WASHINGTON (AP) — The prosecutor tasked with examining the U.S. government's investigation into Russian election interference charged a prominent cybersecurity lawyer on Thursday with making a false statement to the FBI five years ago.
The indictment accuses Michael Sussmann of hiding that he was working with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign during a September 2016 conversation he had with the FBI’s general counsel, when he relayed concerns from cybersecurity researchers about potentially suspicious contacts between a Russian bank and a Trump Organization server. The FBI looked into the matter but ultimately found no evidence of a secret back channel.
That deception mattered because it “deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it to more fully assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of Sussmann's clients,” according to the indictment filed by special counsel John Durham and his team of prosecutors.
Sussmann's lawyers said their client was charged because of “politics, not facts.”
“The Special Counsel appears to be using this indictment to advance a conspiracy theory he has chosen not to actually charge. This case represents the opposite of everything the Department of Justice is supposed to stand for. Mr. Sussmann will fight this baseless and politically-inspired prosecution,” attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement.
The case against Sussmann is just the second prosecution brought by Durham in two and a half years of work. Both involve false statements, yet neither undoes the core finding of an earlier investigation by Robert Mueller that Russia had interfered in sweeping fashion on behalf of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and that the Trump campaign welcomed that aid.
The indictment also lays bare the wide-ranging and evolving nature of Durham's investigation. In addition to having scrutinized the activities of FBI and CIA officials during the early days of the Russia probe, it has also looked at the behavior of private individuals like Sussman who provided the U.S. government with information as it scrambled to determine whether Trump associates were coordinating with Russia to tip the election's outcome.
The indictment concerns a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting at FBI headqu