james baker
© TwitterFBI general counsel James Baker testified he was “100% confident” that lawyer Michael Sussman denied working “on behalf of any particular client.”
A former FBI official delivered devastating testimony Thursday against former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann — saying he's "100% confident" the defendant denied acting "on behalf of any particular client" when he handed over since-debunked information linking Donald Trump and Russia.

"I think it was pretty close to the beginning of the meeting. Part of his introduction to the meeting," former FBI general counsel James Baker told jurors in Washington, DC, federal court.

Baker's account directly supports the sole charge against Sussmann as a result of special counsel John Durham's probe into alleged law-breaking in connection with the FBI and Robert Mueller's probes of purported Trump-Russia ties.

Sussmann, 57, is on trial on a single count of lying to the government during a Sept. 19, 2016, sit-down with Baker at FBI headquarters.

According to his indictment, the cybersecurity lawyer was allegedly acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe, a tech executive and client who told him about computer data that purportedly revealed a secret back channel between a Trump Organization server and Russia's Alfa Bank.

"He said that he was not appearing before me on behalf of any particular client," Baker recalled.

Who's who in the case
  • Michael Sussmann: Cybersecurity lawyer who worked for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign; charged with lying to the FBI
  • Rodney Joffee: Former tech executive and Sussmann client who told him about a purported cyber back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia's Alfa-Bank
  • Christopher Steele: British ex-spy hired by Fusion GPS; compiled the infamous "Steele dossier" of reports on Trump and Russia
  • John Durham: Special counsel investigating potential criminality in the government investigations of former President Donald Trump's purported ties to Russia
  • James A. Baker: Former FBI general counsel; received Alfa-Bank information from Sussmann
  • Marc Elias: Clinton campaign general counsel, former partner of Sussmann's at Perkins Coie law firm
  • Judge Christopher Cooper: Presiding over Sussman's trial in Washington, DC, federal court
  • Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson: Former Wall Street Journal reporters who co-founded the Fusion GPS research company; worked for Clinton's campaign
  • Andrew McCabe: Former FBI deputy director; allegedly contradicted the basis for the charge against Sussmann during a 2017 briefing
"He had information of concern about an apparent surreptitious communications channel between Alfa-Bank, which he described as being connected to the Kremlin in Russia, and some part of the Trump Organization in the US."

Baker testified that he was "100% confident that he said that in the meeting."

Baker said he probably wouldn't have agreed to meet with Sussmann if he knew Sussmann was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
michael sussmann
© REUTERSAttorney Michael Sussmann (front) is on trial for one count of lying to the government.
"That would raise very serious questions, certainly in my mind, about the credibility of the source and the veracity of the info — heightening, in my mind, whether we were going to be played or pulled into the politics," he said.

"We were aware of and wary of being played - having the fact of our investigation being the thing to enable the press to report on something flawed or incomplete."

Baker said the fact that Clinton had been investigated by the FBI over her use of a private email server while secretary of state would also have played a factor in his decision.

"I think I would have said: Meet with case agents associated with the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Meet with the 'Midyear Exam' folks," he testified.

Baker said Sussmann's assertions — which included a text message the night before that said he'd be "coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau" — led him to treat Sussmann as a confidential FBI source.

That decision stymied efforts to compile a complete "chain of custody" for two thumb drives of data that Sussmann gave Baker, FBI agent Scott Hellman testified Tuesday.

"I do remember I was frustrated at not being able to ID who had provided these thumb drives to Mr. Baker. He was not willing to tell me," Hellman said.

During Thursday's testimony, Baker said Sussmann told him that a reporter was working on a story about the Alfa Bank data, and that the threat of news coverage led him to take immediate action.

"It affected my thinking about the urgency of the matter because I know that if a news organization were to publish something about an alleged surreptitious communications channel ... as soon as that article came out the communications channel would disappear," Baker told assistant Special Counsel Andrew DeFilippis.

Minutes after his meeting with Sussmann, Baker said he briefed Bill Priestap, who at the time was assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, about the Alfa Bank information.

In a phone call with Priestap, Baker vouched for Sussmann as a source, describing him as a "serious lawyer" with background in cybersecurity who previously worked in the Justice Department.

Baker told Priestap that Sussmann was not acting on behalf of any client - a detail Priestap recorded in notes that he took during the call and which were displayed in court.

"Said not doing this for any client," Priestap wrote.
comey mccabe anderson russiagate fbi
James Comey, Andrew McCabe and Trisha Anderson
Baker also alerted other top FBI officials, including Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Trisha Anderson, a former FBI lawyer who oversaw legal support for its counterterrorism, counterintelligence and cyber investigations.

Anderson took notes of a meeting she had with Baker, which were also shown in court.

"No specific client," she wrote of Sussmann.

During opening statements Tuesday, the defense contended that Baker's memory of his meeting with Sussmann was now "clear as mud," and defense lawyer Sean Berkowitz used his cross-examination of the witness to highlight previous, inconsistent statements he made to investigators, including Durham.

Berkowitz confronted Baker with a transcript of a July 2019 interview during which he told investigators from the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office that Sussman got the Alfa Bank data from "some number of people that were his clients."

Baker said he used that language as a "shorthand way to describe the people with whom he was connected."

When asked if had lied to the investigators, Baker denied doing so. "I had no intention of deceiving the inspector general in any way, shape or form," he testified.

Another transcript produced by the defense showed Baker telling Durham in July 2020 that he couldn't recall taking any action to conceal Sussmann's identity from other FBI employees.

Berkowitz also asked Baker if it was possible that Sussmann mentioned his "clients" during a 13-minute phone conversation days after the meeting at FBI headquarters.

Baker said he was about 75% sure Sussmann did not mention clients on the call, but couldn't say definitively one way or the other.

At one point, Berkowitz needled Baker by asking, "It's hard to remember events of a long time ago, isn't it?"

"It depends on what you are talking about," Baker answered.

The cross-examination was scheduled to continue Friday.