By John Haughey
A Fusion GPS employee with “unique insight” into how her company, the Clinton campaign, and its law firm orchestrated “opposition research” into the Trump campaign that spurred the debunked “Russiagate” investigation will testify in the government’s case against former Clinton attorney Michael Sussmann.
United States District Judge Christopher Cooper Tuesday granted Special Counsel John Durham’s motion to compel Fusion GPS “tech maven” Laura Seago to testify when Sussmann’s trial begins May 16 in federal court in Washington, DC.
Federal prosecutors, led by Durham, have charged Sussmann with one count of making a false statement.
Durham maintains that in August 2016, Sussmann and Clinton campaign lead counsel Marc Elias met with Neustar executive Rodney Joffe—whose company was contracted to monitor DNS traffic for the Executive Office—and “encouraged” Joffe to concoct a “narrative” tying the Trump Organization to Alfa-Bank, the largest private bank in Russia.
Prosecutors say Sussmann on Sept. 19, 2016, gave FBI General Counsel James Baker documents collected by Fusion GPS, Joffe, and researchers to promote the Trump-Russia “narrative,” claiming he was doing so as “a concerned citizen” and not representing a client.
Prosecutors say Sussmann failed to inform Baker that he had represented Joffe in the past, had recently represented the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and that the Perkins Coie law firm, where he and Elias both worked, was general counsel for the 2016 Hilary For America campaign.
A federal grand jury approved charges against Sussmann on Sept. 16, 2021.
Durham’s April 6 motion to compel the Clinton Campaign, DNC, Perkins Coie, Joffe, and Fusion GPS to provide “withheld and/or redacted documents and communications” has generated the most intrigue because it raises questions about the nature of “attorney-client privilege.”
Because the documents and communications are related to “an attorney work product” or “fact product,” the entities claim they qualify for attorney-client privilege and should remain shielded from public disclosure.
According to Sussmann’s attorneys and lawyers representing the five, the “attorney work product” includes “opposition research” on Trump by Fusion GPS for Perkins Coie on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
Durham insists the 1,455 requested commutations are not covered under attorney-client privilege because few—18—include a lawyer.
Their argument is “based on an apparent theory that political opposition research and/or public relations work … falls within the legitimate scope of attorney-client privilege and work-product protections,” Durham says in the motion.
Cooper has not ruled on most of the questions within Durham’s motion, although he has heard arguments regarding what can and cannot be heard in trial in two evidentiary hearings.
Because some of the material could be classified, Cooper is issuing rulings on Durham’s motion after in-camera or private reviews. His Tuesday order compelling Seago to testify was after an in-camera review and was issued without comment.
In the motion, prosecutors say that because Joffe has refused to testify and has vowed to plead under the Fifth Amendment unless “immunized” from prosecution—which they support but Sussmann’s attorneys oppose—the “government determined it would need to call an employee of Fusion GPS as a trial witness.”
Seago was “the only Fusion GPS employee who exchanged emails with [Joffe] concerning [Alfa-Bank] allegations,” the motion reads, noting that Seago “acted as the firm’s primary ‘technical’ expert; worked for an extended time period on issues relating to the [Alfa] allegations; was a part of the team that handled work under Fusion’s contract with HFA and the DNC; and (met in 2016 with various parties – including [Perkins Coie], [Joffe], and the media–about the [Alfa] allegations.
“As such,” the motion continues, Seago “undoubtedly possesses unique insight to the core issue to be decided by the jury—whether [Sussmann] was acting on behalf of one or more clients when he worked on the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations.”
On Monday, federal prosecutors filed a supplement to their motion to compel that includes an eight-page conciliation agreement signed in February by the Clinton campaign and DNC acknowledging to the Federal Election Committee that they improperly reported payments to Perkins Coie for Fusion GPS’s opposition research as “legal and compliance consulting.”