WASHINGTON — A former FBI official testified Thursday that when in 2016 he met Michael Sussman, a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Mr. Sussman told him he came to the FBI on his own.
The testimony supports the case brought by the private attorney, John H DurhamSussman, who was accused of lying about why he submitted his suspicions to the FBI about the Possible secret communication channel Between the Trump Organization and Alpha Bank, a Russian financial firm with ties to the Kremlin.
The case centers on whether Mr. Sussman sought to conceal his ties to Mrs. Clinton at the meeting with the FBI, so as not to appear as if he was coming for partisan reasons on behalf of Donald J Trump’s political opponent.
While the Sussman case is a narrow false statement charge, Mr. Durham’s filings widely suggested that the Clinton campaign tried to persuade the FBI to investigate Mr. Trump over his ties to Russia, and to persuade reporters to write stories on the matter.
Former FBI official James A. Baker, who in 2016 was the agency’s general counsel, insisted that Mr. Sussman told him he was representing no one but himself during the meeting. “I am 100% sure he said it,” Mr. Baker said. “Michael is a friend and colleague of mine, and I believed him and trust that the statement was true.”
Mr. Baker’s testimony came as no surprise. It overlapped with a text message Mr. Sussman had sent him the night before, and confirmed that the case might turn out to be what it means to be somewhere “on behalf” of the client.
Mr. Sussman’s lawyers admitted that he was working for the campaign when he tried to persuade reporters to write about the Alpha Bank issue. But they asserted that he separately brought the matter to the FBI when he thought a news article was about to publish on the subject so that the bureau would not be arrested.
However, on Thursday they also sought to cast doubt on whether Mr. Baker had accurately remembered what their client had said at the six-year meeting and subsequent events.
Sean Berkowitz, one of Mr. Sussman’s lawyers, asked questions that appeared to indicate that Mr. Baker should have known Mr. Sussman was working with the Clinton campaign.
On the podium, Mr. Baker provided a detailed description of their meeting and the steps he took to share the matter with senior FBI officials who can quickly investigate concerns raised by internet data and cybersecurity research. The FBI later concluded that concerns about Alpha Bank were unfounded.
Mr. Baker said he would have made a “different assessment” if he believed Mr. Sussman had contacted him on behalf of a client, particularly if that client was Mr. Trump’s political opponent.
“It could have raised very serious questions about the source’s credibility,” Mr. Baker added.
Sussman trial which It started this week, is the first case developed by Mr. Durham, a special counsel appointed during the Trump administration by the attorney general at the time, William B. Barr, to examine the origins of the FBI’s investigation into relations between Mr. Trump and Russia.
Believing that the bureau had limited time to act, Mr. Baker told senior FBI officials about the evidence, encouraging them to take it seriously because she had grown up with Mr. Sussman.
Mr. Baker said the FBI spoke with two New York Times reporters, one of whom was working on an article about a potential communications channel, to say the FBI needed time to start an investigation before publishing an article.
In light of this, Mr. Baker said he would also have reconsidered his dealings with the media. He said the FBI was “aware and wary of” the fact that an FBI investigation could be used by reporters as a way to report something “flawed or incomplete.”