A federal grand jury indicted cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann on Thursday as part of an ongoing inquiry led by Special Counsel John Durham into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. The indictment alleges that Sussmann, whose firm Perkins Coie worked for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, lied to the FBI in a September 2016 meeting.
According to the indictment, Sussmann lied to former FBI general counsel James Baker about potential connections between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which has ties to the Kremlin. Prosecutors claim that he falsely told the FBI that he was not representing a client when he was discussing the alleged connection. Instead, he was representing the Clinton campaign and a technology executive. The Alfa Bank allegation was eventually proven false by FBI investigators, and was not substantial enough to make it into the Mueller report.
“Sussmann’s lie was material,” prosecutors allege, “because, among other reasons, Sussmann’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 Sussmann’s clients.” His attorneys claim he was indicted because of “politics, not facts.”
The charge was announced toward the end of Special Counsel John Durham’s inquiry into the beginning of the Trump-Russia probe, which eventually became the Mueller investigation. According to reporting from CNN, the indictment comes as Durham is “nearing the conclusion of his more than two-year-long probe and faced a looming deadline on whether to seek charges over the handling of evidence used in the probe.” The Durham inquiry was first announced in 2019 by then-Attorney General William Barr, amid frequent calls from former President Donald Trump to investigate the investigation into his campaign’s contacts in Russia. A career prosecutor with the Justice Department, Durham had to resign from his position as a U.S. Attorney to run the inquiry, the third such investigation into the origins of the original Trump-Russia probe.
While Trump and Barr intended for the Durham inquiry to be an election-changing blockbuster, the effort has thus far been a dud, and has reportedly failed to prove allegations by the former attorney general that Trump was unfairly targeted in the initial investigation. If the inquiry is indeed wrapping up before the end of the fiscal year at the end of the month, one charge for an outside attorney lying to a federal official may not be the smoking gun that Barr was looking for.