FBI Mistakenly Probed Trump-Russia Collusion Claims on Basis of DOJ’s ‘Referral’, New Docs Show
Last week, former FBI General Counsel James Baker testified at the trial of Michael Sussmann that the intelligence agency had found no evidence of a covert communications channel between former US President Donald Trump and a Russian bank, as was earlier claimed by the Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer.
In 2016, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents probing the since-debunked claims of the Trump-Russia collusion thought that the allegations had originated with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) while actually they came from Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann, the new documents have revealed.
The documents, seen by US media, came amid the current trial of Sussmann in Washington DC federal court, after he was charged by Special Counsel John Durham in 2021 with lying to the FBI.
On Monday, Durham’s prosecutors revealed that investigators had received an electronic communication citing a referral from the DOJ “on or about” 19 September 2016, the same day when Sussmann met with James Baker, then the FBI’s top lawyer.
The document, which pertains to a record of the investigation opened by FBI agents Curtis Heide and Allison Sands, did not mention Sussmann as the source of the Trump-Russia collusion allegations.
“In that referral, the DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE provided the FBI with a white paper that was produced by an anonymous third party”, the communication said, adding, “According to the white paper, a US-based server that is owned by the TRUMP ORGANISATION has been communicating with the Russian-based ALFA BANK organisation in Moscow, Russia”.
Testifying to jurors during the Sussmann trial on Monday, Sands said she believed Heide had told her the referral came from the DOJ. The error was seized on by Sussmann’s defence attorney Michael Bosworth, who asked Sands about if Heide had lied to her or whether someone had lied to Heide about the source of the material.
This came as FBI agent Ryan Gaynor testified that FBI bosses shielded Sussmann’s identity from the bureau’s field agents, who probed the Trump-Alfa Bank collusion claims as part of a practice known as a “close hold”.
This followed former FBI General Counsel James Baker arguing during a testimony at the Sussmann trial last week that the FBI concluded there was no substance to Sussmann’s allegations against Donald Trump, which pertained to the existence of alleged covert communications channel between the former US president and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Baker’s testimony echoed that of FBI Special Agent Scott Hellman, who said during the Sussmann trial that the allegations against Trump were found to be untrue.
Sussmann, who pleads not guilty, is accused of lying to the FBI by telling the agency in September 2016 that he wasn’t “acting on behalf of any client” when he had carried out research concerning alleged secret communications between the Trump Organisation and Russia's Alfa Bank. Special Counsel John Durham, however, insisted that Sussmann "assembled and conveyed the allegations" on behalf of the 2016 Clinton campaign, where Sussmann served at the time as a lawyer.
Durham's probe kicked off in 2019, when then-Attorney General William Barr told the special counsel to lead a review into the "Russiagate" investigation launched by the FBI in July 2016 to determine if the bureau's inquiry into the allegations of Trump's "collusion" with Moscow was legal.
This was preceded by the US Justice Department releasing a redacted version of then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, which summarised the outcome of his probe into allegations of the Trump-Russia collusion and Moscow's alleged interference in the 2016 US election. According to the report, Mueller’s investigation found insufficient evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.