Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty
Michael Sussman, the attorney charged this week by special counsel John Durham, pleaded not guilty to a charge of making false statements to the FBI in an initial court appearance on Friday.
A federal magistrate judge allowed Sussman, a former partner at the prestigious law firm Perkins Coie, to remain out of jail on a $100,000 bond while awaiting trial with restrictions on his travel.
Durham was tapped by former President Trump to investigate the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
A grand jury indicted Sussman on Thursday. Durham’s office is alleging Sussman lied to the FBI’s general counsel in a 2016 meeting, when the attorney presented evidence of a back channel link between the Trump Organization and the Russian bank Alfa Bank.
The FBI later concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish such a connection.
According to Durham’s prosecutors, Sussman had told the FBI official that he was not representing any particular client when he presented the evidence. The indictment alleges that Sussman was actually representing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and an unnamed tech executive at the time.
Sussman maintains that he was in fact representing a cybersecurity expert who believed that the data indicating a link between Trump and a Russian financial entity was a matter of national security.
Sussman’s attorneys have vowed to fight Durham’s case, dismissing it as a politically motivated prosecution designed to advance Trump’s “conspiracy theory” that the FBI’s 2016 investigation into Russian election interference was a witch hunt.
“In September 2016, Mr. Sussmann met with FBI General Counsel James Baker on behalf of a cyber expert client to inform him that a major news organization was about to run a story about cyber connections between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization and to give him a copy of the information on which that story was based,” attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement Thursday. “Mr. Sussmann met with Mr. Baker because he and his client believed that the information raised national security concerns.”
“Stripped of its political bluster, innuendo, and irrelevant details, what is striking about the allegations in the indictment is how few of them actually relate to the charge the Special Counsel chose to bring,” the attorneys added. “At its core, the Special Counsel is bringing a false statement charge based on an oral statement allegedly made five years ago to a single witness that is unrecorded and unobserved by anyone else. The Department of Justice would ordinarily never bring such a baseless case.”
While the indictment only accuses Sussman of lying about who he was representing in meeting with the FBI, it suggests the lawyer was seeking to prompt an FBI investigation into Trump on behalf of a political rival.
“Sussman’s false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of Sussman’s clients,” the indictment reads.
The attorney’s next court appearance is set for Sept. 22.