not want to be known, but who had some interesting information about the presence and activity of a unique Russian-made phone around President Trump.”
Sussmann told Chadason that he worked for Perkins Coie. He said that he and his firm did a lot of work for the DNC and that he had represented the Clinton campaign.
“My feeling was the information was interesting enough to pass to the CIA to be vetted and validated,” Chadason said. “I had no ability to assess the validity of the information … he seemed loyal … [and] seemed like a credible source.”
Chadason noted in an email to the CIA that they should “remember that this guy is a partisan lawyer who works for the DNC,” adding, “I am not sure what the real story is, but I am sure you guys will figure this out.”
Two CIA officers, Kevin P. and Steve M., met with Sussmann on Feb. 9, 2017, at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va.
Sussmann said he was not representing any “particular clients” and referred to the sources of his information as “contacts,” Kevin P. testified, noting that Sussmann said he was a member of a law firm and other lawyers at the firm represented Clinton and the DNC, but that he did not have any connection with those activities.
Sussmann said he wanted his contacts to “remain anonymous because of potential threats to them from the Russians.”
Kevin P. took the information and passed it on to CIA technical experts, who dismissed the data as “self-generated.”
Sussmann told Kevin P. that he went to the CIA because he was worried the FBI did not handle the material he handed over properly, musing that the bureau may lack the needed expertise to analyze it.
Day Six (May 23)
Lichtblau Immunity Debated
The second week of the trial began with a back-and-forth between Cooper, Berkowitz, and DeFillipis regarding planned testimony by Lichtblau, a New York Times reporter who had been granted a protective order to limit what he could be asked on the stand under a confidentiality waiver.
Lichtblau was scheduled to testify as a subpoenaed defense witness to discuss what he discussed with Sussmann, Joffe, and Baker regarding an impending article on the Trump-Alfa allegations.
Prosecutors wanted to introduce his communications “beyond conversations with Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe,” including with Fusion and several researchers.
The order is no longer applicable, DeFillipis said, asserting Lichtblau’s waiver had become “qualified” and that since “Fusion GPS was acting as an agent of the campaign” in orchestrating the “joint venture” against Trump, its exchanges with Lichtblau are fair game.
Cooper said: “The question becomes, then, what is the appropriate scope of cross, given what you intend to ask him, knowing that the government would not have been able to call Mr. Lichtblau in their case? I know you’ve said you are going to limit it to direct conversations with Mr. Sussmann, but the question is to what end and on what issues; to what issues in the case will Mr. Lichtblau’s testimony go to?”
“One of the requirements [for such expansion] is the government has exhausted other available sources,” he later told DeFillipis. “And obviously you had the ability to call many of the people you’ve just mentioned and, for whatever reason, chose not to.”
Cooper did not make a ruling and said the matter would be revisited prior to the reporter testifying.
Cooper and attorneys also discussed upcoming testimony from a witness engaged in “an unadjudicated matter.”
Berkowitz expressed concern that the witness could be testifying to “curry favor with the government.”
Cooper agreed to take the matter under consideration. That witness turned out to be FBI agent Curtis Heide, who testified the next day.
‘People on the Seventh Floor Are Fired Up’
Former FBI Assistant Counterintelligence Director Bill Priestap didn’t recall taking notes of his conversation with Baker after Baker called him immediately after receiving data and documents from Sussmann on Sept. 19, 2016. Priestap also didn’t recall the context of the notes or their specifics amid the background whirl of the Crossfire Hurricane probe.
Priestap testified that he was unsure if the FBI opened an investigation into the “Alfa allegations.” The only reason why he now knows they did is because there was a file opened. The file said the probe was approved by four officials, including Daniel Wierzbicki, an official at the FBI’s Chicago office.
Under cross-examination, Priestap said he “does not recall” why internal FBI chat messages said “people on the 7th floor (leadership) are fired up” about the allegations or why agents wrote that he said they had “no choice” but to open an investigation while invoking his name.
Investigation ‘Volunteer’ Regrets Getting Involved
FBI agent Ryan Gaynor said he first heard of the claims in a Sept. 23, 2016, briefing with the Chicago field office and volunteered to “track” it for the “front office” in D.C. FBI leaders have imposed a “close hold” on the case, meaning sources’ identities were withheld, for reasons that were not made known.
Gaynor said FBI supervisory agent Jonathon Moffa asked him to ascertain if the “close hold” was helping or hindering the probe. Gaynor said he concluded that he informed Moffa he couldn’t think of a “compelling reason” why the hold had to be removed. He believed that if agents knew of possible political motivation, that may have influenced the way they analyzed the data. He also blocked them from interviewing Sussmann, a request he said was made by FBI leaders.
Under cross-examination by Bosworth, was presented with how he told the grand jury, and repeated in prep sessions, that the DNC was the source of the allegations. But that “was wrong,” Gaynor said.
Three days after volunteering to track the case, Gaynor said he was informed by Moffa that the material came from Sussmann, who was representing the DNC.
“I understood that to mean that [the attorney] was affiliated with the Democratic party but he had come [to Baker] representing himself,” Gaynor said. But he understood at the time that Sussmann had not acted on behalf of the DNC.
At one point, Gaynor was potentially facing criminal charges for allegedly violating the “close hold” in saying the source was a “DNC attorney,” though he did not identify Sussmann by name. He made the disclosure during an Oct. 30, 2020, meeting with prosecutors.
Gaynor described that statement as a mistake, which he realized after reviewing his notes following the meeting. He had not recalled the hold.
When asked by Bosworth how it felt to go from a witness to a potential subject in the investigation, he said: “Two thoughts. I thought I had woefully ill prepared [sic] for the meeting, because I didn’t know what the meeting was honestly going to be about with this investigation. The second thought was I was in significant peril.”
Gaynor said that, had he known Sussmann got the data and white papers from an FBI CHS—Joffe—he would have asked more questions about the motives of all involved and would not have volunteered to participate in the probe. He would have asked why the source didn’t provide the information to the FBI.
FBI Withheld Joffe’s Identity From Investigating Agents
Former FBI agent Allison Sands, who led the technical analysis of the thumb drives in the agency’s Chicago office, told Bosworth under cross-examination that she was never told anything about “a DNC attorney” and was told the probe was requested by the DOJ.
“And that was false,” Bosworth said about the latter point. True, she said, but she did not know that until learning the allegations were forwarded by Baker “from an anonymous third party.”
Had she known the origin of the claims was a CHS, Sands said she “would absolutely want to speak to the handlers,” adding: “it would be very unusual for the CHS to bypass the handlers. It speaks to credibility, motive.”
Sands said she didn’t know there was a ‘close hold’ on revealing the source of the data and still doesn’t know who ordered the investigation other than it came from “someplace in headquarters land.”
“Mr. Sussman didn’t conceal that from you. The FBI did,” Bosworth said.
She said the FBI Chicago team figured out that David Dagon of the Georgia Institute of Technology was the author of one of the white papers. The team never interviewed him, she said. Gaynor said that step wasn’t taken because the team had already concluded the data did not support the allegations.
Interviewing Dagon was “the next logical investigatory step I was planning to take,” Sands said, but could not recall specifics other than she was ”either told not to, or to focus on the logs” in the thumb drives.
Shaw in redirect asked Sands if she would have been interested to know if the data was funded by the Clinton campaign.
“Yes,” she said.
Day Seven (May 24)
DOJ deputy assistant attorney general Tricia Anderson testified about the notes she took after speaking with Baker immediately after he received the data and documents from Sussmann.
She remembered more than Priestap when he testified the day before, who could not recall anything beyond what was written in his notes.
Anderson’s testimony lasted less than a half-hour. As with Priestap, her notes say Baker told her Sussmann was not representing clients when he met with the FBI general counsel.
‘There Were Some Mistakes, Yes’
FBI agent Curtis Heide and Sands, who testified Monday, were co-case agents in investigating the allegations. Heide was next to take the stand.
Heide is under investigation for “not identifying exculpatory information” in the Crossfire Hurricane probe. Exculpatory information is a fact that negates an allegation. He is the witness engaged in “an unadjudicated matter” testifying on behalf of the prosecution that the defense raised concerns about doing so to “curry favor with the government.”
Prosecutor Jonathon Algor asked Heide if it was accurate that when the FBI closed the “Alfa allegations” probe in January 2017 because it lacked substance, it was called a “preliminary investigation” requested by the DOJ.
“No, it is not,” Heide said. The effort was a “full field investigation” and it was not requested by the DOJ, but from within the FBI.
Heide offered one explanation for who or what ordered the full probe despite initial reviews indicating the claims weren’t legitimate. The Chicago FBI office “may have been conflating [the] U.S. Department of Justice and the office of general counsel at our own organization,” he said.
Heide was the seventh witness who was, or still is, employed by the FBI to testify in the case. Only he and Sands remembered much apart from their notes.
Berkowitz in cross-examination said withholding exculpatory information “is a serious allegation … that you intentionally withheld information that could help prove an individual’s innocence … a serious allegation. You have denied it.”
Yes, Heide said, acknowledging the case is still pending.
Berkowitz asked Heide how many times he’s met with prosecutors to iron out testimony. “A handful,” he said.
“Five times—that’s a handful,” Berkowitz said, including three times in May with the last session on May 19.
Heide was grilled about emails, internal FBI chat messages, and documents with dates bouncing across several years.
The investigation’s origin even after FBI cyber experts dismissed allegations within a day of receiving the data, remained opaque, even to Heide who repeated that it was mislabeled a DOJ probe because of a “typo,” perhaps attributable to the purported “conflating” of the DOJ and FBI’s office of general counsel.
Heide said the first time he was aware of the typo was in October 2018 while being interviewed in a Department of Justice Office of Inspector General probe into Crossfire Hurricane.
“It is your testimony sitting here today that both the opening of the case and closing of the case had a typo?” Berkowitz asked, noting that the falsities indicate an inattention to detail.
Heide: “There were some mistakes, yes.”
Berkowitz asked Heide if he followed up on FBI agent Tom Grasso’s offer to provide Dagon as a “private sector subject expert.” He did not, he said.
No Dagon Emails
Cooper denied the prosecution’s request to introduce emails between Dagon—who authored at least one of the white papers—and others after Berkowitz asked Heide if he followed up on Grosso’s offer.
The prosecution maintained Berkowitz’s questioning of Heide “opened the door” to “materiality” for those emails to be introduced.
Cooper disagreed. “Mr. Berkowitz confined his questioning” by establishing that “the FBI could have, indeed, interviewed Mr. Dagon” but chose not to, he said.
Cooper said Dagon’s email relates more to Joffe’s views and motivations. “We are not going to get into” the views and motivations of Dagon and other researchers who compiled the data, the judge said.
A ‘Very Uncomfortable’ Request
Jared Novick, CEO of BitVoyant, a cyber threat analysis company, recalled how Joffe—who sat on BitVoyant’s board—tasked them with looking into Trump Organization DNS data in the summer of 2016, as well as compiling data on individuals.
“Rodney tasked me, and I received a PDF document. And in that PDF document, there were, a handful—five, seven names—of individuals, their home addresses, if they had a spouse, their spouse name and companies related to their spouse, their personal email addresses. So everything about the document was—it was very personal,” he said.
The document included “names of Russian companies, Russian affiliations, some names that seemed foreign to me and some names I recognized in the news, so immediately I knew it to be a political request,” Novick said.
The first name on the list, Novick said, was Carter Page, a former Trump campaign associate who was spied on by the government ahead of the 2016 election.
Novick described Joffe’s request as “extremely uncommon” and the proposed effort as feeling like “opposition research,” which made him “very uncomfortable.”
Novick immediately contacted Victor Oppleman, a friend also on the BitVoyant board and who was engaged with Joffe in other companies, including Littoral Ventures, which provided the document.
Despite Oppleman sharing his feeling, BitVoyant moved forward with the effort.
Novick assigned three analysts to follow through with the tasking. They named the project CRIMSON RHINO because the “last thing I wanted was Donald Trump’s name” on the company tasking board for all to see.
Novick said Joffe asked the analysts to “cast a large net.” They started by looking into 90 days of DNS data. When they sent that back, Novick told them, “we want you not to look through a soda straw, but look everywhere for things that were related to this.”
During cross-examination, Berkowitz said Novick told investigators he did not get along with Joffe, who was pressuring him to improve his leadership of BitVoyant. On Sept. 12, 2021, he told investigators there was a “bit of friction” between them.
Novick said he didn’t recall saying that. “You are asking me about a word and I cannot tell you if I used that word. I had a difficult relationship with Rodney,” he said.
On redirect, Algor asked Novick what he was told would happen to the information they compiled. He said: “It was to go to an attorney.”
Day Eight (May 25)
‘Keep it Clean’
Cooper began Wednesday’s proceedings by admonishing both sides to “keep it clean” in complying with the “evidentiary guardrails” the judge set out before and during the trial.
Cooper’s comments relate to Heide’s response Tuesday when Algor presented him with an email sent by Joffe to researchers with the Georgia Institute of Technology, dated Sept. 14, 2016.
In that email, Joffe discussed one of the white papers that Sussmann handed over to the FBI alleging a secret link between Trump and a Russian bank.
“Please read as if you had no prior knowledge or involvement, and you were handed this document as a security expert (NOT a DNS expert) and were asked: ‘Is this plausible as an explanation?’” Joffe wrote. “NOT to be able to say that this is, without doubt, but to merely be plausible.”
Berkowitz, before the jury was allowed into the courtroom, said Heide’s speculation was “prejudicial” to his client.
“I did not want to draw attention to it. But given the parameters of the court’s prior ruling and the way that they went through that, I think that was improper to elicit, and nonresponsive,” he said.
Algor said asking Heide about the email was “legitimate” because it followed a series of questions from the defense about Dagon, one of the researchers Joffe emailed, and the source for the paper in question.
Nevertheless, prosecutors acknowledged they did not mean to elicit such a response and agreed to have the statement struck from the record.
Congressional Testimony Debated
Heide’s testimony wasn’t the only procedural housekeeping item to wade through before the jury was allowed into the courtroom.
The prosecution overnight filed two motions seeking to thwart the defense’s anticipated request to enter all of Sussmann’s testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Dec. 18, 2017.
“Last evening the defense advised government counsel it intends to seek admission of the entirety of the defendant’s Congressional testimony under the so-called ‘rule of completeness.’
The motion seeks to restrict that committee transcript only to the parts where Sussmann says he was representing a client when he delivered the materials to Baker. “There is no lawful basis for admitting the entire transcript,” it concludes.
Cooper ultimately decided the full transcript could be included in the evidence provided to the jury.
Prosecution Rests Case With Paralegal as Summary Witness
DOJ paralegal Kori Arsenault, a member of Durham’s team, was the 17th and final witness called to the stand by the prosecution. As the “summary witness,” it was Arsenault’s job to tie together the case against Sussmann.
Arsenault walked through the government’s evidence, billing invoices, calendar entries, phone records, and emails documenting Sussmann’s engagement with others in the alleged “joint venture.”
Of special interest is Sussmann’s purchase of “single-use flash drives for secure sharing of files” in a D.C. Staples on Sept. 13, 2016, for $12.90.
Prosecutor Michael Keilty asked Arsenault if the purchase was billed “to a certain client?” She responded: “Hillary for America,” or Clinton’s campaign.
Under cross-examination by Bosworth, Arsenault said Sussmann billed his meeting with Baker to his law firm, not the campaign.
Defense Calls Witnesses
Defense lawyers opened their case by calling two former DOJ attorneys, Tashina Gauhar and Mary McCord.
Both took notes during a March 6, 2017, meeting that involved Baker and high-level DOJ officials. According to the notes, it was said during the meeting that the Alfa Bank claims were brought by a lawyer on behalf of a client.
Gauhar said she didn’t remember the meeting and that the notes were hers. Prosecutors noted that the meeting took place about half a year after Sussmann met with Baker, and that Gauhar was not part of that meeting.
McCord said she remembered the DOJ meeting, as well as “many other meetings on the general subject of the counterintelligence investigations into, you know, any potential coordination between Russia, the Putin administration, and the Trump campaign, or those affiliated with the Trump campaign.”
She said it was the first time she heard of the Alfa Bank claims. During the meeting, officials discussed Trump’s Twitter posts about the matter.
FBI Agent Says Joffe Reliable, Respected
Berkowitz took the lead in questioning Grasso, who testified about how he passed along two IP addresses to investigators on behalf of Joffe after Sussmann met with Baker, and honored Joffe’s request to remain anonymous.
Grasso recounted how he interacted with Joffe often over more than a decade and nominated him for a 2013 FBI Director’s Award for his role in a team that dealt with “The Butterfly Bot.” Joffe was reliable, respected, Grasso said.
Grasso said in late September 2016 that he was aware of Trump-Russia concerns but not of the Alfa allegations. The first time he heard of it was when Joffe called him and “advised me there was an open FBI investigation in the matter.”
Grasso said Joffe verbally relayed to him two IP addresses that would help investigators. The agent had to make several phone calls to determine if there was an investigation that Joffe knew about but he didn’t.
Grasso learned there was, indeed, an Alfa probe and sent an email to the Chicago team with the IP addresses but, at Joffe’s request, did not disclose his identity, which frustrated investigating agents. He knew Joffe was an FBI confidential human source and knew who Joffe’s FBI handler was, but never contacted him nor did he know if Joffe had conveyed the information to his handler.
Grasso said Joffe would come directly to him and did not use an intermediary even though he had a handler. Grasso could not recall if he reached out to Joffe’s handler, FBI agent Paul Schaaf.
Grasso did not recall if Joffe said where he got the data and who developed it. Joffe specifically asked him not to disclose his identity. Grasso assumed it was because allegations involved Russia and he feared for his family’s safety, Grasso said.
Grasso said if he knew of Joffe’s relationship with the Clinton campaign and that the data may have been generated by the campaign, he would have passed that on. “I would want them to know that the information … is tied to a political matter of some sort,” he said.
Defense Counters With Its Own Paralegal
Sussmann attorney Natalie Rao called Latham & Watkins paralegal Randall Charnov to the stand.
Charnov was asked about charts and calendar entries diagramming Sussmann’s contacts between June and October 2016. He explained how contacts were placed into “three buckets” of Sussmann clients. One for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), one for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), one for Hillary For America campaign (HFA).
Correspondence viewed on the stand included an Aug. 3, 2016, email titled “Extortion threat to the Hilary campaign” with “FBI recipients.” The Aug. 2 message said the campaign would be attacked on Aug. 8, 2016, “if ransom not paid.” Sussmann was included in the email as “HFA attorney.”
The threat passed. In an Aug. 9 email from “HFA attorney Michael Sussmann” to members of DOJ/FBI regarding “intrusions of DNC/DCCC,” Sussmann thanked FBI agent Rodney Hayes for the agency’s response. “We appreciate your attention and assistance,” the email said.
The FBI scheduled three “secret level” meetings for “threat briefings” at agency headquarters between Aug. 11 and 16 with the DNC, DCCC, and HFA. Sussmann was listed as attending all three meetings as a lawyer for the entities.
In a Sept. 22, 2016, email from Hayes to Sussmann—three days after he went to Baker—Hayes asked if he has “time to chat with the FBI” because DOJ/FBI “are likely to have some information requests for your clients and would like to talk to them.”
On cross-examination, Keilty noted prominent dates weren’t on Charnov’s charts. Sept. 18 and Sept. 19, for instance, were not documented. When asked why Sept. 19 wasn’t on chart, Charnov said, “This is the first time I am hearing of this.”
Keilty noted the chart only goes through October 2016. He asked: “So February 2017 does not appear on this chart. He asked if Charnov was aware that Sussmann went to the CIA that month.
“I am not aware,” Charnov said, admitting he had not followed the case.
Character Witnesses Take the Stand
Two women testified in favor of Sussmann’s character.
The women, Thomson Reuters Corp. general counsel Jimma Elliott-Stevens and Martha Stansell-Gamm, both worked with Sussmann when he was employed by the DOJ.
Elliott-Stevens, a Marine Corps veteran who became an attorney in 2005, described Sussmann as a mentor. Stansell-Gamm said Sussmann was instrumental in the formation of public policy and law in the emerging “computer crimes” field when he joined her team in 1991, predating the worldwide web.
Lichtblau Scratched as a Defense Witness
Sussmann’s defense removed a subpoena compelling former New York Times’ reporter Lichtblau to testify about his meetings with Sussmann, Joffe, and Fusion technicians regarding the pending publication of a news article on the Alfa Bank allegations.
In addition, the defense filed a sealed motion regarding what Sussmann could be asked if he chooses to testify. The defense wanted “pre-indictment negotiations” precluded from questioning.
Sussmann’s lawyers requested a prompt response but prosecutors wanted more time to review the motion. Berkowitz said a response is needed “sooner rather than later” because it would “inform” Sussmann’s decision to take the stand.
Berkowitz said if Sussmann takes the stand, questioning would likely take at least three hours, lasting into May 27. DeFillipis said he’d file a reply to the sealed motion by 6 p.m. to determine “what’s fair” for the defendants’ cross-examination.
Day Nine (May 26)
Berkowitz informed Cooper that Sussmann has opted not to testify.
Cooper asked Sussmann if it was his decision not to take the stand and the defendant stated that it is.
With Sussmann opting not to take the stand and Lichtblau no longer scheduled to testify, the defense rested its case with six witnesses after reading 20 exhibits into evidence. The prosecution offered no rebuttal.
Cooper instructed both parties to give closing arguments the following day.
A series of on-record and off-record conferences ensued through much of the morning. There was a discussion before Cooper about redacting from the record comments already heard last week by the jury by Baker.
Those comments involved questioning Baker about whether he would have taken the meeting with Sussmann had he known of his relationships with the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Baker said he took the meeting because Sussmann was a friend and well-known in the cyber security community.
Cooper agreed to the prosecution’s request to bring in agents who’ve previously testified to clarify what Baker told them and when he told them what he told them. They would be limited to brief questioning on these specifics.
Despite the judge’s ruling, DeFillipis ultimately opted not to call the agents, instead reading transcripts of their interviews into the record before the jury.
Judge Instructs Jurors
Cooper and both sides discussed what the jury will be instructed to determine in reaching a verdict with the panel only in the room for 13 minutes during the course of the day’s proceedings.
Sussmann was charged with making a false statement “on or about” Sept. 19, 2016. The jury, however, would be asked if he did so “on” Sept. 19.
“It’s ‘on.’ It’s not ‘about,'” Cooper said. “We will take ‘or about’ out of instructions.”
Following conferences in his chambers with attorneys, the judge said, ”There is a discussion about reminding the jury to disregard political views, political leanings, political affiliations.”
Algor said the case was “politically charged” and agreed with the judge. “I am happy to put that in the instructions because it is fairly standard,” Cooper said.
Algor also made a comment about the juror whose daughter competes with Sussmann’s daughter, calling it a “connection with the defendant,” prompting Cooper to say it was not a “personal connection.”
“You learned about one of the juror’s daughters having a connection to his daughter through some team, right?” Cooper said. “No personal connection, just so we’re clear.”
Keilty noted, “This could be termed a politically charged case” but agrees with emphasizing that in jury instructions.
Keilty requested “some kind of language regarding juror nullification would be appropriate” in the instructions because one of the 16 jurors “has a connection with the defendant.”
All parties agreed on the instructions. Court adjourned for the day about mid-afternoon with Cooper instructing attorneys they can begin final arguments Friday at 9 a.m., limiting them to 100 minutes each and warning them that he’s adjourning court by 2:30 p.m. because he has weekend plans.
Day 10 (May 27)
Algor closed the government’s case primarily by tracking Sussmann’s actions billing-by-billing to show he was charging the Clinton campaign for his time while telling the FBI he was a good citizen concerned about national security.
In his 62-minute closing argument, Algor said that Sussmann’s work included going to the FBI with concocted Trump-Russia links, claiming they posed a national security threat.
“It wasn’t about national security. It was about promoting opposition research against the opposition candidate, Donald Trump,” he said.
The evidence shows Sussmann lied about who he was representing—Joffe, the chief technology officer of Neustar, and HFA—when he met with Baker in 2016.
“And why did the defendant do this? Because he knew he had to conceal his representation of the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe to be able to push the Alfa Bank allegations to the FBI,” Algor said.
“He knew that if he told Mr. Baker that he was there on behalf of the Clinton campaign, the chances of the FBI investigation would be diminished. The defendant knew that he had to hide his clients if there was any chance of getting the allegations into the FBI. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the defendant lied,” Algor said.
Algor said Sussmann’s statement to Baker was “false, fictitious, and fraudulent.” It was untrue when it was made, and Sussmann knew it was untrue, Algor said, highlighting how Sussmann used to be a DOJ lawyer.
Algor said the defense claims that while Sussmann was a cyber security lawyer and represented the DNC after its May hack by the Russians, when he met with Baker, “he stepped out of that role” and was a concerned citizen acting on his own volition.
“But look at how defendant bills his time,” Algor said, before noting Sussmann also told CIA agents that he was not acting on behalf of a client, but said the opposite before a congressional panel. A Perkins Coie executive also penned an op-ed saying Sussmann was acting on behalf of a client.
Algor appealed to the jury to “use your common sense.”
“When you look at all the evidence, is the defendant’s statement he was not acting on behalf of a client true? No. The evidence has proven beyond reasonable doubt that Michael Sussmann made a false statement to the FBI on Sept. 19, 2016,” he said.
Defense Makes Its Closing Argument
Berkowitz recalls how magician David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty “disappear” on live TV in 1983.
“How did he do it?’’ Berkowitz asked before answering his own question. He did it by “something called misdirection,” he said, noting while Copperfield was talking on a stage and the curtains were down, “they turned the stage around” and when they were drawn open, the statue was gone because “they were facing New Jersey.”
Berkowitz said that was an amusing stunt, but not so with the DOJ’s “misdirection” about his client. “These are serious charges. Mr. Sussmann’s liberty is at stake. The time for conspiracy theories is over,” he said.
While Sussmann worked with HFA, Joffe, and Fusion, “opposition research is not illegal,” Berkowitz said, noting that Mook testified that it would be “malpractice” for a political campaign not to conduct opposition research.
“Michael Sussmann is a serious national security lawyer. He received what he believed to be credible data from a world-leading DNS expert. “They together provided that data to a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist at the New York Times. The New York Times vetted and decided to run the story. Mr. Sussmann went to the FBI to give them a heads up. He did not ask for anything on behalf of anybody,” Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz mocked the invoices and calendar entries cited as evidence against his client, describing them as cherrypicked and incomplete.
“What’s missing here is a meeting, number one. Look at these records, 401. A meeting is missing, and ‘FBI’ is missing,” he said. “Don’t you think if he went to the FBI on their behalf he would say FBI meeting? Meeting with Jim Baker? Right? Nothing. No proof. Smoke. Mirrors. Noise.”
Berkowitz questioned Baker’s memory, noting he’d said different things at different times in other probes but now, five years later, is “100 percent confident” Sussmann said he wasn’t representing clients when they met at FBI headquarters and spoke for 13 minutes three days later.
Berkowitz claimed that during that call, Sussmann told Baker that he had to check with his client before revealing the name of the reporter who was working on a story. The defense has also claimed Sussmann mentioned a client during the meeting, for which there are no records or notes.
“So here is the real question: What did Mr. Baker and Mr. Sussman talk about on Sept 21 … a 13-minute call. Baker wanted the name of the reporter. I just said it in 10 seconds. What happened in the other 12-and-a-half minutes?” He asked.
Berkowitz claimed Durham’s team essentially bullied agents Gaynor and Heide to amend their memories to dovetail into the team’s narrative because both were facing potential charges themselves in this and related probes.
Berkowitz compared the credibility of the agents under investigation to Sussmann’s 30 years as a national security expert.
“Think about who he is and who they brought against him on behalf of the government,” he said, adding that the bureau’s investigation “was shoddy, an embarrassment” and that the agents involved never interviewed Sussmann or the researchers who compiled the data.
Berkowitz said Durham has no case.
“You wake up in the morning and there’s snow on the ground and you assume it snowed last night. What happened here is the special counsel bought a snow-making machine and blew snow all over the lawn and they want you to think it snowed,” he said.
In a rebuttal, DeFillipis said the defense is the party that is engaged in magic tricks and snow jobs. The government, he said, is simply presenting the facts.
“There are sometimes close cases. This is not a close case. This is not even close to a close case,” he said. “You do have proof beyond reasonable doubt that Sussmann lied to FBI.”
DeFillipis highlighted how Baker testified that Sussmann lied during the meeting, a day after Sussmann sent a text saying he was not acting on behalf of a client.
Sussmann’s defense team is suggesting “‘no harm, no foul’ because everybody at the FBI knew that Mr. Sussmann was a DNC lawyer … [and] working for the Clinton campaign,” DeFillipis told the jury. But that was “the motive for his lie,” the prosecutor argued.
DeFillipis also challenged claims that the Clinton campaign did not want the allegations to go to the FBI because doing so might delay the publication of news stories.
The mere fact that there was an FBI probe into Trump-Russia links would suffice as a publication trigger, DeFillipis said. “Common sense tells you that is exactly what the plan was,” he said, adding Sussmann would not have “acted alone.”
And Sussmann’s lie “did matter,” DeFillipis said, because it helped spur an investigation that took place just weeks before the presidential election.
DeFillipis acknowledged there was bungling by the government.
“The FBI didn’t necessarily do everything right here. There were missed opportunities, they even kept information from themselves,” he said. “That is not relevant. The folks in the field knew it was material.”
DeFillipis finished at 12:50 p.m. and Cooper issued final instructions. The proceedings end with jurors told to return after lunch by 2 p.m to deliberate until 5 p.m. They would then take a long Memorial Day weekend and return on Tuesday.
In the unlikely case there was a verdict Friday, Cooper said it would be “held” until Tuesday because he had to leave for his weekend plans.
Day 11 (May 31)
The jury delivered a verdict of not guilty.
“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service. I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case,” Durham, who declined to speak to reporters outside the courtroom, said in a statement.
Sussmann told reporters that he was “falsely accused” but that “justice ultimately prevailed in my case.”