A Washington attorney who specializes in cybersecurity issues has been indicted for allegedly lying to the FBI ahead of the 2016 election in a conversation about possible ties between Donald Trump and Russia.
Michael Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor who works at a law firm with longstanding links to the Democratic party, is the second individual to be charged in special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe.
Sussmann is facing a single false statements count in connection with a conversation he had with the FBI general counsel in September 2016. In that meeting, Sussman shared information about possible ties between a Kremlin-linked Russian lender, Alfa Bank, and a computer server at the Trump Organization.
The indictment alleges that Sussmann told the general counsel, Jim Baker, that he wasn’t passing the information along at the behest of any client. But the prosecutors allege he was providing the materials on behalf of a technology industry executive and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
That lie mattered, the indictment says, because it misled the FBI and deprived it 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 Susmann’s clients.”
Sussmann was asked by congressional investigators in 2017 about this episode with Baker.
Sussmann testified that he passed the information along on behalf of a client, who is a cybersecurity expert. Sussmann said he didn’t have a specific request for the FBI, he just wanted the bureau to be aware of the information.
In separate congressional testimony, Baker told lawmakers that Sussmann told him “that he had cyber experts that had obtained some information that they thought they should get into the hands of the FBI.”
The mysterious computer communications became the subject of several news articles in the fall of 2016. The FBI and congressional investigators both examined the pings between the computer systems and determined they were innocuous.
Sussmann works on cybersecurity and privacy issues at Perkins Coie. The law firm’s political law group represented Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign and has long provided counsel to the Democratic National Committee.
Durham was tapped in 2019 then-Attorney General William Barr to look into the genesis of the FBI’s investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. So far, only one other individual—a former low-level FBI attorney named Kevin Clinesmith—has been charged in the investigation.
Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to doctoring an email that was used to get surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser, was sentenced to one year of probation.