WASHINGTON—Hillary Clinton greenlighted the plan to give allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to a reporter ahead of the 2016 election, Clinton's campaign manager testified in federal court on May 20.
“We told her we have this and we want to share it with a reporter. She agreed to that," former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said.
The allegations purportedly showed a secret back channel between Trump's business and Russia's Alfa Bank.
Several stories were published about the claims on Oct. 31, 2016. Hours later, 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.
Neither she nor Jake Sullivan, a top campaign official and currently the White House national security adviser, mentioned that the allegations were passed to the media by her campaign.
The allegations stemmed from Rodney Joffe, a technology executive who hoped to score a position in the government if Clinton won the election; researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for the campaign who's on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI.
“I thought that if there was a news account of the allegations,” it would “benefit the campaign,” Elias said.
Both Sussmann and operatives with Fusion GPS, a firm tapped by the Clinton campaign, worked to seed stories about Trump and Alfa Bank in media outlets, succeeding when Slate and The New York Times published stories that remain largely uncorrected to this day.
Mook said he was briefed by Elias on the claims, which he was told came from people with expertise in cyber matters. He doesn't recall being told any names and said campaign officials didn't have the subject matter expertise to judge the validity of the claims themselves. He spoke with Sullivan and John Podesta, another campaign official, about spreading the allegations to media outlets.
Mook said the campaign didn't immediately act on the allegations because of worries that they weren't credible. Officials ultimately decided, despite not being "totally confident" in the allegations, to give them to a reporter so that the reporter could "run it down."
"Our hope was they were going to run it down, that it would be substantive, and accurate," he said.
A campaign staffer with the campaign's press department, whose name Mook couldn't recall, conveyed the allegations to the press.
Mook said he couldn't recall exactly when Clinton approved the move.
“All I can remember is she agreed with the decision. She thought we made the right decision," he said.
Separately, in late September 2016, Sussmann handed over white papers outlining the allegations regarding Trump and the Russian bank and thumb drives with data purportedly supporting them to the FBI, a move that Elias and Mook both say wasn't cleared by the campaign.
Mook said he was "not aware" if Clinton approved Sussmann's meeting. “I don’t know why" she would do so, he said.
Sussmann is on trial because he allegedly told then-FBI General Counsel James Baker he wasn't bringing the information on behalf of any client.
Both the FBI and CIA determined that the allegations were unsupported by the data, although that fact wasn't made public until this year through filings by Durham's team.