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Was Russia collusion server data pushed in violation of Senate ethics rules?

Michael Sussmann speaks to the media outside the federal courthouse in Washington, Tuesday, May 31, 2022 after being acquitted of lying to the FBI Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Was Russia collusion server data pushed in violation of Senate ethics rules?

Pamela K. Browne

June 01, 07:00 AM June 01, 07:01 AM

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Lurking behind the mountains of prosecutorial evidence presented in over 150 exhibits and testimony by nearly two dozen witnesses in the now-concluded Michael Sussmann trial, questions swirl about how widely the debunked Trump-Russia collusion computer data spread among Washington, D.C.’s most powerful committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee in early 2017.

On Tuesday, a D.C. jury found Sussmann, the 57-year-old former Perkins Coie lawyer, not guilty of lying to the FBI.

Despite this setback to special counsel John Durham’s investigation, the public learned how a powerful attorney, in a law firm representing the Hillary Clinton campaign, deliberately bypassed protocol to get a meeting with the FBI general counsel in September 2016 to pass along the Alfa-Bank materials that Sussmann participated in preparing with the help of Fusion GPS and his client, Rodney Joffe.

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In addition, in a surprising revelation in the two-week trial, it was revealed that Sussmann’s client Joffe was fired as a confidential human source for the FBI in 2021. Joffe, identified as “Tech Executive 1,” may now be a focus in Durham’s investigation.

Lingering questions remain: if, for example, Sussmann, along with Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, Daniel Jones of the Democracy Integrity Project, and Joffe, worked together to promote the same fabricated allegations of a secret communications channel between Russia’s Alfa-Bank and the Trump Organization to the Senate Armed Services Committee after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

Jason Foster, president of Empower Oversight, a nonprofit group dedicated to increasing accountability for government and corporate wrongdoing, told the Washington Examiner: “It remains unclear to what extent TDIP’s report allegedly produced for the Senate Armed Services Committee overlaps with the information Sussmann provided to the FBI, although they appear to be closely related. The testimony at the [Sussmann] trial has not explored that question, but it is an important one that the Senate Ethics Committee should examine.”

The debunked computer data “white papers,” written and assembled by Fusion GPS, Joffe, and Perkins Coie attorneys Sussmann and Marc Elias, were delivered to FBI General Counsel James Baker by Sussmann on Sept. 19, 2016, via hard copy and thumb drives.

This opposition research, down to the thumb drives passed, was paid for by the Clinton campaign while at the same time promoted by Fusion GPS into select reporters’ stories.

The “white papers” alleged a covert communications channel between Russia’s Alfa-Bank and the Trump Organization. Ultimately, the FBI determined there was insufficient evidence, and Sussmann would later try to peddle the data to the CIA with no success.

Troubling to Foster, who worked for two decades as a congressional investigator, is whether or not the Senate Armed Services Committee knowingly allowed Daniel Jones’s TDIP to “work for free” for a year in violation of Senate Rule XXXV, which prohibits any gift, which includes gifts of services, over $100 per year.

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On Oct. 8, 2021, three weeks after Sussmann was indicted by Durham for allegedly lying to the FBI, Foster wrote to Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE), the Senate Ethics Committee’s chairman, and Vice Chairman Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). He specifically asked if the Senate Armed Services Committee violated rules “by requesting and accepting professional services from TDIP and Daniel J. Jones.”

Foster pointed out “TDIP’s research … began in 2017, continued for more than a year, involved hiring computer science experts at no cost to the Committee … [and] aimed at evaluating data that the Committee had received for alleged connections between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization servers.”

Foster emphasized the need for transparency, noting: “The advice we followed was to avoid accepting professional services without paying for them, even if it was related to the Committee’s official business.”

A review by the Washington Examiner of Alfa-Bank court filings, including Jones’s Aug. 18, 2021, deposition, congressional testimony, and other public documents, offers context into the relationship between TDIP and Fusion GPS.

On the Sunday following Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, Fusion’s Simpson and Fritsch met with Jones. By Jan. 31, TDIP was incorporated as a new nonprofit organization. In their book, Crime in Progress, Simpson and Fritsch described how “TDIP intended to tap the super-wealthy to fund work to protect the democratic system of government from a new and insidious assault.”

Jones, with considerable input and fundraising efforts by Simpson and Fritsch, raised $7 million in the first year, and Jones paid half of that, $3.3 million, to Bean LLC, Fusion GPS’s limited liability company. TDIP also paid nearly $700,000 to discredited dossier author Christopher Steele’s entity, Walsingham Partners.

TDIP donors include George Soros, deep-pocketed Democrats in Silicon Valley, and a group tied to Tom Steyer, the California businessman-turned-failed 2020 presidential candidate.

As TDIP’s president, Jones, a former FBI analyst and former staffer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was paid more than $380,000. Besides TDIP, Jones also operates a for-profit firm, Penn Quarter Group, in Washington, D.C.

Jones told the FBI in March 2017 that Penn Quarter Group “was being funded by 7 to 10 wealthy donors located primarily in New York and California, who provided approximately $50 million.”

Foster stressed: “Allowing Senate committees to accept free investigative services by an unknown group of billionaires raises potential conflict of interest issues that the Gift Rule is intended to prevent.”

“If Committees need to engage outside consultants for official business, there is a process for doing so,” he continued. “It’s unclear who on the Foreign Relations Committee was aware of the arrangement for free services provided and to what extent it was officially authorized. An Ethics Committee investigation could help clear up some of those questions.”

Apparently, nothing stopped Fusion GPS from figuring out ways to promote the Alfa-Bank narrative, with the help of TDIP.

In the now-ended Alfa-Bank civil litigation, Jones testified how he met with the Senate Armed Services Committee’s T. Kirk McConnell, at McConnell’s request, in the spring of 2017 “in the Senate Armed Services space … and they asked for my insights into the alleged connection between Alfa-Bank servers and Trump Organization servers.”

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“[McConnell] relayed that he had information from a trusted source about the server allegation … and the Senate Armed Services Committee was in possession of information about the server allegations.“

Jones described in his deposition how the DNS (domain name system) data was “already in the hands of the committee.”

Specifically, Jones said: “They asked me to evaluate that information. … The next step was to meet with an individual named Michael Sussmann.”

Jones had multiple meetings with Michael Sussmann in the spring of 2017. Sussmann also represented Joffe.

Curiously, Jones said Sussmann chose to refer to his client Joffe as “Max” or “John Galt.” But Jones said he figured out the expert was indeed Joffe. During the Sussmann trial, it was revealed that Joffe was “terminated” as a confidential human source for the FBI in 2021.

HILLARY CLINTON SIGNED OFF ON PUSHING ALFA-BANK CLAIMS TO THE MEDIA

Jones detailed, in his August 2021 deposition, that Fusion GPS was paid $3.3 million for a “hefty” 687-page Alfa research backgrounder that he admitted was produced “rather quickly.”

In a key exchange in his deposition, Jones was grilled by Alfa-Bank attorney Margaret Krawiec over a TDIP report dated March 21, 2017.

Jones claimed Fusion GPS had no knowledge that the background report that TDIP paid millions for would be included in the report he gave to the Senate Armed Services Committee for analysis sometime early to mid-2017.

The timing is notable, as this is shortly after TDIP was created on Jan. 31, 2017, and two months later, the Fusion report had a new home.

Was the data described in Durham’s indictment of Sussmann the same data obtained and analyzed by TDIP for the Senate Armed Services Committee? Was this also part of the core research that Fusion GPS provided? As Durham’s investigation continues to unfold, this remains a mystery.

Simpson and Fritsch bragged about what TDIP could do in their book, writing: “Without the deadline of an election … TDIP had the luxury to roam into underexplored areas while also opening up entirely new inquiries. It could bring on specialists: linguists, accountants, campaign finance nerds, Web scraping data gurus.”

The reality was TDIP served as another way for Fusion GPS to earn even more money in lucrative contracts than in their previous work with Perkins Coie. This would enable them to continue the amplification of the Russian collusion narrative against Trump’s presidency.

Seven months after Foster sent his letter, he said: “We have received no reply or communication from anyone at the Senate Ethics Committee” regarding Empower Oversight’s request for an investigation. “The Ethics Committee’s procedures don’t require it to respond to complaints from the public like ours. However, our filing argues that a public resolution would be in the best interests of the Senate. If the Gift Rule was violated, then there should be accountability.”

The Washington Examiner did not receive a response to questions submitted to Coons and Lankford.

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