Mook: Clinton OK'd shopping Trump-Alfa Bank story to press, though campaign not 'totally confident'

Revelation by former 2016 Hilary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook came during cross-examination in trial of Clinton 2016 campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann

Updated: May 20, 2022 - 5:00pm

Former 2016 Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Friday in the trial of former campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann that nominee Hillary Clinton approved taking the allegation of a covert Trump Organization-Alfa Bank hotline to the press.

The trial of Sussmann, a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer, began its fifth day on Friday with his defense lawyers cross-examining prosecution witness former FBI General Counsel James Baker for a second day, followed by the defense bringing its first witness, Mook, out of turn.

Special Counsel John Durham last year charged Sussmann with lying to the FBI when he allegedly told Baker that he was not working on behalf of any client while providing him with since-debunked allegations about a secret communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia's Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank. 

Durham says Sussmann was working at the time on behalf of two clients, the Clinton campaign and then-Neustar tech firm executive Rodney Joffe. 

Sussmann is pleading not guilty to the charge. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

Mook, who is a witness for the defense, gave his testimony during the prosecution's case due to scheduling conflicts. He testified during cross-examination that Clinton approved of going to the media with the allegation of a secret hotline linking the Trump Organization with Alfa Bank.

The former Clinton campaign manager said he then authorized a campaign staffer to go to the press with the story. Mook admitted that the campaign wasn't "totally confident" in the allegation and decided to give the information to a reporter so they could look into it and decide whether to publish it. He claimed that he didn't view this as an "October surprise," a term that he called a "myth."

On cross-examination by the prosecution, Mook was asked what the date was of Clinton's tweet of the campaign statement in response to the Slate article on the Alfa Bank allegation. He said it was Oct. 31, 2016.

Mook said that he learned of the allegation from Perkins Coie law partner Mark Elias, whom the campaign had retained as outside general counsel. He added that he didn't know of Sussmann during the course of the campaign nor that Perkins Coie had engaged Fusion GPS to do opposition research for the campaign.

The 2016 Clinton presidential campaign manager said that he wouldn't have wanted anyone to go the FBI regarding the Trump-Russia allegation, as he didn't trust the bureau following then-FBI Director James Comey's statements about the Clinton email investigation.

The prosecution called two former CIA officers to the witness stand, Mark Chadason and Kevin P.

Sussmann had met with Chadason at the end of January 2017 and Kevin in the beginning of February. During his meeting with Chadason, who was already retired from the CIA by then, he said that he was representing a client who he wouldn't identify except as an engineer with a number of patents, who worked with the intelligence community before, and was a Republican.

Sussmann also told Chadason that his client would go to the New York Times if the CIA wouldn't look into the allegations. He added that his client didn't want to go to the FBI.

However, in his February meeting with Kevin, Sussmann said that he wasn't there on behalf of a client, and that despite his law firm working with the DNC and Clinton, he didn't have any connection with them.

Kevin told Sussmann that he would forward the information to the FBI, and Sussmann said he wouldn't rule out his contact's willingness to speak with the FBI.

Sussmann's lawyer Sean Berkowitz also questioned Baker on Friday about the notes of then-Assistant Director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division, Bill Priestap and then-FBI Principal Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson regarding Baker's meeting with Sussmann.

The defense's cross-examination of Baker on Thursday ended with him saying that Durham didn't threaten him with a charge of lying to the FBI.

The trial is being held in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before Judge Christopher Cooper.