WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias testified for more than three hours on Wednesday as part of the trial of Michael Sussmann, confirming that he hired Fusion GPS to run opposition research for Hillary For America during the 2016 election cycle, and revealing that he would share “the fruits of their work” with senior Clinton campaign officials.
Elias, a former partner at law firm Perkins Coie, and the former general counsel for the 2016 Clinton campaign testified he hired opposition research firm Fusion GPS in April 2016, saying he retained the firm on behalf of the Clinton campaign at “about the time that Donald Trump looked like he was going to be the nominee.”
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Elias also said that Fusion GPS, at the time, was doing work for the Democratic National Committee, related to its work for the Clinton campaign.
Elias went on to testify that Clinton campaign officials, including campaign manager Robby Mook, campaign chairman John Podesta, policy director Jake Sullivan — who now serves as White House National Security advisor in the Biden administration — and communications official Jennifer Palmieri, were aware of the opposition research Fusion GPS was conducting against Trump.
Elias said that if he had gathered information from Fusion GPS that he thought would “help the campaign,” he would pass it to officials in either their communications division or the research team.
Elias said Fusion GPS was researching a “broad” range of issues related to then-candidate Trump, and said he was regularly briefed by Fusion GPS employees Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch in his office.
Fusion GPS is the opposition firm which commissioned the now-infamous anti-Trump dossier, which contained allegations of purported coordination between Trump and the Russian government. The dossier was authored by Christopher Steele, an ex-British intelligence officer.
The Clinton campaign and the DNC funded the dossier through law firm Perkins Coie, where both Elias and Sussmann were employed at the time.
The government called Elias to the stand Wednesday as part of the trial of Michael Sussmann — the first trial out of Special Counsel John Durham’s years-long investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
Sussmann is charged with making a false statement to the FBI when he told former FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016 — less than two months before the presidential election — that he was not doing work “for any client” when he requested and attended a meeting with Baker where he presented “purported data and ‘white papers’ that allegedly demonstrated a covert communicates channel” between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which has ties to the Kremlin.
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Durham’s team alleges Sussmann was, in fact, doing work for two clients: the Hillary Clinton campaign and a technology executive, Rodney Joffe. Following the meeting with Baker, Sussmann billed the Hillary Clinton campaign for his work.
Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
With regard to the Alfa Bank allegations against Trump, Elias testified that he did not specifically recall who on the campaign he briefed on that research, but said “it would have been Robby, it would have been John… Jake would make sense, Palmieri would make sense.”
As to whether the campaign had put out any public statements about the Alfa Bank allegations, Elias said they had, shortly before the election. Elias went on to say that he did not remember if the communication was put out to the public via Twitter.
On Oct. 31, 2016, Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
Clinton also shared a statement from Jake Sullivan, which stated: “This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow. Computer scientists have uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
Sullivan said the “secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.”
“This line of communication may help explain Trump’s bizarre adoration of Vladimir Putin and endorsement of so many pro-Kremlin positions throughout this campaign,” Sullivan’s 2016 statement continued. “It raises even more troubling questions in light of Russia’s masterminding of hacking efforts that are clearly intended to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
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Sullivan added that they “can only assume federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.”
Durham, in a filing in early April, motioned to admit the Clinton campaign tweet from Oct. 31, 2016 as evidence for, but U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, who is presiding over the trial, ruled that the court would exclude the tweet as hearsay.
FBI Special Agent Scott Hellman testified on Tuesday afternoon that the data revealing the alleged covert communications channel between Trump and Russia that Sussmann brought to the FBI turned out to be untrue, and said he did not agree with the narrative. Hellman testified that whoever drafted the narrative describing the DNS data was “5150,” and clarified on the stand that meant he believed the individual who came to the conclusions was “was suffering from some mental disability.”
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Meanwhile, much of Elias’ testimony Wednesday centered around billing records, and how Perkins Coie traditionally billed its clients.
Durham’s team insists that Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign directly after his meeting at the FBI in September 2016 — a claim that is central to their argument in proving Sussmann’s alleged false statement.
One specific billing record was shown to the courtroom Wednesday, dated Sept. 17, 2016. The billing record revealed Sussmann had billed the Clinton campaign for nearly five hours of work. The record states that work consisted of “multiple telephone conferences and other communications with experts, media; communication with M. Elias.”
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Elias could not recall what Sussmann could have been billing for, but said that he was having occasional check-ins with him during that timeframe about the Alfa Bank allegations.
During cross examination, the defense asked Elias if he, or anyone from the Clinton campaign, had directed or authorized Sussmann to bring the Alfa Bank allegations to the FBI.
“No,” Elias testified.
As for the government’s argument that the data was brought to the FBI as part of an effort to create an alleged “October Surprise” ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Elias quipped: “An October surprise comes in October.”
Sussmann’s meeting at the FBI was on Sept. 19, 2016.
“What makes an October surprise useful is not just that it comes in October, but essentially, that it comes too late in the campaign process to un-do it,” Elias said. “Usually something comes in the second half of October where the media is landing something that is both explosive and effectively too late to rebut.”