This is the seventh in a series of articles analyzing the federal grand jury indictment charging lawyer Michael Sussmann with making a materially false statement to FBI General Counsel James Baker. The indictment spelled out Sussmann’s involvement in a thus-far uncharged conspiracy to create a false narrative that was calculated to demonstrate a secret channel of internet communications between the Trump Organization and the Russian Alfa Bank.
As discussed in previous articles, the indictment avers that Sussmann and his law firm, Perkins Coie, presented the Trump–Alfa Bank hoax to the FBI’s General Counsel, the CIA, and the media.
But Sussmann didn’t stop there. Former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele has testified under oath that Sussmann told him about the alleged secret communications channel and the Alfa Bank’s purported ties to the Kremlin.
Steele, of course, is the author of the eponymous “Steele Dossier,” which the Obama-era FBI and Justice Department used to obtain FISA warrants to spy on members of the Trump presidential campaign. The dossier consists of 17 now-discredited reports written by Steele at various times, which collectively allege that Trump was subject to blackmail by the Kremlin and that his campaign operatives were conspiring with the Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
When he wrote those memoranda, Steele was working under contract with Fusion GPS, a private investigations firm that had been retained by Sussmann’s law firm, Perkins Coie, to do opposition research on Trump. Steele’s part of that mission was to investigate possible ties between Trump and Russia.
On September 14, 2016, Steele issued “Company Intelligence Report 2016/112 – Russia/US Presidential Election: Kremlin-Alpha [sic] Group Co-Operation” (“Report 112”).
In Report 112, Steele stated that a “[t]op level Russian official confirms current closeness of Alpha [sic] Group-Putin relationship.” The memorandum names three “leading figures in the Alpha [sic] Group” who were on “very good terms with Putin” and that “[s]ignificant favours [sic] continue to be done in both directions.” It also names two of the individuals as “still giving informal advice to Putin, especially on the US.”
The report also stated that, in the 1990s, the named individuals arranged for delivery of “large amounts of illicit cash” to Putin when he was the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
When the contents of Report 112 later became public, the named individuals vehemently denied the allegations and sued Steele for defamation. On March 17 and 18, 2020, he was deposed in London by plaintiffs’ counsel concerning the contents of his memorandum. And that’s where the story becomes very interesting.
In his deposition, Steele testified that, during a meeting on July 29, 2016, Sussmann told him about suspicious internet traffic between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.
“I’m very clear that the first person that ever mentioned the Trump server issue, Alfa server issue, was Mr. Sussmann,” he testified.
In addition, he testified, “I was given the instruction sometime after that meeting by Mr. [Glenn] Simpson [of Fusion GPS]” to include Sussmann’s allegation as part of the dossier investigation.
According to Steele, Simpson’s directive “was absolutely, definitely linked to the server issue.”
He said that, based on Simpson’s instruction, he tasked a Russian source to gather information about the Alfa Bank.
Steele also testified that Sussmann’s information about the internet traffic between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank was the impetus for his writing Report 112.
In addition to being deposed, Steele was interviewed by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) as part of its review of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
According to the OIG’s report, Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to investigate, among other things, “whether there were any ties between the Russian government and Trump or his campaign. Steele’s work for Fusion GPS resulted in his producing numerous election-related reports.” With Fusion GPS’s authorization, he “directly provided more than a dozen of his reports to the FBI between July and October 2016, and several others to the FBI through [DOJ attorney Bruce] Ohr and other third parties.”
The OIG found that that the FBI used Steele’s information to obtain FISA warrants to conduct electronic surveillance of members of the Trump campaign. In its warrant applications, the FBI advised the court that “Steele was believed to be a reliable source for three reasons: his professional background; his history of work as an FBI CHS [confidential human source] since 2013; and his prior non-election reporting, which the FBI described as ‘corroborated and used in criminal proceedings.’”
Now hit the pause button and ask yourself: Why would Sussmann feed the Trump–Alfa Bank hoax to Steele? The obvious answer is that Steele had an established track record and credibility with the FBI. What better way to get the government to investigate the hoax than to feed it to the FBI through a trusted source?
And that was how Sussmann — when he met with Steele on July 29, 2016 — prepared the way for his September 19, 2016 meeting with the FBI’s General Counsel at which he presented the Trump–Alfa Bank smear.
The OIG found that, on the same day that Sussmann met with the FBI’s General Counsel, the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team — which was investigating Trump and his campaign — received the first six of Steele’s reports, which he had supplied to his regular “handling” FBI agent months before.
As for the importance of Steele’s work, the OIG “determined that the Crossfire Hurricane’s team receipt of Steele’s election reporting on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and [Justice] Department’s decision to seek the FISA order.”
But wait! There’s more!
The OIG report states that Steele played a “role in a September 23, 2016 Yahoo News article entitled, U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump advisor and Kremlin.”
The OIG also found that he was quoted anonymously in an October 31, 2016 Mother Jones article entitled “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.”
Here are bits and pieces of the Mother Jones article (emphasis added):
The Mother Jones article is typical of the coverage that resulted from the media briefings by Steele and Fusion GPS.
In that regard, OIG found that, in October 2016, Steele provided briefings to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the U.S. State Department. In each, Steele’s credibility as an experienced former British agent who worked Russian intelligence was a material factor.
In other words, when Sussmann used Steele to help spread the Trump–Alfa Bank hoax, it was — to borrow a quotation from The Godfather’s Michael Corleone — “the smart move.”
More to come.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He blogs at knowledgeisgood.net and may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.