Special counsel John Durham is seeking a grand jury indictment against Michael Sussmann, a lawyer aligned with the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton, for making false statements to the FBI, according to reports late Wednesday.
Mr. Sussmann, a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, represented the DNC when Russia hacked its servers in 2016.
The case against Mr. Sussman stems from an alleged false statement to the FBI about a client’s identity when he was pushing now-discredited claims about secret communications between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to The New York Times.During a meeting with former FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016, Mr. Sussmann relayed data and analysis from cybersecurity researchers who claimed that odd internet data was evidence of back-channel communications.
During the meeting, Mr. Sussmann reportedly claimed he was representing a cybersecurity expert, but investigators are probing whether he was secretly working for the Clinton campaign when he made the accusations.
The potential case against Mr. Sussmann is based on an “inconsistency” in the story he told Mr. Baker, The Times reported.
Mr. Baker told investigators he recalled the lawyer telling him that he was not meeting him on behalf of a client, but Mr. Sussmann testified to Congress in December 2017 that he met with the FBI on behalf of the cybersecurity expert.
Time is running out for Mr. Durham to charge Mr. Sussman, as the five-year statute of limitations expires this weekend. There is also no guarantee that a grand jury will return an indictment if asked.
Neither Mr. Durham nor the Justice Department responded to requests for comment from The Washington Times.
Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers denied any wrongdoing in a statement to The New York Times.
“Mr. Sussmann has committed no crime,” they told the outlet, insisting that their client was not meeting with the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
“’Any prosecution would be baseless, unprecedented and an unwarranted deviation from the apolitical and principled way in which the Department of Justice is supposed to do its work,” the lawyers’ statement said.
The FBI concluded there was no merit to the allegations of hush-hush communications between Trump and Alfa Bank. Special counsel Robert Mueller doesn’t mention the claims in his massive report.
Mr. Durham is said to have acquired Perkins Coie’s billing records and found that Mr. Sussmann reportedly charged the time he spent on the Alfa Bank allegations to the Clinton campaign, The Times reported.
However, the hours he spent with Mr. Baker were not part of those billing records, The Times said.
Lawyers for Mr. Sussmann said the billing records are misleading because he was not charging the cybersecurity expert for his work but needed to show the firm internally that he was working on something.
The cybersecurity expert who Mr. Sussmann said he was representing has also hired a lawyer, according to The Times.
Mr. Durham was appointed in May 2019 by then-Attorney General William P. Barr to look for wrongdoing by the FBI and others in the early stages of the Trump-Russia collusion probe.
Initially, Mr. Durham, once the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, was reviewing the case as a federal prosecutor. Mr. Barr elevated him to special counsel in late 2020 so his work could continue uninterrupted under President Biden.
The investigation initially was hailed by former President Donald Trump as critical to getting to the bottom of how the FBI made so many mistakes in its Russia investigation.
By the probe’s second anniversary in May, it became popular among conservatives to mock it. Mr. Trump and other conservatives accused Mr. Durham of disappearing without uncovering anything.
The Durham probe so far has produced a single criminal charge against former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted to altering an email related to the surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Clinestmith was sentenced to 12 months probation and 400 hours of jail time.