How the Sussmann trial revealed Hillary Clinton’s role in the Alfa Bank scandal
The trial of former Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann crossed a critical threshold Friday when a key witness uttered the name “Hillary Clinton” in conjunction with a plan to spread the false Alfa Bank Russian collusion claim before the 2016 presidential election.
For Democrats and many in the media, Hillary Clinton has long held a Voldemort-like status as “She who must not be named” in scandals. Yet, there was her former campaign manager, Robby Mook, telling a jury that Clinton personally approved a plan to spread the claim of covert communications between the Trump organization and the Russian bank. It was one of the most successful disinformation campaigns in American politics, and Mook implicated Clinton as green-lighting the gas-lighting of the electorate.
The mere mention of Clinton’s name sent shockwaves through Washington. In past scandals, the Clintons have always evaded direct responsibility as aides were investigated or convicted, from the Whitewater land dealings to cattle futures. Even when long-sought documents in Whitewater were discovered outside of the family quarters and bearing Hillary Clinton’s fingerprints, Washington quickly moved on.
Clinton was not supposed to be the object of the Sussmann trial, because Judge Christopher Cooper, an Obama appointee, issued a series of orders limiting the scope of the trial and its evidence. The orders were viewed as “spar[ing] the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee … potential embarrassment.”
Yet, even after winning such limiting orders, it was the defense that called Mook to the stand — out of order, in the midst of the prosecution’s case, because he was scheduled to leave on vacation — and he proceeded to confirm that Clinton herself approved of the tactic.
It was Washington’s worst-kept but least-acknowledged secret.
On July 28, 2016, then-CIA Director John Brennan briefed President Obama on Hillary Clinton’s alleged plan to tie Donald Trump to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.” Obama reportedly was told how Clinton allegedly approved “a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”
Thus, Mook testified that Clinton did precisely what Brennan warned Obama was being planned.
The date of Brennan’s warning is important: It was three days before the FBI’s collusion investigation began. It also was a couple of months before Sussmann contacted then-FBI general counsel Jim Baker while claiming he was not representing any client. (He was counsel to the Clinton campaign and, according to prosecutors, billed the meeting time to the campaign.)
There is a strikingly familiar pattern in both the Steele dossier — which became the basis for the Russia collusion investigation — and the Alfa Bank tale. Campaign associates developed both claims while actively seeking to conceal their connections from the public and the government, including reportedly denying the funding of the Steele dossier and concealing that funding as legal costs.
The campaign then pushed these unfounded claims to the media and the FBI. Indeed, prosecutors this week contended that Sussmann continued to push the Alfa Bank claims after Trump was elected, in an apparent effort to fuel the Russia collusion claims being breathlessly reported in the media at the time.
When Clinton allegedly approved this effort, at least some people connected to her campaign were aware that the Alfa Bank theory was never viewed as credible by researchers tasked with supporting it. Those researchers had warned that it would be easy to “poke several holes” in the claim, according to prosecutors, and that the data could be seen as “a red herring.” Yet, trial witnesses admitted that they hoped the media would make the claims stick.
Despite a record of Clinton associates pushing unfounded allegations to the FBI on both the Steele dossier and Alfa Bank, Mook and another witness, Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias, insisted they preferred to use the media for such efforts. The campaign found a conduit in one liberal magazine, for example, whose story was then cited as a “bombshell” report, as if the campaign had had nothing to do with it.
For her part, Clinton not only approved using the Alpha Bank claim but helped to portray it as an established fact, tweeting: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
That claim was then further amplified by one of her campaign advisers, Jake Sullivan, who now serves as President Biden’s national security adviser. Sullivan declared at the time: “This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow. Computer scientists have uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” Sullivan added that he could “only assume federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.”
As the FBI’s Baker and other witnesses told jurors this week, there was in fact “nothing there.”
Months after approving the Alpha Bank strategy, Clinton called in December 2016 to censor opponents whom she accused of spreading falsehoods to try to influence elections. She declared that “it’s now clear that so-called ‘fake news’ can have real-world consequences.” Indeed, Clinton has pushed for state and corporate censorship while demanding a “global reckoning” with those who spread disinformation. Of course, Sussmann could still face the real consequence of conviction given the strength of the evidence against him. Yet, there will likely not be consequences — let alone a “reckoning” — for Hillary Clinton.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.