An FBI cyber expert testified Tuesday that the bureau’s counterintelligence unit opened an investigation into former President Trump’s alleged ties to a Russian bank in September 2016, even though his team had raised questions about the evidence provided by a Clinton campaign attorney.
Special Agent Scott Hellman, a prosecution witness in the case of Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann, said his team had debunked evidence of purported covert communications between the Trump Organization and a Russian Bank.
Mr. Hellman said he concluded “within a short period of time” that the allegations of secret contacts didn’t add up. He authored a report for the bureau saying the evidence “didn’t make any sense.”
Despite Mr. Hellman’s warnings, the FBI counterintelligence unit insisted on plowing ahead with the investigation.
At the time, the counterintelligence unit was led by anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok. It was not clear from Mr. Hellman’s testimony whether Mr. Strzok was the one who green-lighted the probe.
“We decided not to open an investigation,” Mr. Hellman said of his cyber team. “Counterintelligence did open an investigation.”
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Mr. Hellman said the counterintelligence unit had access to the same information he did and access to his report, yet still decided to move forward.
He testified that the counterintelligence unit received a referral from the Justice Department detailing unusual email activity belonging to the Trump organization, based on a white paper produced by an anonymous source.
Mr. Hellman thought it was strange that counterintelligence would open an investigation that came from the Justice Department.
The white paper was produced by Mr. Sussmann and tech executive Rodney Joffe. Mr. Sussmann is on trial for lying to the FBI by concealing his ties to the Clinton campaign when he turned over the white paper and two thumb drives with purported evidence of back-channel communications between Mr. Trump and the Alfa Bank.
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Hellman told the court that Mr. Sussmann’s claims simply didn’t add up.
“Based on the conclusions [Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe] drew, they were not fair nor were they objective in the conclusions they came to,” he said. “The assumptions you have to make [were] so far reaching, it didn’t make any sense.”
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