Day 2: Ex-FBI counsel Baker shrugs off failure to turn over key piece of evidence

by WorldTribune Staff, May 19, 2022

In testimony on Day 2 of the trial of Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann, former FBI General Counsel James Baker seemed to shrug off the fact that he had failed to turn over to prosecutors a key piece of evidence in the case.

Special counsel John Durham has stated that, prior to the 2016 presidential election, Sussmann provided Baker with purported bogus data of an alleged covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia-based Alfa Bank.

Former FBI General Counsel James Baker

A Sept. 18, 2016 text message, sent before his meeting with Baker, clearly showed Sussmann denying that he was contacting Baker on behalf of any client. Sussmann at the time was representing the Clinton campaign and charged the time to the campaign. He has been charged with lying to the FBI.

“Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks,” Sussmann says in the text, which was presented in court on Wednesday.

Asked why he never informed special counsel John Durham of the text despite the long investigation of Sussmann (Baker did not turn over the text even after Sussmann was indicted on Sept. 16, 2021), Baker responded: “It’s frankly — I’m not out to get Michael and this is not my investigation. This is your investigation.”

Baker “has long been a lightning rod for critics over the role of the FBI in pushing false Russian collusion claims. Baker did not help himself with those critics yesterday when he took the stand in the trial of Michael Sussmann,” law professor Jonathan Turley wrote on May 19.

Turley noted that Baker “came off a lot like ‘why should I help you?’ Even being used as a conduit for a baseless, false allegation by a campaign did not seem to motivate Baker to actively seek to turn over any evidence in his possession.”

Baker said that he found the text message in March of this year and turned it over to his lawyer.

“That seems like a rather belated discovery,” Turley wrote. “Alfa Bank was under investigation for years, including extensive investigations by Congress, the Mueller investigation and the Durham investigation. Yet, Baker did not previously review his own interactions with Clinton counsel or involvement on either the Steele dossier or Alfa Bank allegations?”

Turley added: “Even if Baker continues to maintain that he did not know that Sussmann was working for Clinton at the time of their meeting, it was clear early in the investigation that Sussmann and his partner at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, were involved in the allegations of a false campaign-driven Russian collusion allegations.”

Speaking of Elias, he also took the stand in the criminal trial of Sussmann.

Elias said that he had met weekly at his office with Fusion GPS, which was behind the discredited Trump-Russia dossier authored by ex-British spy Christopher Steele.

Typically Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson would be in attendance at the meetings, Elias said. Generally, those meetings involved discussions of Elias’s “needs” and Fusion GPS’s “work” – which included what Elias described as the “unusual connections” the Trump Campaign had with Russia. They would also report to Elias on their findings related to Trump during the election.

Notably, Elias mentioned Jake Sullivan as someone at the Clinton campaign who knew about the Trump/Russia research (though there is uncertainty as to whether Sullivan knew about Fusion’s activities). Elias would give the campaign these updates.

Elias also testified that the Clinton Campaign paid Perkins Coie a “flat fee” for their legal services. This explains why Sussmann would block bill the Clinton campaign. (“Block billing” is having a multi-hour entry with a generalized description. Example: “6.5 hours on confidential project.”) For flat fee work, attorneys are generally allowed block billing because the client isn’t paying the hourly rate. In contrast, for hourly work, lawyers are expected to provide more detail of the tasks they completed.

Elias also stated that he would have briefed the Clinton campaign about the Alfa Bank matter. He also admitted that he had discretion to instruct Fusion GPS to pursue leads and take investigative steps without checking with the Clinton campaign.

(Techno Fog provides a deep dive into Day 2 of the Sussmann trial here.)

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