Durham puts FBI investigators on stand to substantiate materiality of alleged Sussmann lie to bureau

FBI Agent Ryan Gaynor and former FBI Agent Allison Sands testified that clarity regarding source of Trump hotline-to-Kremlin tale could have changed the course of the investigation.

Updated: May 24, 2022 - 12:03am

In the trial of former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann, prosecutors on Monday called two FBI witnesses who testified that clarity regarding the source of allegations of a secret hotline between the Trump Organization and Russia's Alfa Bank would have influenced the bureau's investigative approach to the now-debunked collusion allegations. 

Special Counsel John Durham alleges Sussmann lied to former FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016 when he said he was not representing any clients as he fed the bureau information purportedly revealing a Trump Organization backchannel to Moscow through Russia's Alfa Bank. At the time, Sussmann was a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm and representing the Democratic National Committee and a tech company executive, according to the prosecution.

Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to the charge of making a false statement to the FBI. 

As part of its effort to substantiate the materiality of Sussmann's alleged lie to the FBI, the prosecution brought FBI agent Ryan Gaynor and former FBI agent Allison Sands to the witness stand on Monday. Both were involved in the investigation into the Alfa Bank allegation

Gaynor testified that had he known Sussmann was representing the DNC, he likely would not have volunteered to assist in the investigation. He also said that if Sussmann was paid by the DNC or the Clinton campaign, it might have impacted how the investigation was opened and the close-hold he says was placed on Sussmann's identity, which prevented him from being able to discuss it with the Chicago branch. 

Sands testified that she was informed the investigation began with a referral of information from the Department of Justice. Only later did she find out that the information actually came from then-FBI General Counsel James Baker. After that, she eventually learned that an anonymous third party gave Baker the data. 

Sands said that knowing the source of the information would have helped her assess its credibility. Sands explained that believing the information came from the DOJ gave it more weight than if someone just walked into the FBI with the data. She said that if the information hadn't come through the Justice Department, then she didn't know if it would have triggered a full investigation. 

In cross-examination, the defense attempted to discredit Gaynor's memory regarding whether Sussmann said he was representing the DNC and whether there was a close-hold in place. 

The defense team noted it wasn't until this month that Gaynor said he had the impression that Sussmann was not representing the DNC when he provided the Alfa Bank allegation. In his prior meetings with the government, Gaynor had said he didn't know either way whether Sussmann was representing the DNC. 

Under cross-examination and also in his grand jury testimony, Gaynor said that the close-hold ultimately wouldn't have affected the investigation because the FBI couldn't overtly interview the DNC so close to the election. 

Sands said during cross-examination that FBI headquarters told her they were working on letting the Chicago field office interview the source of the data, but that she was told to focus on the data they could get from the logs. The Chicago office was never told they could interview the source of the data or the white paper author. She added that being able to interview the source would have helped make her job easier instead of having to rebuild the data from scratch to verify the allegation. 

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