The “technology executive” in special counsel John Durham’s false statement charge against Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann is mounting a defense of the widely refuted claims he made in 2016 that there was a secret backchannel between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.
Rodney Joffe, a former senior vice president of Neustar, was identified as “Tech Executive-1” in Durham’s indictment, and he features prominently in the criminal case against Sussmann. Joffe’s lawyer sent a letter to Durham and Attorney General Merrick Garland last week, and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow touted the letter as the beginning of a “boomerang” back against Durham and former Attorney General William Barr.
The grand jury indictment against Sussmann centers on a September 2016 meeting between him and then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in which Sussmann passed along Trump-Russia allegations stemming from Joffe and other computer scientists. Although Durham alleged Sussmann told Baker he was not working for any specific client, the special counsel contends Sussmann was secretly doing the bidding of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and working on behalf of Joffe. Sussmann pleaded not guilty.
Maddow was dismissive of Durham’s charge against Sussmann on Friday, calling it “inexplicable.” She then mounted a defense of the computer scientists behind the Alfa Bank claims.
“Here comes that effort boomeranging back at them, because it turns out that you can drag these folks through the mud, you can ruin their lives, you can smear them with allegations that you never intend to prove — that they were somehow bad faith actors here doing bad things to Donald Trump and the Russians — but these people can defend themselves too,” Maddow said, adding, “What they are willing to say out loud is that not only was it absolutely the right thing to do to hand over that stuff to the FBI when they discovered it back in 2016, but also, this is kind of a real story. The connections between the Trump servers and the Alfa Bank servers were real.”
The FBI has refuted these claims.
Maddow shared excerpts from a letter by Joffe’s lawyer, Steven Tyrrell, who said Joffe and the other computer scientists involved had “unanimously concluded that the data reflected the existence of a covert communication channel” between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. Terrell, who was the chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section from 2006 to 2009, added that the researchers still “maintain that this conclusion is supported by the data.”
The Durham indictment said Sussmann, Joffe, and Democratic lawyer Marc Elias “coordinated and communicated about the Russian Bank-1 allegations during telephone calls and meetings, which Sussmann billed to the Clinton Campaign” during the 2016 election.
Durham’s office said Joffe “exploited his access to non-public data at multiple internet companies.” The special counsel contended that Joffe also tasked university researchers with mining internet data to establish “an inference” and “narrative” to tie Trump to Russia, which Durham says Joffe believed would please certain “VIPs.”
Shortly after Clinton’s loss to Trump in November 2016, Joffe said in an email, “I was tentatively offered the top [cybersecurity] job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.”
The Joffe defense lawyer’s letter to Garland and Durham cited a number of alleged emails from the researchers and added, “These contemporaneous communications evince the researchers’ good faith belief that … there was a covert communications channel.” Tyrrell did not respond to the Washington Examiner’s request to view the full letter.
When asked about the Alfa Bank claims during House Intelligence Committee testimony in July 2019, then-special counsel Robert Mueller said, “Just because I believe it’s not true doesn’t mean it would not be investigated. It may well have been investigated, although my belief at this point is that it’s not true.” Mueller’s report “did not establish” any criminal collusion between Trump and Russia.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote in his December 2019 report that “the FBI investigated whether there were cyber links between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, but had concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links.” Horowitz also criticized the Justice Department and the FBI in December 2019 for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s reliance on British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s Democratic-funded and discredited dossier.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s August 2020 report concluded, “Based on the FBI’s assessment, the Committee did not find that the DNS activity reflected the existence of substantive or covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel.”
The senators received letters dated March and July 2018 from a lawyer representing Alfa Bank who said the organization hired cyber response firm Mandiant, which “had found no evidence of substantive communications between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.” The report said they were told Mandiant’s “working hypothesis is that the activity was caused by a marketing or spam campaign directed at Alfa Bank employees by a marketing server affiliated with the Trump Organization.”
The special counsel’s September 2021 press release reiterated, “the FBI ultimately determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel.”
Alfa Bank said then that the claims were “patently false.” The bank claimed in March 2017 that it “believes that these malicious attacks are designed to create the false impression that Alfa Bank has a secretive relationship with the Trump Organization.”