FBI agent in Sussmann trial: Leadership continued investigation despite unsubstantiated claims
FBI agent Curtis Heide testified that he's also under investigation by Special Counsel John Durham
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
FBI agent Curtis Heide testified Tuesday in the Michael Sussmann trial that his only option regarding the allegations about Russia's Alfa Bank was to open an investigation since he was told by the bureau's headquarters to do so.
By early October 2016, less than two weeks after the investigation was opened, the allegations that there was a secret communications channel to the Kremlin between the bank and the Trump Organization already appeared to be unsubstantiated in light of the evidence, Heide testified in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Sussmann, a 2016 Clinton campaign lawyer and former private attorney, is on trial on trial on the charge he lied to the FBI in September 2016 by saying he came to the bureau as a concerned citizen with information showing a communications between the Trump Organization and bank as a back channel to the Kremlin.
Special Counsel John Durham has presented evidence – just weeks before Election Day for Clinton and Donald Trump – that show Sussmann, also a former federal prosecutor and Democratic National Committee lawyer, was in fact representing the Clinton campaign and then-Neustar tech firm executive Rodney Joffe.
Sussmann pitched the allegations to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker on Sept. 19, 2016. Two days after Baker received the allegations, 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 the Trump Organization email servers and that not opening an investigation was not an option.
Heide, who is also under investigation by Durham, helped opened the Alfa Bank investigation on Sept. 23, 2016, about a week after Sussmann brought evidence to Baker, as part of the larger Trump-Russia collusion plot that has since been debunked.
Heide testified in court that he's under investigation for not turning over exculpatory evidence related to the collusion plot, the origins of which Durham is trying to unravel.
According to an Oct. 3, 2016, email from Heide, who was part of the Chicago FBI branch at the time, he wanted to interview the anonymous source who provided the information about the alleged collusion.
The email, sent just weeks before Clinton-Trump Election Day, stated he wanted to conduct the interview because the investigation was reaching a logical conclusion as the allegations appeared to be unsubstantiated.
Heide also testified Tuesday that he had questions regarding a document the FBI received that was related to the investigation and wanted to interview the source. However, he never learned the source of the data in the paper nor the identity of the white paper author. Instead, he was told in an email from FBI agent Ryan Gaynor that interviewing the white paper author was being discussed at headquarters and to keep working on the data logs.
On Oct. 19, 2016, Heide was asked for a summary of the investigation, which wasn't closed until January 2017, in part due to an administrative issue regarding who to return the thumb drives to that had the data for the allegations.
The trial has been scheduled to end Friday, after two weeks. Susssman has pleaded not guilty to the single charge of lying and faces up to five years in prison if found guilty by jurors.
Court proceedings began Tuesday with testimony from ex-FBI Principal Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson, who said she doesn't recall knowing that Sussmann represented a client when he pushed the Trump-Russia collusion plot to the bureau in 2016.
The testimony was critical to the case, considering Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI in not disclosing he was representing clients.
Anderson was a deputy who worked under Baker when Sussmann provided the data for allegations.
During initial questioning by the prosecution, Anderson testified that prior to the Alfa Bank allegation she had interacted with Sussmann regarding litigation against the FBI that he was part of on behalf of a client.
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