A former New York Times reporter, top Hillary Clinton campaign aides and current and former officials from the Justice Department and the CIA are among the potential witnesses at the first trial stemming from special counsel John Durham’s probe into the federal investigations of former President Donald Trump.
Former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann plans to call two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Lichthblau to testify in his defense, according to reports of a pretrial hearing held in Washington, DC, federal court on Monday.
Lichtblau would be asked about his communications with both Sussmann and tech executive Rodney Joffe, the Washington Post said.
Joffe provided Sussmann with computer research that purportedly tied a Trump Organization server to Russia’s Alfa Bank and helped him compile a “white paper” on the findings, according to Sussmann’s indictment.
Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI when he allegedly claimed he wasn’t “acting on behalf of” Joffe and the Clinton campaign while passing along the since-debunked information in September 2016, less than two months before the presidential election.
The Times isn’t expected to object to the defense’s planned questioning of Lichtblau but might do so if he’s asked about any independent reporting he did on the research, and the paper is expected to file court papers this week, defense lawyer Sean Berkowitz reportedly said in court.
Lichtblau referred questions to his lawyer, who declined to comment, as did the Times, according to the Washington Post.
Lichtblau, who writes about national security and law enforcement, has bylines on two Times stories from March and April 2016 in which Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer, was quoted as an expert.
Those reports involved government efforts to unlock iPhones, including one that belonged to one of the homegrown ISIS terrorists who killed 14 people at a 2015 Christmas party in San Bernardino, California.
Sussmann also acknowledged speaking to Lichtblau and other reporters from the Washington Post and Slate magazine in late October 2016, leading to stories that appeared a short time later, according to a timeline compiled by US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin).
Sussmann’s other planned witnesses include Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who will be questioned about how Sussmann gave him information “that also involved Mr. Joffe,” according to The Washington Post.
In December 2019, Horowitz released a 476-page report that found multiple errors, but no evidence of political bias, in the FBI’s decision to launch a probe into contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Durham’s prosecution team plans to call witnesses including former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and former campaign general counsel Mark Elias of the powerhouse law firm Perkins Coie, where Sussmann was a partner before his arrest, according to the Washington Times.
Other prosecution witnesses reportedly include former FBI general counsel James Baker, with whom Sussmann met at the bureau’s headquarters on Sept. 19, 2016; former FBI assistant director of counterintelligence Bill Priestap, who later discussed that meeting with Baker; and a CIA official identified only as “Kevin B,” whose agency helped disprove Sussmann’s information.
Durham’s team also plans to call Laura Seago, a tech expert at the Fusion GPS research firm that commissioned the largely discredited “Steele dossier” of Trump’s purported ties to Russia, the Washington Times said.
Last week, Durham said he wanted jurors to learn about the “strong intersection” between Sussmann’s efforts and those of former British spy Christopher Steele but Judge Christopher Cooper ruled Saturday that he won’t allow “the kind of extensive evidentiary analysis that would be required to find that such a joint venture existed, and who may have joined it.”
“While the Special Counsel has proffered some evidence of a collective effort to disseminate the purported link between Trump and Alfa Bank to the press and others, the contours of this venture and its participants are not entirely obvious,” wrote Cooper, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama.