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It is said that Durham is seeking prosecution for a lawyer at a firm with democratic ties

It is said that Durham is seeking prosecution for a lawyer at a firm with democratic ties

WASHINGTON – John H. Durham, the special adviser appointed by the Trump administration to investigate the investigation in Russia, has told the Justice Department that he will ask a grand jury to indict a prominent cybersecurity lawyer on charges of having filed a false statement to the FBI, said people who know the case.

Any accusation against the lawyer – Michael Sussmann, a former federal lawyer and now a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie, who represented the Democratic National Committee on issues related to Russia’s hacking of its servers in 2016 – is likely to attract significant political attention.

Donald J. Trump and his supporters have long accused Democrats and Perkins Coie – whose political group, a division separate from Mr. Sussmanns, represented the party and the Hillary Clinton campaign – to seek to arouse unjustified suspicion of Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.

The case against Mr. Sussmann concentrates on the question of who his client was when he conveyed certain suspicions about Mr. Trump and Russia to the FBI in September 2016. Among other things, investigators have investigated whether Sussmann secretly worked for the Clinton campaign – which he denies.

An indictment is not a security: In rare cases, large juries reject prosecutors’ requests. But Mr Sussmann’s lawyers, Sean M. Berkowitz and Michael S. Bosworth of Latham & Watkins, admitted on Wednesday that they expected him to be prosecuted, while denying that he made a false statement.

“Mr Sussmann has not committed any crime,” they said. “Sussmann is charged, he will win the trial and confirm his good name.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who has the authority to override Mr Durham but is said to have declined, did not comment. Nor a spokesman for Mr Durham.

The accusation against Sussmann focuses on a meeting he had on September 19, 2016 with James A. Baker, who at the time was the FBI’s top lawyer, according to the people familiar with the case. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

Due to a five-year limitation period for such cases, Durham has one weekend this weekend to charge for activity from that date.

At the meeting, Mr Sussmann shared data and analysis from cybersecurity researchers who believed that unequal internet data could be evidence of a hidden communication channel between computer servers affiliated with the Trump organization and with Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-affiliated Russian financial institution.

The FBI eventually decided that these concerns had no merit. The special lawyer who later took over the investigation in Russia, Robert S. Mueller III, ignored the case in his final report.

Sussmann’s lawyers have told the Justice Department that he sought the meeting because he and cybersecurity researchers believed The New York Times was on the verge of publishing an article on Alfa Bank data and he wanted to give the FBI a head-up. (In fact, The Times was not ready to run this article, but published one mentioning Alfa Bank six weeks later.)

Mr. Durham has used a grand jury to investigate the Alfa Bank episode and appeared to be looking for evidence that the data had been cherry-picked or the analysis of it deliberately skewed, The New Yorker and other businesses have reported. To date, there has been no public evidence that he has found such evidence.

But Mr. Durham apparently found an inconsistency: Mr. Baker, the former FBI attorney, is said to have told investigators that he reminded Mr. Sussmann that he did not meet him on behalf of a client. But in a 2017 congressional submission, Sussmann testified that he sought the meeting on behalf of an unnamed client who was a cybersecurity expert and had helped analyze the data.

In addition, it is said that internal invoicing records, which Durham is said to have obtained from Perkins Coie, show that when Sussmann logged certain hours as work on the Alfa Bank case – but not the meeting with Mr Baker – he invoiced the time for Mrs Clinton’s campaign in 2016.

Another partner at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, then served as attorney general for the Clinton campaign. Mr. Elias, who did not respond to inquiries, left Perkins Coie last month.

In their attempt to avert any indictment, it is said that Mr Sussmann’s lawyers have insisted that their client represented the cybersecurity expert he mentioned to Congress and was not there on behalf of or in the direction of the Clinton campaign.

They are also said to have argued that the invoicing records are misleading because Mr Sussmann does not charge his client for work on the Alfa Bank case, but should show internally that he was working on something. He discussed the matter with Mr Elias, and the campaign paid a fixed monthly balance to the firm, so Mr Sussmann’s hours did not result in additional costs, they said.

Last October, when Mr Durham reset in the Alfa Bank case, the researcher who brought these concerns to Mr Sussmann hired a new lawyer, Steven A. Tyrrell.

Tyrrell said on condition that The New York Times did not name his client in this article, citing fears of harassment, and said his client believed Sussmann represented him at the meeting with Mr. Baker.

“My client is an apolitical cybersecurity expert with a history in public service who felt obligated to share sensitive information with law enforcement that DNS experts had given him,” Tyrrell said, referring to the “Domain Name System” part of how the Internet works and which generated the data that was the basis of Alfa Bank’s concerns.

Tyrrell added: “He sought legal advice from Michael Sussmann, who had previously advised him on independent matters, and Sussmann shared this information with the FBI on his behalf. He did not know that Sussmann’s law firm had a relationship with the Clinton campaign and was simply doing the right thing. ”

Supporters of Mr. Trump has long been distrustful of Perkins Coie. On behalf of the Democrats, Mr. Elias commissioned a research firm, Fusion GPS, to investigate Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia. It resulted in the so-called Steele dossier, a notorious compendium of rumors of ties between Trump and Russia. The FBI cited some information from the dossier in failed wiretapping programs.

Some of the questions that Mr Durham’s team has asked in recent months – including from witnesses it has summoned before a grand jury, according to people who know some of the sessions – suggest that he has pursued a theory that The Clinton campaign used Perkins Coie to submit dubious information to the FBI about Russia and Mr. Trump in an attempt to launch investigative activities to harm his 2016 campaign.

Mr. Durham has apparently also weighed some sort of action against Perkins Coie as an organization. Outside attorneys for the firm recently met with the special council team and reviewed the evidence, according to other individuals familiar with their discussions, arguing that it was inadequate for any legal sanction.

The lawyers for Perkins Coie and the firm’s managing partner did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Sussmann and his company have been special targets for Trump and his supporters.

In October 2018, a Wall Street Journal columnist attacked Mr. Sussmann and called him “the point man for the company’s DNC and Clinton campaign accounts”, which apparently disturbed him with Mr. Elias. Perkins Coie responded with a letter to the editor stating that it was not Mr Sussmann’s role and that the named client on whose behalf he spoke to the FBI had “no connection to either the Clinton campaign, the DNC or any other client. in the political law group. “

Four months later, Mr Trump by the name of Sussmann attacked by name in a slightly distorted pair of Twitter posts to try to link him to the Clinton campaign and to the Steele case.

Lawyers for Mr. Sussmann claims the politicizing joke in the Durham investigation and is said to have argued to the Department of Justice that Baker’s recollection was incorrect, insignificant and too weak a basis for a false statement. There were no other witnesses to the conversation, say those who know the case.

In a motion to Congress in 2018, Baker said he did not remember Sussmann “specifically saying he was acting on behalf of a particular client,” but also said Sussmann had told him “he had cyber experts who had obtained some information that they thought should be in the hands of the FBI “

However, Durham’s team is said to have found handwritten notes from another senior FBI official at the time Mr Baker briefed on the conversation with Sussmann, who supports the notion that Sussmann said he was not there on behalf of a client. It is not clear whether such notes would be permissible during the trial under the so-called hearsay rule.

A lawyer for Mr. Baker declined to comment.

Mr. Durham has been under pressure to deliver some results from his many years of investigation, which began when then-State Attorney William P. Barr in 2019 assigned him to investigate the Russia investigation. With no term of office and exile from Twitter, Trump has issued statements smoking: “Where is Durham?”

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