Bombshell: FBI agent testifies 'fired up' leadership pushed Trump probe despite flimsy evidence

FBI agent Curtis Heide testified Tuesday in the Michael Sussmann trial that he learned the Trump-Russia allegation was false within a couple of weeks.

Published: May 24, 2022 6:42pm

Updated: May 24, 2022 11:15pm

In explosive testimony Tuesday in the Michael Sussmann trial, an FBI agent said "fired up" senior FBI leadership insisted on continuing the investigation into now-debunked allegations of a secret Trump back channel to Moscow via a Russian bank despite learning the story was unsubstantiated.

FBI agent Curtis Heide was the co-case agent on the investigation into the allegation that there was a secret communications channel between the Trump Organization and Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank. He testified on Tuesday in the Sussmann trial that the bureau's top brass pushed for the investigation. 

Heide was told in an instant message from FBI Agent Joe Pientka, who was the supervisor leading the Crossfire Hurricane investigation regarding Trump-Russia collusion allegations, that senior leadership was "fired up" about the Alfa Bank and  Trump Organization email servers and not opening an investigation was not an option. He received this message two days after Sussmann met with then-FBI General Counsel James Baker to give him the underlying, allegedly pretextual data. 

Sussmann, a 2016 Clinton campaign lawyer, is on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI in his September 2016 meeting with Baker by saying he was not representing any clients in sharing information purportedly substantiating a Trump Organization back channel to the Kremlin through Alfa Bank. 

Special Counsel John Durham has provided evidence that Sussmann was representing clients at the meeting — both the Clinton campaign and then-Neustar tech firm executive Rodney Joffe.  

Heide testified that he concluded the allegation was unsubstantiated based on the analysis by the FBI cyber division, review of the internet data logs, cybersecurity company Mandiant's independent assessment corroborating the FBI's findings, discussions with Spectrum Health about a TOR (The Onion Router) exit node, and his own training regarding previous Russian cyber investigations. 

By Sept. 26, 2016, Heide believed the allegation was a bunk report. In an Oct. 3 email, he asked to interview the anonymous source who relayed the allegation because he believed the investigation was reaching a logical endpoint as the claims appeared unfounded. 

Despite Heide's supervisor agreeing with him, FBI agent Ryan Gaynor replied in an email chain that interviewing the author of the white paper regarding the internet data was being discussed at headquarters and to keep working on the data logs. Afterwards, Heide's team had additional conversations with Spectrum Health and Mandiant, which had also been hired by Alfa Bank to investigate the allegation. He was asked for an investigative summary on Oct. 19 and had never been able to interview either the source of the data or the author of the white paper. 

Gaynor testified on Monday that the FBI's senior leadership had placed a close-hold on Sussmann's identity as the source, meaning that his name couldn't be revealed. As a result, Gaynor didn't tell the agents working the case that Sussmann was the source. 

Within two weeks of opening the investigation, Heide believed the allegation was unsubstantiated, but FBI headquarters continued to have them investigate. 

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