WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A cybersecurity attorney known for his work advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was indicted on Thursday for lying to the FBI, as part of U.S. Special Counsel John Durham’s probe into the origins of the FBI investigation of ties between Russia and former President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Michael Sussmann, a former partner with Perkins Coie who also represented the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign in connection with Russia’s hack of the organization, is accused of making false statements during a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting with former FBI General Counsel James Baker.
It marks the second criminal case Durham has filed since former Attorney General William Barr tapped him in 2019 to investigate U.S. officials who probed the Trump-Russia contacts. Trump, a Republican, portrayed the 2016 FBI investigation as part of a witch hunt.
President Joe Biden’s administration has allowed Durham to continue his work as special counsel.
The indictment accuses Sussmann of falsely telling Baker he did not represent any client when he met him to give the FBI white papers and other data files containing evidence of questionable cyber links between the Trump Organization and a Russian-based bank.
The indictment alleges that Sussmann turned over that information not as a “good citizen” but as an attorney representing a U.S. technology executive, an internet company and Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Sussmann “will fight this baseless and politically-inspired prosecution,” his attorneys, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth, said in a statement.
Sussmann set up the meeting on behalf of a cyber-expert client, the statement said. “Mr. Sussmann met with Mr. Baker because he and his client believed that the information raised national security concerns,” it said.
“At its core, the Special Counsel is bringing a false statement charge based on an oral statement allegedly made five years ago to a single witness that is unrecorded and unobserved by anyone else,” the attorneys said.
Sussmann, who had been on leave from Perkins Coie, resigned from the firm on Thursday “in order to focus on his legal defense,” a spokesperson for the firm said in a statement.
The indictment says the technology executive client who helped assemble the data Sussmann presented to the FBI had “exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump.”
The FBI investigated, but ultimately concluded there was insufficient evidence of a “secret communications channel” between the Trump organization and the bank, which has been identified in news reports as Alfa Bank.
The bank was not named in the indictment.
The New York Times later reported on the FBI’s investigation into the Alfa Bank-Trump connection in October 2016 - a probe that the indictment says was sparked following Sussmann’s September 2016 meeting with Baker.
The indictment alleges that some other materials Sussmann handed over to the FBI included a paper prepared by an investigative firm.
The indictment does not identify the firm, but a source familiar with the events told Reuters it is Fusion GPS, the Washington-based firm that hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to conduct opposition research on Trump on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
Steele went on to produce a contentious 35-page “dossier” purporting to outline Trump links and dealings with Russia and Russians.
A spokesman for Fusion GPS declined to comment, as did Steele. Neither has been accused of wrongdoing.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney
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