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Democratic lawyer Sussmann doesn’t want Steele dossier brought up during Durham trial

John Durham (left) and Christopher Steele (right) are seen.
John Durham (left) and Christopher Steele (right) are seen. (AP Photos)

Democratic lawyer Sussmann doesn’t want Steele dossier brought up during Durham trial

April 05, 07:49 PM April 05, 08:19 PM

The Democratic cybersecurity lawyer charged by special counsel John Durham with lying to the FBI about working for the Clinton campaign doesn’t want British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier brought up at the trial following indications from the special counsel that it will be.

Michael Sussmann was indicted last year on charges of concealing his clients, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and “tech executive” Rodney Joffe, from FBI general counsel James Baker when he pushed since-debunked claims of a secret backchannel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Steele created his now-discredited dossier after being hired by opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was itself hired by Perkins Coie and Marc Elias, the general counsel for Clinton’s campaign.

Durham appears to be building a case that many collusion claims can be sourced back to Democratic operatives or linked to the Clinton campaign.

Sussmann’s lawyers asked a federal judge on Monday to preclude three categories of evidence: the gathering of domain name system data by Joffe and others; the accuracy of that data and conclusions based on it; and “Christopher Steele and information he separately provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (including the so-called ‘Steele Dossier’).”

The defense team argued: “The single false statement charge brought against Mr. Sussmann surely does not flow from the gathering of data, the accuracy of that data, the accuracy of the conclusions based on that data, or any information Mr. Steele may have provided to the FBI.”

The lawyers argued Sussmann did not have “any awareness” that Steele was “separately providing information to the FBI.”

“The Special Counsel has not charged a substantive scheme to defraud the government, nor has he charged a conspiracy to defraud the government,” Sussmann’s lawyers argued. “The manner in which the data was gathered, the objective strength and reliability of that data and/or conclusions drawn from the data, and the information that Christopher Steele separately provided to the FBI all have no bearing on the only crime the Special Counsel chose to charge.”

Sussmann’s lawyers said that during a phone conference last month, Durham indicated that “he intends to introduce evidence and argument pertaining to reports and information” that Steele provided to the FBI, adding that Durham “presumably” intends to call Steele as a witness.

DURHAM SAYS SUSSMANN PUT HIS LIE TO THE FBI IN WRITING

The defense team argued the dossier is “not relevant” to Sussmann’s case and that allowing evidence related to Steele “would invite a distracting and highly prejudicial mini-trial on a fraught topic with no connection to the charge in this matter.”

Elias, who launched his own Elias Law Group last year, hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which in turn hired Steele in 2016. Elias testified that he was aware of Fusion GPS’s plans to have Steele brief reporters about his anti-Trump research during the 2016 contest, met with Steele during the 2016 contest, and periodically briefed the campaign about the findings from Fusion and Steele. Elias coordinated with Sussmann on anti-Trump research in 2016.

Durham said in his own Monday filing that the special counsel team expects the evidence at trial will show that, beginning in late July and early August 2016, Sussmann, Joffe, and “agents of the Clinton campaign” were “acting in concert toward a common goal,” which he described as “assembling and disseminating the Russian Bank-1 allegations and other derogatory information about Trump and his associates to the media and the U.S. government.”

The special counsel said “evidence will show” that Joffe “commenced a project in coordination with” Sussmann and Perkins Coie to support an “inference” and “narrative” tying Trump to Russia, pointing to multiple calendar entries from August 2016 showing that Joffe had meetings or conference calls with Sussmann and Elias.

Durham said Joffe also began tasking his own employees and associates with mining and assembling internet data that would support an “inference” or “narrative” tying Trump to Russia, with the tech executive stating in emails that the goal was to please “VIPs” — apparently referring to Sussmann, Elias, and the Clinton campaign.

He referred to this as a “joint venture” and laid out evidence that Sussmann “took further steps to integrate the Russian Bank-1-related allegations into the Clinton Campaign’s opposition research efforts,” which included details about Steele.

Durham wrote that in the summer of 2016, Sussmann met Steele and Fusion GPS in Perkins Coie’s offices.

The special counsel wrote: “Although the defendant testified before Congress that the purpose of the meeting was to ‘vet’ U.K. Person-1 for the Clinton Campaign given the defendant’s knowledge of national security matters, U.K. Person-1 has testified under oath in the United Kingdom that, during the meeting, the defendant told him at the meeting about the Russian Bank-1 allegations.”

Durham added that Steele testified that after that meeting, Fusion GPS tasked him with researching and producing reports on Alfa-Bank, which he did.

Steele testified in a British court that Sussmann provided him with other claims about Alfa Bank’s purported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a late July 2016 meeting. These allegations made their way into a September 2016 memo that became part of the dossier.

“According to U.S. government records and public information, U.K. Person-1 also later provided the substance of the Russian Bank-1 allegations to personnel from the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Investigative Firm provided such information to an official at the U.S. Department of Justice,” Durham wrote. “Law firm billing records reflect that after providing the Russian Bank-1 allegations to the media, the defendant apprised Campaign Lawyer-1 of his efforts who, in turn, appears to have communicated with the Clinton Campaign’s senior leadership concerning these issues.”

Durham’s team revealed in January that Elias had testified before the grand jury. Sussmann’s team said in March it objected to the Durham prosecution request to ask the jury pool about “the Clinton Campaign and/or the Democratic National Committee’s promotion of the Trump/Russia collusion narrative.”

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Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz criticized the FBI in his December 2019 report for 17 “significant errors or omissions” — including reliance on Steele’s discredited dossier.

Steele pushed the claim that Alfa-Bank was a secret conduit between Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Kremlin during an early October 2016 meeting with State Department figures Jonathan Winer and Kathleen Kavalec. Steele also told DOJ official Bruce Ohr in late September 2016 the Alfa-Bank server was a link to the Trump campaign.

Igor Danchenko, a U.S.-based and Russian-born analyst, was charged in Durham’s investigation with making false statements to the FBI about his sources of information for Steele’s discredited dossier, including the role longtime Clinton ally Charles Dolan played in supplying at least the basis of certain claims. Danchenko pleaded not guilty.

The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee were recently fined by the FBI over their financial filings related to Fusion GPS. Steele continues to defend his dossier.

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