Special Counsel John Durham’s team finally got former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias on the stand on Wednesday in the trial of his former partner, Michael Sussmann. Sussmann is on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI — telling them about the debunked Alfa Bank “connections” to the Trump campaign — but denying that he was working for a client when, according to Durham, he was representing the Clinton campaign and tech executive, Rodney Joffe.
As we previously reported, the prosecution intended to call some big names for its case, including former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias, who was a partner with Sussmann in the law firm, Perkins Coie at the time.
Elias testified on Wednesday for the prosecution. He admitted that they were working for the Clinton campaign, and had engaged Fusion GPS to get dirt on President Donald Trump. He also admitted that he had briefed Clinton campaign officials about the information that they had acquired. Elias also testified that Fusion was also working for the DNC in relation to its work for the Clinton campaign.
Elias said that he dealt mainly with Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, but he also spoke with campaign chair John Podesta, campaign spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri, and campaign policy director Jake Sullivan, who is now Joe Biden’s national security adviser. He said that the Clinton campaign was aware that they were looking into Trump-Russia-related issues — that all four of those Clinton operatives knew as well as the cyber, tech, operations and the legal departments.
Elias said he had spoken with Hillary Clinton “infrequently” and was involved in meetings where she may have been present.
Elias said they had put out a public statement about the Alfa Bank allegations shortly before the election. That was in October and Hillary Clinton herself spread the false story on Twitter.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 31, 2016
Clinton also shared a statement from Jake Sullivan, which stated: “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 said the “secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.” [….]
Sullivan added that they “can 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.”
That last part is fascinating because of how Sussmann had passed the false story on to the FBI. Elias tried to downplay the concept of passing things on to the FBI earlier than October and distance himself from that action.
“What makes an October surprise useful is not just that it comes in October, but essentially, that it comes too late in the campaign process to un-do it,” Elias said. “Usually something comes in the second half of October where the media is landing something that is both explosive and effectively too late to rebut.”
Except they can’t dispute that Sussmann did try to pass it on to the FBI.
They also had an active effort to pass the information onto the media, as the Durham team showed during their questioning of Laura Seago.
Laura Seago, a Fusion employee, also testified that she met with Marc Elias, Sussmann, another Fusion colleague, and Rodney Joffe about the allegations of communications between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. She then met with journalist Franklin Foer on the allegations. She said they certainly hoped he would publish an article.
The judge in the Sussmann case previously concluded that Fusion didn’t just provide information to Elias.
Cooper added: “But the record before the Court establishes that Fusion did more in connection with the Alfa Bank allegations than simply provide information and analysis to Mr. Elias so that he could better advise the Campaign on defamation risk. … It is clear that Fusion employees also interacted with the press as part of an affirmative media relations effort by the Clinton Campaign.”
Elias said it was fair to say that they didn’t want the public to know that they were working with Fusion on this.
The prosecution used Elias to show multiple calendar entries and that the work was done for the Clinton campaign.
One calendar meeting invite scheduled for July 26 was sent to Sussmann and Nichols with the subject “Marc/Michael/Fusion team,” the category “Clinton,” and the expected attendees being Elias and Sussmann. A billing record authored by Sussmann said the client for that meeting was the Clinton campaign and the subject “General Political Advice,” while the description was “[redaction] meeting with M. Elias, others regarding [redacted] and confidential project [redaction].”
Another Aug. 12 invite from Nichols to Sussmann had the subject line “Meeting with Rodney,” with the location being Elias’s office. He claimed he didn’t recall that meeting. A billing record by Sussmann for that date listed the client as the Clinton campaign and said it was about “Confidential meetings with M. Elias, others.”
Elias said he remembered meeting with and talking with Joffe but repeatedly denied remembering exactly when. He claimed that his memory of 2016 is “very fuzzy.”
Another email from Nichols to a Lisa Patel of Neustar said, “Michael Sussmann and Marc Elias would like to set up a 30-minute telephone conference with Rodney (on his cell) for Wednesday, August 17th.” A meeting invite reflected the same, and a Sussmann billing record for the day described a “telephone conference with R. Joffe, M. Elias” and billed it to Clinton. Elias would only say that “I generally recall talking to Rodney on the phone at some point.”
He said he considered his work with Sussmann and Joffe on the Alfa-Bank claims to be part of his Clinton campaign work.
The Sussmann attorneys did melt down at one point in the trial when Elias was being asked by the prosecution if Sussmann went to tell the FBI about the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations on behalf of the Clinton campaign. Elias deflected saying that they should ask Sussmann, then subsequently the prosecution brought up Sussmann’s response. Sussmann’s attorney’s claimed that violated his rights and that they were contemplating a mistrial. But Judge Cooper said he was not inclined to agree. So it sounds like that attempt to deflect isn’t going to work out for them.
But however the trial works out regarding Sussmann, we now have the admission on record about the effort to do in Trump and the involvement of Clinton officials in the effort.