John Kiriakou Media Original Russiagate

John Kiriakou: The Steele Dossier and Lying to the FBI — Not Guilty as Charged

The Steele Dossier was a pack of lies, but the Clinton campaign attorney who promoted it to the FBI didn’t lie.

By John Kiriakou / Original to ScheerPost

Michael Sussmann, an A-list attorney who was a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, was acquitted by a jury in the federal District Court of the District of Columbia on Tuesday.  Sussmann had been accused of lying to the FBI, a crime widely considered to be a “process felony” or a “throwaway felony,” something the Justice Department charges you with when they can’t get you for anything else.  Even though the federal sentencing guidelines called for 0-6 months in prison had Sussmann been convicted, the loss of his law license and the humiliation of a felony conviction would have been a far worse punishment.

But that didn’t happen.  Sussmann was acquitted after the jury had deliberated for only six hours, two of which were spent eating lunch.  After the trial was completed, two jurors, including the foreperson, told the Washington Post that the verdict was not a close call or a hard decision.  The foreperson added, “Politics were not a factor.  Personally, I don’t think it should have been prosecuted…The government could have spent our time more wisely.”  The second juror said, “Everyone pretty much saw it the same way.”

The verdict raises several different—and important—questions.  First, how did this happen?  The evidence against Sussmann was pretty straightforward, at least if you take the FBI’s word for it.  I’ll give you the details in a minute.  Second, why did this happen?  The jury foreperson said that politics was not a factor.  But was any prosecution of a senior Clinton campaign official even possible in a jurisdiction where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump 91-4?  Third, was this more a reflection on the incompetence and unpopularity of the FBI?  And finally, was it because people still believe the false narrative of the Steele Dossier, that the Russians got Donald Trump elected President of the United States.

This case began with the Steele Dossier.  That document, compiled on behalf of the 2016 Clinton campaign by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, made a number of very serious accusations against Donald Trump, his company, and the Trump campaign.  Some of these accusations, if they had been true, would have constituted major crimes.  

The allegations in the Steele Dossier included that the Russians had:

  • “cultivated Trump for at least five years” and that the operation was “supported and directed by Putin;”  
  • that there was an “extensive and well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian leadership, with information willingly exchanged in both directions;” 
  • that Trump had used “moles inside the DNC (Democratic National Committee), as well as hackers in the US and Russia” to spy on his political rivals; 
  • that Trump had declined “sweetener real estate business deals,” but that he had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin on his political rivals;
  • that Trump hated former President Barack Obama so much that when he stayed in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow, he hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed while in his presence in order to defile the bed used during an earlier visit by the Obamas;
  • that the Russian intelligence service was responsible for the hack of the DNC’s emails, not an internal whistleblower, and that Wikileaks, which published the documents, was used only as a cut-out for plausible deniability;
  • and that the former pro-Russian President of Ukraine had told Putin that he had been making “untraceable” bribery payments to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, presumably for inside information or for passage back to Trump.

Literally nothing in the Steele Dossier was demonstrably true.  That’s the problem with raw intelligence.  It’s just a collection of unvetted rumors.  Christopher Steele, being a career intelligence professional, knew that.  He saw his job as putting all the rumors he could collect from his Russian contacts in one document and then send it to the Clinton campaign.  But the Clinton people, including Sussmann, were not intelligence professionals.  They accepted the revelations as fact, which is what got them into trouble in the first place.

Sussmann’s role in this was that when the Clinton campaign received the Steele Dossier, which had also alleged that the Trump Organization was communicating with Russia’s Alfa Bank using a private encrypted server, he texted a contact at the FBI, former FBI General Counsel James Baker, saying, “I have a time-sensitive (and sensitive) issue that I need to raise with you.  I’m coming on my own—not on behalf of a client or company—want to help the Bureau.”

That text essentially kicked off the case.  Sussmann wasn’t going to speak to the FBI as a private citizen.  He was going as a representative of the Clinton campaign.  At least, that was special prosecutor John Durham’s contention.  And Durham thought he had proved that because when Sussmann got back to his office, he billed the Clinton campaign for the time he took to talk to Baker.  The billing document was entered into evidence as a prosecution exhibit.

This is where there was an odd twist in the case.  The Justice Department didn’t charge Sussmann with lying to the FBI in the text message.  It’s unclear why, and DOJ has never explained it.  Instead, Sussmann was charged with lying to Baker in their actual meetingBaker testified that he was “100 percent confident that he said that” (that Sussmann was acting as a private individual) in the meeting.  “Michael’s a friend of mine and a colleague, and I believed it and trusted that the statement was truthful.”  Prosecutors alleged that when Baker then sent the information about Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization to FBI agents for investigation, he could not tell them that the Steele Dossier was a piece of opposition political research from the Clinton campaign.  As a result, FBI agents wasted their time investigating the allegations.  For their part, the FBI agents conducting the investigation said that all they knew was that the information had come from the General Counsel, so it “must have been reliable.”  

Sussmann’s attorneys countered that Baker was mistaken.  They found a note from a meeting at the Justice Department in March 2017 attended by Baker, senior Justice Department officials, and FBI agents, which mentioned the Alfa Bank investigation and said the information was brought to the FBI “by an attorney on behalf of client (sic).”  Baker said that he had only a vague memory of that meeting and that he had no recollection that anybody had said anything about Sussmann’s “client.”  Baker, however, had to admit that he had not taken any notes in the original meeting with Sussmann and that he was relying only on his memory, a violation of the FBI’s standard operating procedure for meetings with people outside the FBI.

The case against Sussmann was clearly weak from the start.  It was also very poorly timed.  The decision to prosecute the attorney was taken while the FBI was still reeling over allegations that it, not the Russian government, was the one responsible for giving the country Donald Trump.  Remember, former FBI Director James Comey said in July 2016, four months before the presidential election, that he was recommending to the Attorney General that Hillary Clinton not be charged for mishandling classified information by using a private email server.  But on October 28, 2016, just days before the election, Comey felt compelled to send a letter to Congress saying that he was considering reopening the investigation against Clinton.  The act caused a political earthquake, and the Washington Post reported that a senior Justice Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “Director Comey understood our position (on the Clinton investigation.)  It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill.  He is operating independently of the Justice Department.  And he knows it.”  Clinton was livid.  And she has always blamed Comey for the fact that she lost the election.

Another of the Sussmann defense points was that neither he nor the Clinton campaign would have gone to the FBI if they had wanted to spread rumors about Trump.  They didn’t trust the FBI, after all.  Instead, they said they would have gone to the media.  And go to the media they did.  Clinton campaign manager Marc Elias said during the trial that it was Clinton herself who ordered senior campaign officials to leak the claim that the Trump Organization had a secret channel to the Kremlin through Alfa Bank.  She had the information sent to Slate, which published it immediately.  The campaign then followed up with a statement expressing “alarm,” as if this were some sort of new revelation they had never heard before.  It was a false narrative that the Clinton campaign circulated for political gain.

The New York Times, though, even now that the trial is over, continues reporting from an alternative reality.  Journalist Charlie Savage, who covered the Sussmann trial for the paper, wrote the day after the verdict that the trial “centered on odd internet data” after it became public that “Russia had hacked the Democrats.”  A logical conclusion was that the information in the Steele Dossier was true because “Mr. Trump had encouraged the country to target Mrs. Clinton’s emails.”  Savage continued that, “Trying to persuade reporters to write about such suspicions is not a crime.”  

Nobody ever said it was a crime.  That’s not why Sussmann was charged in the first place.  He was charged because the FBI believed he had lied to them.  And there was never any evidence that “Russians had hacked Democrats,” by the way.

None of that matters anymore.  It’s all over.  Sussmann is free to go.  The FBI looks like a bunch of incompetent boobs.  John Durham wasted millions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money.  And the New York Times will have to spin a different story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Salon was the recipient of a Clinton campaign leak about t he Trump-Alfa Bank rumors in 2016. That story appeared in Slate.

John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. analyst and case officer, former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former counterterrorism consultant. While employed by the C.I.A., he was involved in critical counterterrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but refused to be trained in so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” After leaving the C.I.A., Kiriakou appeared on ABC News in an interview with Brian Ross, during which he became the first former C.I.A. officer to confirm that the agency waterboarded detainees and label waterboarding as torture. Kiriakou’s interview revealed that this practice was not just the result of a few rogue agents, but was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.

25 comments

    1. Julian Assange: “How many times do I have to say it? The emails [Hillary’s, Podesta’s] were not hacked. They were leaked directly. From the DNC.”
      Why do you think the public can no longer have contact with Assange as he is being slowly murdered by the US/UK? Can’t let the American public have the truth. (Though reporters not working for the MSM knew the facts and printed them.) BTW, in Hillary’s email she spoke of ousting Putin after attacking Iran, i,e., if she could pull off a coup in Ukraine, she could do the same in Russia, when she was president. (She thought.) The Clintons are basically the cause of the Ukraine war, a goal they’ve had since Putin’s eletion.

      1. To Rob,
        I think that the person who leaked them met an untimely end …
        Frankly for some time I have thought that Assange’s persecution has far more to do with the publication of those leaks than with any “national security” concerns – it is revenge …
        All politics are personal …

      2. You must be speaking of Seth Rich of whom I can’t make a conclusion, not enough facts, but certainly a suspicious death. However, the exposure of US war crimes was what Assange is being pursued for firstly, then secondly, for exposing Hillary’s emails, we learn that when she becomes president, she will first invade Iran, then when that war is settled in (for years or decades), she will pull off a coup in Russia. If she could do it in Ukraine, she could do it in Russia. She and hubby hate Putin viciously. Crazy Clintons are deadly. (The coup is still planned.)

      3. To Rob,
        Remember Obama, faced with the same “national security” issues, declined to prosecute – the Trump admin. prosecuted, I think because of Pompeo, after all Trump had said earlier he “loved” Wikileaks, as well he might. And Biden is continuing – what is the difference between Obama’s and Biden’s approach – those e-mails ….

      4. Except that the plans to get Assange, predate the 2016 campaign, by several years. They’re pissed about the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, “Collateral Murder”, and the publication of the leaked State Dept. cables. Punishing Assange is an object lesson that they feel needs to be taught – to any who expose the crimes of the Empire.

        The hunting of Assange, began in earnest with the fake sex charges from Sweden – which were just a pretext to get him into US custody, through a “neutral” vassal State. Hillary Clinton had cackled like psychopath, about her desire to murder Assange, when she was Secretary of State, or perhaps even as a Senator. He had good reason not yo want to see her become President, personally… But he also expressed a wise concern for all of us, as well. Clinton, in concert with a collaborative media, and Legislative and Judicial branches – posed a far graver threat to mankind, than Donald Trump, being sabotaged and subverted by those other institutions. No matter how bad what he wanted to achieve was – he wouldn’t be able to accomplish it. Clinton by contrast has a long history of deception and evil cunning. Her competence signaled far greater threats to human life on this planet. As we’ve seen by the Brandon Regime, loaded with her stooges – it’s these NeoCon and NeoLiberal Democrats, who are intent on bringing about a unipolar Hegemonic Empire – and willing to destroy the entire planet, if they can’t have it.

      5. To Another,
        I would tend to agree with the assessment re Assange except fo a couple of things – Indeed there was no love lost between Assange and Clinton, but Obama had decided to not prosecute – even though all those “national security issues” had been raised – it wasn’t until after the personally embarrassing e-nails were released that the swords came out – I know it was the Trump admin that actually brought the charges and that I think was because of Pompeo – frankly I thought Trump might pardon him, but that was a bridge too far, I guess. Biden, otoh, was, is, IME, a Clinton Dem …
        Also Assange knew who leaked the e-mails, and he even offered a reward for information on who killed Seth Rich, that poor unfortunate DNC worker who was killed in a street “robbery” in which nothing was stolen, without openly saying he was the “leaker”.
        Politicians always raise “lofty” issues – but in the end all politics is personal ….

      6. The Bullshit case in Sweden was cooked up by Obama’s CIA. Obama Tortured Bradley/Chelsea Manning. That he “had decided not to prosecute” Assange is just lies from his PR Team. He DECIDED not to punish Dick Cheney (his cousin) for all the torture and the warcrimes… So he had to officially appear to not be prosecuting Assange for doing all of that. But Assange knew better. There were SECRET Grand Jury proceedings and indictments under Obama – which is why the CIA tried to set Assange up, in Sweden and then the UK. They had devised this Espionage Act case, and all of the bullshit Hacking charges – to get around the Washington Post problem.

        Trump has been a Clinton asset, going back to the 2008 campaign, at the least. For sure they have some kompromat on him. There was no way that he could have pardoned Assange, without being punished – and he’s not the guy, who’ll do the right thing, at any kind of personal cost.

      7. To Another,
        Indeed – there were secret “Grand Jury” investigations but the fact remains, there were no formal indictments under Obama, and those investigations were pre-email

        We all pretty much know the Swedish bit was BS – and that Ecuador was bought out under Moreno. The point I am trying to make is I think if it weren’t for the e-mail leak and publication, there may well not have been sufficient pressure to actually indict and seek extradition – and certainly not for 175 year charges – let’s face it, the point is to shut Assange up, not for what he did but for what he knows …

        The irony is that Snowden appears to have made the better choice in seeking asylum in Russia than Assange in the “free world”

      8. I think that there WERE Indictments. Secret Indictments, kept under seal. Those can be, and probably WERE replaced by Superceding Indictments.

        Therr was no reason to push the Sweden case – if they weren’t planning on grabbing him, all along.

        As for the emails – not only are they irrelevant to the present charges, but they may in fact have been a spooky double- or triple-agent gambit. Seth Rich’s brother worked for CROWDSTRIKE. He’s the guy who sues anyone, who talks about his brother. In fact, the release of the Podesta/Clinton campaign emails may have been a deliberately orchestrated Byzantine plot. It distracted from the thousands of destroyed emails, and bathroom servers, from Candidate Clinton’s time as Secretary of CIA State. As damning as the material in the Podesta and Campaign emails WAS – it seems like it was mitigated by the allegations that it was somehow “Russian” – and it fed into the pre-ordained Trump+Russia narratives, that were already long in place, by that point.

        RussiaGate was just the latest iteration of long established campaign of demonizing all things Russia or Russian. Rachel Maddow had been pushing this since the US-backed Government of Georgia, started a war in South Ossetia. The emails fit into it, perfectly – and deflected from the connections to ISIS and Syria, coming out of Benghazi.

      9. To Another,
        What is Rich’s brother suing for? Has he pursued an investigation into his brother’s murder, or is he content with the “just a robbery gone bad” explanation?
        Indeed, if it was all about blaming the Russians – why were the DNC servers not submitted to the FBI? Could it be that they knew, as McGovern and other VIPS members claimed, that it was a leak, and not a hack? And do you not suppose that because their veracity was never denied, regardless of the source, that their contents soured a whole lot of folks on Clinton – that she blamed, at least partially, their exposure,, and thus the people who exposed them, Assange being one – for her being “robbed” of her “anointed” ascendance to the throne. Remember her chilling phrase re Ghaddaffi – “We came, we saw, he died” – she is, IMO, a personally ambitious, ruthless person and her machine is, yet, a powerful one. So are the Ds the “lesser of 2 evils” or as Glenn Ford said, the “more effective one” ?

  1. Always helpful to remember that the Steele Dossier was not made public until January 2017, three months after the election.

    Whether the dossier is credited or discredited or unproven, there is no dispute the PUTIN’s efforts to win the election for Trump were massive. (See Fancy Bear and Podesta emails)

    We also know that the Trump campaign was drooling all over itself as they welcomed the Russian intervention. “If it’s what you say I love it,” said Don Jr. about the upcoming summer 2016 meeting at Trump Tower promising Russian dirt on Hillary.

    In light of the sordid history of the 2016 campaign, the Sussmann prosecution looks like the smallest of potatoes.

    1. That’s kind of funny…

      You said that, “there is no dispute the PUTIN’s efforts to win the election for Trump were massive. ” – while pointing to two things that prove NOTHING OF THE SORT – “(See Fancy Bear and Podesta emails)”.

      “Fancy Bear” is an unproven theory, pushed by people who are apparently unaware of the CIA’s Internet spoofing capabilities – as proven by Wikileaks, in the “Vault7” release. See “MARBLE FRAMEWORK”.

      If the CIA has that capability, one can safely infer that the other “5 Eyes” partners, and probably Israel’s Unit 8200 have it as well. Using that, and other techniques of Technically sophisticated TRADECRAFT – the CIA could make their OWN hacking attempts, appear to have come from wherever they like. North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Russia – or your house. And “Fancy Bear” appears to rely entirely upon that kind of Spoofable (in actuality – SPOOFED) indicia, to proclaim definitively that the GRU did X or Y – based upon their poorly informed and overly biased analysis.

      When the NSA says that they had anything. but “HIGH confidence”, that a hack came from Russia – they’re telling you, in so many words that ‘it didn’t come from Russia’. Because they can see these things happening in real time.

      And from what I’ve seen about – this kind of analysis of “Fancy Bear”s and “Russian Hackers” appears to deliberately conflate things coming from Russia – with things coming from the CIA’s NAZI COUP Regime, in neighboring Ukraine… Now, more than ever, it should be clear that places like Kiev and Lvov, are not the same as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

      Meanwhile – the Podesta Emails were downloaded onto a thumbdrive from the actual DNC servers and LAN, and then transported physically to Assange/Wikileaks. We know this for several different reasons. Former NSA Technical Director (and ACTUAL whistleblower) William Binney provides compelling analytical evidence to this effect, here: https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2019/02/why-the-dnc-was-not-hacked-by-the-russians.html

      We ALSO KNOW, because of closed session testimony from CROWDSTRIKE, to the House Select Intelligence Committee, improperly classified (for political effect, and expediency by Adam Schiff until just a few years ago) and withheld from the American people, that CROWDSTRIKE had no proof that those emails ever left the building over the web.

      https://consortiumnews.com/2020/08/21/ray-mcgovern-catapulting-russian-meddling-propaganda/ as seen below:

      “No Evidence of Hacking

      The “hacking of the DNC” charge suffered a fatal blow three months ago when it became known that Shawn Henry, president of the DNC-hired cyber-security firm CrowdStrike, admitted under oath that his firm had no evidence that the DNC emails were hacked — by Russia or anyone else.

      Henry gave his testimony on Dec. 5, 2017, but House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff was able to keep it hidden until May 7, 2020.

      Here’s a brief taste of how Henry’s testimony went: Asked by Schiff for “the date on which the Russians exfiltrated the data”, Henry replied, “We just don’t have the evidence that says it actually left.”

      You did not know that? You may be forgiven — up until now — if your information diet is limited to the LSM and you believe The New York Times still publishes “all the news that’s fit to print.” I am taking bets on how much longer the NYT will be able to keep Henry’s testimony hidden; Schiff’s record of 29 months will be hard to beat.”

    2. you just cant accept the facts… trump beat you and your lying cheating scheming pedophile pedocrat party. PERIOD. russia didnt do it. TRUMP did.

  2. Steele was originally commissioned by Trump’s republican rivals to produce a report. The democrats took it up after the rethugs dropped it.
    It was NOT initiated by the dems. At least get THAT fundamental fact right.

  3. Another indication of the gross incompetence as well as the criminal corruption of the Clintonista gang:

    “Literally nothing in the Steele Dossier was demonstrably true. That’s the problem with raw intelligence. It’s just a collection of unvetted rumors. Christopher Steele, being a career intelligence professional, knew that. He saw his job as putting all the rumors he could collect from his Russian contacts in one document and then send it to the Clinton campaign. But the Clinton people, including Sussmann, were not intelligence professionals. They accepted the revelations as fact, which is what got them into trouble in the first place.”

    But the damage inflicted by “Russiagate” was serious and its effects continue.

    Dilettantes like Rachel Maddow and other MSNBC mouthpieces send their audiences into convoluted mazes, all culminating in the nothing-ball Mueller report. Exhaustion and confusion resulted.

    Basically, it was raw meat for the Democratic party’s core neocon battalion: rather than a party that stands for peace and disarmament, the Clintonistas and others — including Elizabeth Warren — are agents of the war machine and the supremacist rationale of the Wolfowitz Doctrine.

    That vast conspiracy theory not only diverted attention away from much real dangers of Trumpism, but aligned liberalism largely with rabid anti-Russian, anti-Chinese hysteria.

    Biden and fake socialist Sanders both excoriated China as well as Russia in their political campaigns. Warren just co-sponsored a bill with Romney asking Biden NOT to end Chinese Sanctions as an anti-inflationary move.

    These are authentic enemies of the people, they distort and corrupt the discussion. Which Is what the military/industrial Blob wants.

    The fact that the Trumpoids support Russia on Ukraine and are against NATO is another grotesque outcome of the degenerate “democracy” of “our” country. These people have no deep geopolitics, they just want to “own” the libs.

    Raytheon et. al. are delighted.

    They have nothing to fear from Republicans: Trump loaded their maws with money, just like Biden. And De Santis is starting to beat Trump in polls: the rise of the “smart fascist” replacement is underway. He won’t screw around with NATO or offend the intelligence “community.’

  4. Re: “The Justice Department didn’t charge Sussmann with lying to the FBI in the text message. It’s unclear why, and DOJ has never explained it.”

    The Justice Department didn’t charge Sussmann with lying to the FBI in the text message because the judge ruled they could not. My understanding is the text was discovered outside the applicable statute of limitations period and for that reason was not included in the original indictment.

  5. As with his torture special prosecutor assignment, Durham has done a nice job of eliminating any serious investigation/prosecution, protecting the precious Deep State. And it may be they’ll need to trot him out again to preclude any Wuhan investigation.

  6. “The Justice Department didn’t charge Sussmann with lying to the FBI in the text message. It’s unclear why, and DOJ has never explained it. Instead, Sussmann was charged with lying to Baker in their actual meeting.”

    So, Democrats pretend to prosecute one another but actually do so incompetently on purpose. Got it.

  7. Clinton lost the election in the “Rust Belt” and nowhere else. She can whine to the high heavens, but it won’t change a thing: She and her husband are hated by the working people of those states (NAFTA, the Crime bill effecting blacks, and welfare reform, also effecting blacks), and mathematically, she was a sure loser. One more thing, Clinton’s campaign nearly if not totally, did nothing in those states and that’s where she lost the election.

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