Ex-FBI top lawyer Baker confirms Sussmann said in meeting he was not there on client's behalf

What Sussmann said to Baker in 2016 meeting is at center of Durham case.

Published: May 18, 2022 11:04pm

Updated: May 19, 2022 1:30pm

Former FBI General Counsel James Baker testified in court Thursday that 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann told him he was not representing any client when he brought him allegations of a secret Kremlin communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia's Alfa Bank.

Special Counsel John Durham has charged Sussmann with lying to the FBI when he allegedly told Baker in September 2016 — weeks before the presidential election — that he was not working on behalf of any client while bringing him the since-debunked allegations.

Baker testified Thursday he was "100% confident" that Sussmann told him he was not acting on behalf of a client. Because of this, Baker protected Sussmann's name when FBI agents took the evidence since he viewed him as a source. However, if Sussmann had come on behalf of a client, Baker said he wouldn't have protected Sussmann's name, just the client. Baker believed Sussmann was bringing this information as a good citizen.

The former top lawyer at the FBI said the agency was already investigating the Trump campaign's potential ties with Russia, so this information was concerning.

Baker also said Sussmann said he got the information from serious cybersecurity experts.

Baker noted that while it was unusual for him — a lawyer, not an agent — to receive material from the public, any FBI employee can take information and tips from the public.

Baker quickly briefed then-Assistant Director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap about the meeting with Sussmann.

Priestap wrote in his notes of the call with Baker that Sussmann was a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee but not giving the information on behalf of any client. Priestap also noted that a news story would with days be published about the allegation and another would be published in three to four weeks.

Then-FBI Principal Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson also had in her notes from Baker's meeting with his deputies that Sussmann gave the information not on behalf of a client.

The trial resumed Thursday with Judge Christopher Cooper denying the defense's request for a mistrial and former FBI General Counsel James Baker returning to the stand.

On Wednesday, Sussmann's legal team filed the mistrial motion after the Clinton campaign's top lawyer, Marc Elias, testified that Sussmann himself would have to be asked whether he went to the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

Sussmann has pled not guilty and has yet to decide whether he will testify.

On Wednesday, the third day of the trial, Baker testified that he understood Sussmann to represent the DNC and Clinton campaign in cyber matters but not political ones.

Baker said he was "not out to get Michael," whom he described as a friend and colleague. Baker underscored that the Durham probe is the prosecution's investigation, not his, as he testified about the text Sussmann sent him to set up the meeting.

The text from Sussmann to Baker on Sept. 18, 2016, reads: "Jim – it's Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I'm coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau. Thanks."

Also on Thursday, one of the jurors told the court that the juror's daughter and Sussmann's daughter are on the same crew team, of about 30 girls. The girls are in different years at school, and the juror has not met any of the Sussmanns.

The prosecution moved to unseat the juror, which the judge denied.

Judge Cooper noted, per the defense's argument, that the connection was not so close that it affects the partiality of the juror.

The judge added the juror wasn't aware of the connection when filling out the juror questionnaire, informed the court upon learning the information, and assured the court the connection wouldn't prejudice the juror.

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