With Clinton Lawyer Charged, Russiagate Scam Now Under Indictment

Michael Sussmann is charged for failing to disclose he was acting on behalf of Clinton’s team, Aaron Maté reports. But the indictment makes clear the special counsel uncovered a wider deception.  

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. (Gage Skidmore photos, derivative by Krassotkin, Wikimedia Commons)

By Aaron Maté
The Grayzone

The indictment of Hillary Clinton attorney Michael Sussmann offers new evidence that the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory that engulfed former President Donald Trump’s term in office was itself the product of fabrications involving Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Although Sussmann faces just one count on a false statement charge, the 27-page charging document offers an expansive window into how the Russiagate scam began, and how Democratic operatives, intelligence officials and establishment media figures dishonestly fed it to the public.

Sussmann, until recently an attorney with Clinton campaign law firm Perkins Coie, is the second person to be charged by John Durham, the special counsel scrutinizing the Russia investigation.

Sussmann is accused of lying to the FBI during a September 2016 meeting in which he tried to raise alarm about “secret communications” between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Sussmann gave then-FBI attorney Jim Baker documents and data purporting to show that computer servers associated with Trump and Alfa Bank were in regular contact.

This was evidence, Sussmann argued, of a possible covert back channel. According to Durham, Sussmann told Baker that he was not working “for any client,” and was simply passing on information that had been provided to him by “multiple cyber experts” who had come across the suspicious web traffic.

But according to the detailed indictment, Sussmann was in fact cooking up a politically motivated scam.

The theory of a purported covert Trump-Alfa channel had been concocted by an unnamed tech executive positioning himself for a top cybersecurity job in the anticipated Clinton administration. To spread the theory to the media and intelligence community, the executive and Sussmann “coordinated,” Durham says, with Mark Elias, a colleague of Sussmann’s at Perkins Coie and the top lawyer for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Sussmann and Elias in turn coordinated with the private intelligence company Fusion GPS. Elias had already hired the firm — on Clinton’s behalf — to produce the Steele dossier, the collection of fabricated reports by ex-British spy Christopher Steele alleging a longstanding Trump-Russia conspiracy/blackmail relationship. 

According to Steele, it was Sussmann, in a July 2016 meeting, who first informed him about the Alfa Bank server story. Elias kept Clinton campaign members informed as well, including the “campaign manager, communications director, and foreign policy advisor.” In February 2017, Sussmann also met with a CIA official to push the Alfa Bank narrative.

Sussmann concealed this plot from the FBI, along with the fact that he was billing Clinton for his involvement. The meeting with the FBI’s Baker, for example, was charged to the Clinton campaign as “work and communications regarding confidential project.” In fact, according to Durham, “all or nearly all” of Sussmann’s work on the Alfa Bank story prior to meeting Baker was “billed to the Clinton campaign.”

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(In Sussmann’s orbit, hiding the money trail was established Russiagate practice. His law firm Perkins Coie and the Clinton campaign concealed that they had funded the Steele dossier, until a subpoena from the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee forced them to admit the truth in October 2017. The FBI also concealed Steele’s Democratic funders from the FISA court when it used the dossier to obtain a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.)

Sussmann is charged for failing to disclose that he was acting on behalf of Clinton’s team. But the indictment makes clear that Durham has uncovered a wider deception. For weeks prior to his meeting with the FBI, Sussmann worked with the unnamed technology executive (“Tech Executive-1”), who, like the Clinton campaign, was also Sussmann’s client. The executive’s “goal,” Durham says, was to create a “narrative” about Trump’s “ties to Russia” which would ultimately “please certain ‘VIPs’” – i.e., Sussmann’s clients in the Clinton campaign.

To advance this goal, the executive took advantage of his ownership position at several companies to access “public and non-public” internet data, and tasked several people to assist him.

Their efforts yielded a cache of purported DNS traffic between a Trump-adjacent marketing server and Alfa Bank in Russia. According to Durham, the tech executive’s researchers expressed misgivings about the project. One team member relayed “continued doubt” about the Trump-Alfa conspiracy theory that Sussman “would later convey to the FBI” and concerns that the project was driven not by data, but by “bias against Trump.”

To suggest even “a very weak association,” the researcher warned, “we will have to expose every trick we have in our bag.” At one point, the executive himself even admitted that the Trump-Alfa Bank traffic was not a secret channel but in fact a “red herring.” But that ultimately did not stop him from working with Sussmann to draft white papers and collect data that would be submitted to the FBI in the service of the “VIP”-catered “narrative.”

The FBI would ultimately reach the same “red herring” conclusion that the executive had concealed. As Durham notes, “the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather, had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients.”

For its part, Alfa Bank has filed suit against the computer researchers involved, accusing them of doctoring computer data in a deliberate smear campaign to tie the bank to Trump. A lengthy report commissioned by Alfa Bank posits that “threat actors may have artificially created DNS activity” between Trump and Alfa Bank “to make it appear as though a connection existed, for ‘discovery’ later.”

Clinton Campaign Hypes ‘Secret Hotline’

The FBI’s investigation of the Alfa Bank theory proved to be just as fruitless as every other of the fabricated Trump-Russia conspiracy theories chased by U.S. intelligence officials, congressional committees and media outlets for more than three years.

But Sussmann’s effort ultimately served its purpose. The FBI meeting gave journalists a news hook to publish the Alfa Bank allegations just days before the November 2016 election.

Weeks later, the DNC-funded Steele dossier would see a similar entry into public consciousness: after sitting on the salacious dossier for months, the U.S. media was given a news hook to publish it when then-FBI Director Jim Comey — in concert with other intelligence officials — went to Trump Tower and briefed then-President-elect Trump about the alleged “pee tape.”

On Oct. 31, Slate’s Franklin Foer, as well as Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers of The New York Times, published stories about the Trump-Alfa Bank “secret channel.” The Times’ story revealed that Trump campaign associates, as well as the Alfa Bank theory, were the subjects of an FBI investigation. The Clinton campaign immediately promoted the story as part of its public campaign to portray Trump as a Kremlin stooge. “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank,” Hillary Clinton announced on Twitter. “It’s time for Trump to answer serious questions about his ties to Russia.”

Clinton also shared a statement from her then-foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan. This “secret hotline,” Sullivan claimed, “could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow” and “may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.” To Sullivan, “it certainly seems the Trump Organization felt it had something to hide.”

But five years later, we now have confirmation that it was in fact the Clinton campaign that was hiding its role as the source of this story. As Glenn Greenwald notes:

“Both Hillary and Jake Sullivan were pretending that they had just learned about this shocking story from Slate when, in fact, it was Hillary’s own lawyers and researchers who had spent weeks pushing the story to both the FBI and friendly journalists like Foer. In other words, it was Hillary and her team who had manufactured the hoax, then pretended that — like everyone else — they were just learning about it, and believing it to be true, because a media outlet to which they had fed the false story had just published it.”

Indeed, the Clinton campaign’s role in planting the Alfa Bank story was so extensive that it appears to have influenced the day it came to light.

As Durham recounts, on Oct. 30, a Fusion GPS employee wrote to Slate’s Foer and told him “time to hurry.” Foer responded by sharing what he called “the first 2500 words” of his article, and then published it the following day. He never disclosed that the story had come to him from Trump’s Democratic rival.

A Narrative to Please Democratic ‘VIPs’

Comparing the indictment’s details to the way Foer and other credulous journalists spun the Clinton-fueled Alfa Bank “narrative” offers a window into how the media enabled the scam.

Whereas Durham reveals that the Alfa Bank team was instructed to create a “narrative” about Trump-Russia ties that would please Democratic Party “VIPs,” the Alfa “researchers” gave the Clinton campaign’s media dupes an inverse cover story: they were simply well-meaning internet sleuths trying to protect Trump’s campaign too.

“We wanted to help defend both campaigns, because we wanted to preserve the integrity of the election,” one of the unknown researchers told Foer. “We thought there was no way in the world the Russians would just attack the Democrats,” but the Republicans as well, another source told The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins. “We were trying to protect them.”

Filkins’ story — published in October 2018, two years after Foer’s, and long after the FBI had privately concluded that there was nothing to it — gave the Alfa Bank story a new shelf life.

Natasha Bertrand, now a correspondent for CNN, joined Foer on MSNBC in October 2018 to declare that the Alfa Bank-Trump connection was in fact a collusion smoking gun. “What more evidence do you need? It’s very, very obvious,” Bertrand said.

That same night, Filkins was given an effusive reception from cable news’ leading Trump-Russia conspiracy theorist. “We are blessed as a country to have journalists as talented as you and Franklin Foer writing about this,” Rachel Maddow told Filkins from across the anchor desk.

Predictably, the same media voices who parroted the Alfa Bank story and countless other Russia fantasies throughout the Trump era have now fallen silent or continued obfuscating.

One day before Sussmann’s indictment, Maddow covered the story based on a leak to The New York Times from someone in the Sussmann’s camp. This allowed Maddow to avoid the damning details revealed in the indictment the following day, and instead portray the as-yet-uncharged case as a trivial charge from a special prosecutor desperate to show results. “The only hoax is the charge contained in this indictment,” Maddow’s guest, MSNBC legal analyst Barbara McQuade declared.

Neither Foer nor Filkins has publicly commented on the indictment. If his past record is any indication, Filkins is not one for contrition. In October 2020 — two years after his initial story and more than one year after the Mueller report found zero evidence to support the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory, including the Alfa Bank story — Filkins attempted a half-hearted defense.

Filkins had discovered that Durham was eyeing the Alfa Bank researchers for possible criminal charges, and that Alfa Bank had itself filed associated lawsuits. He framed the legal activity as “troubling” and warned that it “could aid the Kremlin.”

Filkins even threw in a plug for Steele, whose “information,” he declared, “has been neither proved nor disproved.”

Filkins may have missed the main sections of a scathing Department of Justice report of December 2019, which blasted the FBI for relying on Steele’s fabrications.

With the Steele dossier widely discredited and Sussmann’s indictment adding new details of a related deceptionthe Clinton campaign is now connected to yet one more documented scam in a sprawling effort to plant Trump-Russia conspiracy theories in the media and trigger federal investigative activity.

Sussmann’s role in the Alfa Bank fabrication raises new questions about the allegation at the heart of the Trump-Russia scandal: the claim that Russia stole emails from the Democratic Party and gave them to WikiLeaks in a covert operation to help Trump’s campaign.

This allegation was generated by a different private firm, Crowdstrike, which, like Fusion GPS, was also hired by Perkins Coie — specifically, by Michael Sussmann.

Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. In 2019, Maté was awarded the Izzy Award (named after I.F. Stone) for outstanding achievement in independent media for his coverage of Russiagate in The Nation magazine. Previously, he was a host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!.

 This article is from The Grayzone.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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17 comments for “With Clinton Lawyer Charged, Russiagate Scam Now Under Indictment

  1. Afdal
    September 23, 2021 at 00:45

    The idea that elections themselves could ever be democratic is itself a fiction. Before you ever even run into the campaign ads racket, the party bosses, etc. you have to pass another test: are you in a high enough social strata to have the free time and resources to run for office? In this manner, elections have always been an institution of oligarchy, not democracy. The Athenians recognized this. Aristotle spells it out plainly. And everyone after understood it too, until figures in early American history perverted the meaning of “democracy” to mean its opposite.

  2. jaycee
    September 22, 2021 at 17:32

    Water under the bridge for the DNC and their media sycophants, but the Russiagate hoax blew the American social/political divide wide open and exposed the MSM as thoroughly corrupt and politicized to tens of millions more folks… just in time for an unforeseen pandemic crisis which would necessitate national cooperation and clear direct information management. Ooops…

  3. Norman
    September 22, 2021 at 17:14

    This Russiagate fraud is a classic example of why elections in the USA aren’t real, haven’t been real, and won’t be real in the future. Additionally, even before a name gets on a ballot that person must be approved by various elite groups, lobbies, media, and individuals. That’s not democratic nor is a media blitz with fabricated associations to trick and manipulate the public thought and vote as described in this article. Lots of media folks were in synch on this one. What will happen to them? Probably what did happen are big cash rewards and a climb further up the greasy pole of media lies and public manipulation.

  4. Litchfield
    September 22, 2021 at 10:28

    Great reporting and analysis, Aaron Mate.

  5. Nathan Mulcahy
    September 22, 2021 at 09:55

    First came “Saddam WMD”, then came “Russian Collusion” (aka Saddam’s WMD 2.0), and then came “Vaccination is the sole/best solution for Covid” (aka Saddam’s WMD 3.0).

    In each case, the population was bulldozed with a deluge of half truths and lies from “authorities”, magnified by the legacy media propaganda, and a censorship of opposing views. In each case, initially a vast majority of people fell for the narrative.

    If you are puzzled about Saddam’s WMD 3.0 comparison, then consider this. If the mortality from a disease caused by the same virus (in deaths per million) in different countries vary by more than two orders of magnitude, then the root cause of death cannot be the inherent virulence of the virus. Rather, the difference must be caused by other factors, for example, health demography, access to care, type and time of medical intervention, etc.

    And yet, even after almost two years, none of these factors are being addressed while the entire focus has been on vaccination (which targets only the virulence of the virus). And, does anyone wonder why the health authorities, even after almost two years, haven’t come up with any early treatment recommendations for this deadly disease? Or is the recommendation to stay home, drink a lot of water, take aspirin, measure temperature and then go to an ER if the symptoms become severe sound like good advice for such a dangerous disease? Note, I am not partial to any “one early treatment medication”. Any severe disease requires the use of multiple therapeutics that only a trained clinician can recommend.

    So while we marvel at the chutzpah of the authorities and the legacy media of fooling us over Saddam’s WMD 2.0, we are well into being drowned in Saddam’s WMD 3.0.

  6. Zhu
    September 22, 2021 at 06:03

    It is very significant that millions of Democrats were eager to believe conspiracy fictions that they should not have credited for 5 minutes.

  7. Marshall T Smith
    September 22, 2021 at 01:46

    So, Durham’s team considered prosecuting the university researchers but not the computer experts who were friends of the university researchers. Franklin Foer’s article in “The Slate” named Indiana Univ. Prof. L. Jean Camp and “tea leaves”, although anyone reading Prof. Camp’s open Facebook (finally closed a few weeks after the 2016 election) page knew the identities of her associates — one being the inventor of “malware” and a contractor hired as others of the “cyber community” by intelligence agencies. National Security would have intervened to prevent any prosecution of the geniuses of the Cyber World who are such an asset. The Trump Tower server “narrative” is not as complex as the “Trump Tower Meeting with the Russian lawyer” narrative, which was a failed effort mainly because “the Russian lawyer” had to have a translator and used the one used by the State Dept. and even by Obama. All of the testimonies of the participants are available on the site for the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The Russian lawyer” was wise to not appear before the committee, using the opportunity to reply to the written questions by supplying “on the record” answers and additional information that the senators and others of both parties didn’t want on the record, as the Republican leadership of the House had prevented the appearance of “the Russian lawyer” Natalya Veselnitskaya before the House Foreign Affairs sub-committee then chaired by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (then and still a supporter of Trump) along with the screening of the documentary titled “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes” in Congress. If the background of the “Magnitsky Act” is opened up, National Security will really be used to block exposure of the joint British and U. S. intelligence communities operations to effect regime change in Russia, especially as a retired French intelligence exposed the involvement of Bill Browder in an operation named “Beluga”. Then, the Prevezon Case brought by Preet Bharara in the SDNY upon the insistence of Browder and probably others will only add to the network Foreign and Domestic that included intelligence agencies, federal prosecutors and of course politicians of both establishment parties, with a few exiled Russian oligarchs thrown into the mix that included Off Shore monies.

  8. robert e williamson jr
    September 21, 2021 at 23:33

    The deceptions related to the balderdash here are nothing compared to what is flying under the radar and most seem to know nothing about it.

    As for Trump and Russia gate and the “Queen Clinton” it’s mostly balderdash. Something to divert attention.

    Slop for the MSM to feed on and regurgitate to the public.

    If we pay attention to recent history we know much more danger lurks than what politicians might present to the society.

    Still why is it that the US intelligence community went so far out on the limb to sell this bogus crap.

    I suggest it is because they have left a paper trail that has been found out. Th ICIJ is the baby of the Center for Public Integrity, founded in 1997.

    Steven Cohen / April 8,2016
    Panama has long been a haven for money launders, including CIA

    This is the headline of this article as it appeared in the New Republic – Quotes from the article

    “One rare glimpses into the agencies funding came when Edward Snowden leaked a copy of the intelligence black budget” to the Washington Post in 2013.”

    “Thanks to a recent report from the ICIJ, we now know (Adnan) Khashoggi to be among a number of former spies and CIA associates implicated by the 2.6 terabytes of off shore financial documents provided to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung last Summer. ”

    There are many things going on at once around the world and the MSM and our government do everything they can to keep the public saturated with bogus mean nothing gibberish news. And they are good at doing it.

    This ICIJ story runs from 1977 to 2016 to now. The reason the intelligence community want to stay away from the ICIJ stories is because they have some very dirty laundry. Ask yourself why we hear nothing of the ICIJ work.

    Could be because as ICIJ has already reported Mueller notified ICIJ he wanted all info on Americans because of his investigation and that they were forbidden from releasing anything on this data.. Mueller has been a lot less that candid about what he has and has not done, I suspect because he has been given a deal he can’t refuse.

    There exist serious reasons why Mr. Snowden choose to go to Russia.

    Please don’t take my word for it, I cannot do this story justice but just the same I cannot watch as it is ignored.

    Thanks CN

  9. September 21, 2021 at 18:27

    shocking revelation.

  10. Andrew Thomas
    September 21, 2021 at 16:31

    With all of the documented lies, scams and evidence of incompetence and plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face psychosis of Donald Trump, the Democrats invent this. Of course Trump was acting like a person who had something to hide- HE DID, and HE DOES. Just NOT THIS. And, it would not have done at all to attack the real ‘fix’ of the 2016 election- operation cross check, designed by Kris Kobach, the Republican Secretary of State of Kansas, with the invaluable help of his GOP colleagues all over the country, to nullify enough legally cast votes to guarantee a victory for any rabid crypto fascist who emerged from the 2016 GOP clown car as its presidential candidate. Greg Palast handed them that TRUE story, and then made a MOVIE about it, which came out BEFORE the election, because the sleuths in the corporate media had no interest in it. Neither did the Democrats. It suited them much better to blame their losses on the Kremlin and its alleged tool, Julian Assange. And, Russkie ‘interference’ which Mr. Mate has exposed as ludicrous hokum. Why? Have to speculate here, but I would guess the funders of the Democratic establishment would not have appreciated the airing of the truth- a GOP-led fix of that election- but was quite happy with the MIC lies which were part of its continuous campaign for regime change in the Russian Federation, which is largely being pursued on behalf of the funders of both parties, anyway. So, even today, after 5 years, almost no one knows the story of the Kobach-led scam, which deleted from the count about a million legal votes for Clinton, distributed in states that would have made her an easy winner. Almost no one knows how absurd the Russian hack story was, blasted to rubble in 2017 by VIPS analysis. Almost no one knows that, as if that wasn’t enough, the hack story was disavowed by Crowdstrike’s main man in ‘secret’ testimony in front of a House committee, which Adam Schiff kept secret for over two years, and when released was ignored by the corporate press. And almost no one knows that the ‘immense’ Russian ‘interference’ in the 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump was a lie for reasons I won’t go into because the author of the above article debunked it in a manner so thorough I couldn’t do it justice. And the only exceptions I make are for readers of CN and tiny number of other outlets so marginalized by the corporate media and its client corporate state that they are on the margins of a piece of paper in a different galaxy. But the truth does matter. Thanks to Aaron, and all of you, for following and publishing it.

  11. Jan
    September 21, 2021 at 15:24

    Thank you for continuing to pursue this issue. In the context of the “hacked” emails it presents a depressing picture of an utterly corrupt DNC establishment. But then, we all should have know that already.

    It is hard to separate events into discrete episodes because the same players were so involved at all stages. Crowdstrike, for example, is the company hired by the DNC to do forensic examination of its servers after the email “hack.” I greatly appreciate the information that is emerging but one part of the whole story remains hidden: the killing of Seth Rich. What, exactly, was on his laptop?

  12. phree
    September 21, 2021 at 13:06

    I was never a true believer in Russiagate, but is it really true that the Steele Dossier is a “collection of fabricated reports?” I don’t claim expertise, but that statement suggests that all of the reports in the dossier were fabricated. If you believe the Wikipedia page at least some of it was true or partially true.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      September 21, 2021 at 15:53

      It was opposition research, which is typically a mix of facts and fiction to make the attack on a candidate credible.

  13. Jeff Harrison
    September 21, 2021 at 12:39

    Remind me. Why is it that we continue to sanction Russia for meddling in our election? And why is it that we completely ignore Russian complaints of US meddling in their election to include cyber attacks on Russian election computer systems?

    • Linda
      September 21, 2021 at 19:20

      And how do we forget Israel’s interference in US elections? AIPAC’s fingers on so very much pro-Israel-no-matter-what-it-does money? Duel US/Israeli citizens sitting in Congress, like Chuck Schumer who’s openly declared “Israel first!”? At least 29 states sub rosa passing anti-BDS laws?

    • James Simpson
      September 22, 2021 at 02:52

      American exceptionalism. The USA (and my own UK government) act in ways they would never tolerate in others. Imagine if Iran killed the head of the British Army at Heathrow airport via a drone attack in the same way the USA murdered Qasem Soleimani on 3 January 2020. What might be the response of the UK government?

    • Zhu
      September 22, 2021 at 21:07

      It makes us feel powerful, Jeff. Russia must submit!!!

Comments are closed.