FBI agent grilled in Sussmann trial about changing story on whether defendant represented DNC

Sussmann faces one charge of allegedly lying to the FBI in September 2016.
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FBI seal in DC headquarters in 2007
FBI seal in DC headquarters in 2007
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Image)

FBI agent Ryan Gaynor told defense attorneys Monday in the trial of 2016 Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann that he didn't think the defendant was representing any client when he came to the bureau just weeks before Election Day with information he alleged showed Trump-Russia collusion.

Gaynor's testimony followed him telling prosecutors in meetings prior to the trial and during questioning on Monday that he was unsure about whether Sussmann was representing a client or clients.

Sussmann has been charged by Special Counsel John Durham with lying to the FBI in September 2016 when he said he was not representing any clients as he gave information to the bureau that he said showed the Trump Organization had a backchannel to Moscow through Russia's Alfa Bank.

Defense attorneys on Monday sought to attack Gaynor's credibility, attempting to show that he flip-flopped on whether he thought Sussmann brought the Alfa Bank tale to the FBI as a good citizen or on behalf of clients. 

Sussmann at the time was a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm and was representing the Democratic National Committee and a tech company executive, according to the prosecution. He has pled not guilty to the charge of lying.

Gaynor said that he had not been asked by the special counsel during his late 2020 and early 2021 meetings for the proof about whether Sussmann came to the bureau on behalf of clients and that he had not reviewed his notes prior to the first meeting.

Gaynor also said the FBI's Chicago field office, which was investigating the Alfa Bank allegation, wanted to interview the source of the allegation but couldn't because of a "close-hold" from senior FBI leadership, which prevented Gaynor from telling those agents that Sussmann was the source.

Gaynor said the FBI looked at data logs between Trump Organization and Alfa Bank email servers and ultimately concluded the alleged communications were in fact from Central Dynamics, a spam marketing company.

Gaynor said that it would have mattered if Sussmann was paid by the DNC or the Clinton campaign, as it might have impacted how the investigation was opened and the close-hold being placed on it.

He also said that if Sussmann brought the information to the FBI from a confidential human source, it would have affected how it was handled and helped to determine if the source was truthful by going to a third party instead of directly to their FBI handler.

Former FBI Counterintelligence Division chief Bill Priestap also testified briefly on Monday, saying that Sussmann's relationship with the Clinton campaign would have been relevant information but it was not the only factor the FBI would consider in analyzing information it received from a source.

Week two of the trial resumed Monday in Washington, D.C., following testimony Friday by Clinton 2016 campaign manager Robby Mook that Hillary Clinton personally approved the plan to pitch the plot to reporters. 

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