Russia opposition stifled but unbowed as Duma election nears
MOSCOW (AP) — In the months before Sunday's parliamentary election in Russia, authorities unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition, making sure that the best-known and loudest Kremlin critics didn’t run. Some were barred from seeking public office under new, repressive laws. Some were forced to leave the country after threats of prosecution. Some were jailed. Pressure also mounted on independent media and human rights activists: A dozen news outlets and rights groups were given crippling labels of “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” or accused of ties with them.
Special counsel John Durham is nearing the conclusion of his more than two-year-long probe into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation and faces a looming deadline on whether to seek charges over the handling of evidence used in the probe, according to people briefed on the matter. © U.S. Department of Justice/AP This 2018 portrait released by the U.S. Department of Justice shows Connecticut's U.S. Attorney John Durham.
A major focus of Durham's probe is the provenance of a thumb drive provided to the FBI by Michael Sussmann, a prominent cybersecurity lawyer whose law firm Perkins Coie worked for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, the people briefed on the matter said. The drive contained information about possible connections between Donald Trump's company and a Russian bank.
Trump-appointed counsel said to be seeking to indict Michael Sussmann
John Durham plans to ask a grand jury to indict Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann for making a false statement to the FBI. He alleged Sussmann may have been secretly working for Clinton.Former federal prosecutor Michael Sussmann, 57, who now works as a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, represented the Democratic National Committee when Russia hacked its servers back in 2016.
Sussmann could face charges in the coming days for allegedly making a false statement to the FBI, according to a person familiar with the case.
The FBI investigated the claims that servers in Trump Tower were communicating with servers belonging to Alfa Bank, a Russian bank, as part of the broader investigation of ties between Trump campaign associates and Russians.
The bank and the Trump Organization have denied the claims, and the FBI investigation didn't find evidence of surreptitious communications between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report. Former Special counsel Robert Mueller's report didn't discuss the Alfa Bank claims and when asked about it during a House hearing in 2019, Mueller said he believed the claims weren't true.
Jake Sullivan pushed Alfa Bank claim at center of Durham’s possible indictment
Jake Sullivan, already in the hot seat as President Joe Biden’s national security adviser amid the Afghanistan fallout, could find himself under further scrutiny for his 2016 role in promoting a Trump-Russia collusion claim at the heart of a possible indictment by special counsel John Durham. © Provided by Washington Examiner Durham is reportedly seeking a grand jury indictment against Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer at Perkins Coie, a Democratic-allied law firm linked to British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier.
Sussmann's legal team learned about three weeks ago that Durham investigators are preparing to seek an indictment against him, according to the person familiar with the case, for allegedly making a false statement during a 2016 meeting with then-FBI General counsel James Baker on the Alfa Bank matter.
Sussmann's team appealed that decision to Justice Department leadership, which is possible in a case like this, but was rejected. An indictment could come as early as Thursday, according to the person familiar with the case.
The plans to seek an indictment were first reported Wednesday by The New York Times.
Attorneys for Sussmann said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday night that he had committed no crime and if he were to be charged, he would go to trial to "vindicate his good name." The attorneys, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth, noted that Sussmann has served in the Justice Department during Democratic and Republican administrations.
Durham prosecution rests on shaky legal ground
The case recalls that of D.C. lawyer Gregory Craig, who was eventually acquitted on a similar charge.Getting a Washington jury to convict Sussmann could be far harder, judging by a case with significant parallels: the 2019 prosecution of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.
The Perkins Coie law firm, working for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party in 2016, paid the research company Fusion GPS to produce a series of reports from a former British intelligence operative detailing connections between Russians and Trump and his associates.
Separately, a group of cyber experts in 2016 said that they had analyzed thousands of unexplained computer connections between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization servers, and the claims made their way to the FBI through various intermediaries, including Sussmann.
Durham's probe falling short of Trump's expectations
Durham was appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr in early 2019 to pursue Trump's and Barr's suspicions that the FBI and US intelligence agencies had committed wrongdoing in their pursuit of the Trump-Russia investigation. In a review that has now lasted longer than Mueller's investigation, Durham largely has failed to deliver what Trump wanted.
The former President publicly said he wanted charges against former top FBI and intelligence officials and that he expected Durham to present a public report before last year's election.
Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks'
The indictment seems to have revealed quite a bit about how scandals are manufactured and manipulated in Washington. From CREEP to Clinton, lawyers discovered themselves in legal jeopardy when special prosecutors found them holding a "bag of tricks." A dirty trick in politics can be a thing of beauty for a campaign - until it boomerangs on the tricksters.Durham's final report, meanwhile, could answer even more questions, but will Washington ever allow it to see the light of day without massive redactions?Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.
After initially examining the role of the intelligence community in the Russia investigation and finding no wrongdoing, according to Barr, Durham turned his sights back to reexamining the FBI, which already has been the subject of a scathing inspector general report that found multiple missteps by the bureau.
Durham brought a relatively minor case last year against a former FBI lawyer who admitted to falsifying information used to obtain a surveillance warrant against a former Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, but there was no big October surprise from Durham as Trump expected. That failure, in Trump's eyes, added to tensions between Barr and the then-President in the closing months of the Trump presidency, former administration officials say.
Final stages of Durham probe
As part of Durham's appointment as special counsel, he is expected to produce a final report to Attorney General Merrick Garland, with the intent that at least some of it will be made public.
The Durham probe is in its closing stages, people briefed on the matter said, and a possible deadline on any charges looms.
Sussmann met with Baker on September 19, 2016, to hand over the thumb drive with some of the Alfa Bank claims. There is generally a five-year time limit, or statute of limitations, on bringing charges in certain nonviolent crimes. This means that if Durham plans to bring charges alleging that a crime occurred in the handover of the Alfa Bank information, the five-year time limit expires as soon as this weekend.
Sussmann judge was previously 'professional acquaintances' with lawyer indicted by Durham
The judge presiding over the case against Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann said he was “professional acquaintances” at the Department of Justice with him in the 1990s, and the judge’s wife represents former FBI lawyer Lisa Page — issues special counsel John Durham’s team has not raised to push for recusal. © Provided by Washington Examiner The grand jury indictment against Sussmann, a former DOJ veteran, centers on a September 2016 meeting between him and then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in which Sussmann passed along allegations claiming there was a secret backchannel between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.
The possible false statement charges arise from Sussmann allegedly telling Baker in the 2016 meeting that he was not meeting him on behalf of any client, the person familiar with the case said.
At the time, Sussmann was representing both a cybersecurity expert who had provided him the data and the Clinton campaign. He has maintained, including in his own congressional testimony, that he met with Baker on behalf of the cybersecurity client.
The Clinton campaign hadn't directed Sussmann to meet with Baker, Sussmann's legal team argued to Durham, the person familiar said.
Baker testimony to Congress
Baker also testified to Congress in October 2018 that he knew Sussmann had gotten the information he was sharing from cyber experts. Baker told Congress he didn't remember Sussmann "specifically saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client."
Sussmann's attorneys, Berkowitz and Bosworth, said in their statement: "Any prosecution here would be baseless, unprecedented, and an unwarranted deviation from the apolitical and principled way in which the Department of Justice is supposed to do its work."
Durham's investigators have interviewed Baker and other former FBI officials about the information Sussmann provided, people briefed on the matter told CNN.
Durham has been presenting evidence to a grand jury as part of his investigation, CNN previously reported. One witness who has provided testimony in recent weeks told CNN that based on the questions asked, they believe Durham plans to seek charges over the handling of the Alfa Bank matter.
At the time of the Sussmann meeting with Baker, the FBI had already opened the probe of ties between Russians and Trump campaign associates. It's not unusual for outsiders to provide information for the FBI to investigate.
An attorney for Baker declined to comment. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and Durham also declined to comment.
Grand Jury Hears Evidence in Investigation of FBI Probe Into Russian Election Interference .
Prosecutor John Durham might be contemplating charges against some FBI employees and others outside the government.Prosecutor John Durham has been presenting evidence to a grand jury and contemplating charges against some FBI employees and others outside the government, the Wall Street Journal reported.