by WorldTribune Staff, May 26, 2022
Then-FBI Director James Comey was “fired up” about the alleged secret communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank, according to testimony in the criminal trial of Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann.
The new disclosure came with the testimony of Joe Pientka, the supervisory agent for the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation which the bureau dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane.” Pientka said he sent a note to FBI Special Agent Curtis Heide that stated: “People on the 7th floor to include Director are fired up about this server. Did you guys open a case? Reach out and put tools on?”
Law professor Jonathan Turley noted: “The question is why Comey and others were so reportedly eager given the lack of foundation for the false claim — a record that even the researchers told the Clinton campaign could be mocked as utterly unsupported. Yet, as with the Steele dossier claims (funded and spread by the Clinton campaign) there was a strikingly receptive audience for such claims at the top of the FBI.”
The testimony on the eagerness of Comey and others of the “7th floor” only served to magnify concerns “over the alleged bias or the predisposition of the agency on the investigation of Trump and his campaign,” Turley wrote. “It is particularly striking in an allegation that was viewed as unsupported even by the researchers and quickly dismissed by the government as baseless.”
According to special counsel John Durham, the Alfa Bank allegation fell apart even before Sussmann delivered it to the FBI.
Evidence presented at the trial on Wednesday showed that Sussmann billed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for the thumb drives he provided to the FBI which contained bogus allegations of the Trump-Alfa Bank connection.
In September 2016, Sussmann presented the FBI with the data suggesting a link between Donald Trump and Russia’s Alfa-Bank.
Sussmann was indicted on charges of allegedly concealing his clients — Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and “Tech Executive-1,” known to be former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe — from FBI general counsel James Baker.
Sussmann on Thursday declined to testify in his own defense before his attorneys rested their case.
It was also revealed in Wednesday’s proceedings that Joffe, an FBI confidential human source, went around his FBI handler to relay dubious Alfa Bank information to a friend at the FBI. There were also indications that Joffe had previously worked on Russia cyber security matters.
Two thumb drives containing the bogus Alfa-Bank claims, along with “white papers” pushing the claims, were provided to Baker by Sussmann at the September 2016 meeting. Prosecution presented evidence that even the USB drives bought by Sussmann were billed to the Clinton campaign. The thumb drives, one blue and the other red, were displayed to the jury as evidence.
Kori Arsenault, a paralegal for the Department of Justice, discussed an expense report in which the expense owner was listed as “SUSSM” — Sussmann, who submitted it on Sept. 22, 2016. The allocation was marked “confidential” and charged to Hillary for America. The expense report included a Staples store receipt dated Sept. 13, and it included a two-pack of 16-gigabyte flash drives that cost $12.99. The store location, which Arsenault showed on Google Maps, was just around the corner from Perkins Coie offices in D.C.
The disbursement report listed the client as Hillary for America, stated “General Political Advice” was the purpose, and described it as “Sussmann Purchase of new single use flash drives for secure sharing of files 9/13/16.”
Fusion GPS drafted one of the “white papers” Sussmann gave Baker, according to the special counsel.
Arsenault, who has been assigned to the special counsel’s office since August 2019, compiled other records the Durham team said demonstrate that Sussmann went to the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign, including a Perkins billing chart laying out Sussmann’s billing time to the Clinton campaign.
Arsenault specifically pointed to a meeting on “Communications with M Elias regarding server issue” on July 1, “Communications with M Elias regarding server issue” on July 31, “Meeting with consultant, M Elias, revisions to white paper, meeting with expert and reporter, follow up meeting” on Sept. 6, “Multiple meetings regarding confidential project, draft white paper … meetings with M Elias” on Sept. 14, and “Work and communications regarding confidential project” on Sept. 19.
Numerous Perkins calendar entries presented as evidence by Durham’s team include Clinton campaign-related meetings for “Marc, Michael, Fusion Team” on July 29 and for “other work and multiple telephone conferences regarding confidential project” for four to five hours on Sept. 20.
TechnoFog on substack has covered the Sussmann trial extensively and put together the following roundup of Wednesday’s court proceedings:
The testimony of retired FBI Agent Tom Grasso.
Grasso, a witness for Sussmann, was a Special Agent with the FBI whose “primary responsibility involved investigating cyber crimes.” He was part of a unit detailed to the National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The NCFTA, as Grasso explained, “is a nonprofit entity where nonprofit entity where private sector and law enforcement can come together to collaborate on cyber crime matters; and the FBI unit that I was a part of was detailed to be the FBI component of that project.”
Grasso met Rodney Joffe through the NCFTA. I’ll let Grasso explain the connection:
Q. Do you know a gentleman named Rodney Joffe?
Grasso: I did.
Q. How do you know him?
Grasso: Rodney Joffe is a private sector partner and a friend of mine who I initially met in — somewhere between 2005 and 2010, as I recall.
Q. Did he, from time to time, provide you information or interact with you in assisting on the investigation of FBI investigations?
Grasso: Yes, sir, on a regular basis.
In fact, Grasso had nominated Joffe and others for an FBI award for cyber crime investigation back in 2013 relating to “Butterfly Botnet” (malware described to have reached about four million infected computers).
Overall, Joffe and Agent Grasso had a good personal and professional relationship. And Joffe exploited that relationship to further the Alfa Bank hoax.
In early October 2016 (on or before 10/2/16), Joffe called Agent Grasso and provided some information on the purported ties between the Alfa Bank/Trump Organization. Joffe further informed Agent Grasso that there was an ongoing investigation on this matter – something Agent Grasso had been unaware of up until that point. According to Grasso:
Q. How, if you recall, did Mr. Joffe provide this information to you?
Grasso: I recall that he provided the information to me verbally over the phone.
Q. And when he provided the information to you, without getting into great detail, what did he describe the information as relating to?
Grasso: As I recall, he described the information relating to communications between the Trump Campaign and some entity in Russia.
Q. And coming out of your conversation with Mr. Joffe, did you understand that there was any ongoing investigation into those issues?
Grasso: My recollection is that at the time he advised me that there was an open FBI investigation on the matter.
Agent Grasso took the information from Joffe despite knowing that Joffe was a confidential human source (CHS) with the FBI – and despite the fact that Joffe didn’t go through his handler to relay this information.
The Cross-Examination of former Agent Grasso.
We’ll start with some important questions posed by Special Counsel DeFilippis on Joffe’s background.
Q. And so Mr. Joffe worked on a number of investigations involving foreign cyber threats; is that right?
Grasso: I would say all a matter of cyber threats, yes.
Q. Okay. So does that include nation state threats? Would he be, you know, working with the Bureau on nation state threats?
Grasso: I believe so, yes.
Q. And so that includes some of the big cyber threat countries, like Russia?
Grasso: Yes. At the time Russia was one of our top threats in the FBI for cyber crime.
Q: And so Mr. Joffe would work on Russian-related cyber matters?
Grasso: I believe so. He — I don’t think he was specifically tasked with doing that, but I’m sure the work that he did touched on matters having to do with Russia due to the prevalence of cyber crime activity that comes out of Russia.
There’s our confirmation that Joffe worked on “Russian-related cyber matters.” This line of questioning suggests (but doesn’t outright prove) that Joffe may have had some type of involvement in the biggest cyber security matter of 2016: the “Russian” hack of the DNC.
Of course, these questions could have been the Special Counsel trying to discredit Joffe’s claim (see below) that he wanted to remain anonymous because he was relaying risky information.
Anyway, assuming Joffe was involved in the Trump/Russia investigation, then we are presented with some important questions. Did Joffe inform the FBI’s understanding of the DNC/DCCC hacks? If so, what did Joffe contribute?
Then there’s Joffe’s close relationship with Sussmann and his support for the Clinton Campaign. Ask whether the Alfa Bank hoax was the first time Joffe colluded with Michael Sussmann. After all, it was Sussmann who “scrubbed” the CrowdStrike report that attributed the DNC hack to Russia. As Aaron Mate explained in this crucial article: According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, CrowdStrike delivered a draft report to the FBI on Aug. 31, 2016 that an unidentified FBI official described as “heavily redacted.” James Trainor, then-assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, told the committee that he was “frustrated” with the CrowdStrike report and “doubted its completeness” because “outside counsel” – i.e. Sussmann – “had reviewed it.” According to Trainor, the DNC’s cooperation was “moderate” overall and “slow and laborious in many respects.” Trainor singled out the fact that Perkins Coie – and specifically, Sussmann – “scrubbed” the CrowdStrike information before it was delivered to the FBI, resulting in a “stripped-down version” that was “not optimal.”
The DOJ and FBI essentially allowed Sussmann “to decide what it could and could not see in CrowdStrike’s reports on Russian hacking.” Did Joffe have a role in that?
Consider something else. What if Crowdstrike was a patsy, there to unknowingly reach false conclusions of a “Russian hack” based on information provided to them, in part, by Rodney Joffe?
Back to Agent Grasso’s testimony. Here he explains Joffe’s demands that Grasso not disclose his identity:
Q. In the case of the Alfa-Bank-related information that you just described, Mr. Joffe specifically asked you not to disclose his identity to other people in the Bureau; is that right?
A. That is correct, yes.
Q. He didn’t want you to tell even the people at the FBI you were talking to that this was coming from Rodney Joffe, right?
A. Yes, that is correct. He wanted his identity protected, yes.
Grasso paraphrased (on redirect) Joffe’s reasoning to stay anonymous: “This is very sensitive information. People’s safety could be at risk.”