- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2022

An FBI agent testified in court Tuesday that a “typo” in an email led investigators in 2016 to believe that false allegations linking former President Trump to Russia’s Alfa Bank originated with the Department of Justice, when in fact they came from Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann.

FBI Agent Curtis Heide, who along with agent Allison Sands authored the internal communication, said the inaccuracy, sent out just weeks before the 2016 election, was simply a mistake.

“We may have conflated the Office of the General Counsel and the Justice Department,” Mr. Heide said on the witness stand. “I don’t know how that information got in there.”

On Monday, jurors in the criminal trial of Mr. Sussmann were shown the electronic communication sent in September 2016 by top bureau officials to field agents marking the opening of the case. The communication said the investigation was based on a “referral” from the Justice Department, rather than a tip from Mr. Sussmann.

Mr. Sussmann is currently on trial in federal court for one count of lying to the FBI when he peddled the Alfa Bank allegations. Prosecutors say he concealed his ties to the Clinton campaign when he met with top FBI General Counsel James Baker. They allege he pitched the now-debunked claims in a bid to sabotage the Trump campaign.

Defense attorneys say Mr. Sussmann didn’t lie, and that his ties to the Clinton campaign were well known to both the FBI and Mr. Baker.

SEE ALSO: FBI agent testifies he’s under investigation for withholding evidence in Trump-Russia probe

Mr. Heide said he was unaware of the typo until he was approached by the Justice Department Inspector General more than two years later, in 2018. At the time, the Justice Department Inspector General was looking into the FBI‘s overall handling of its probe into alleged ties between Mr. Trump and Russia.

“That was the first time we identified the typo in our paperwork,” he said. “They brought it to my attention and asked me if it was accurate. I told them that I don’t believe it was accurate.”

But Mr. Heide also admitted that he didn’t know the source of the Alfa Bank allegations. An instant message shown in court Tuesday from FBI agent Joseph Pientka, a top agent on the bureau’s Russia probe, showed he knew that Mr. Sussmann was the one who turned over the allegations to the FBI.

Mr. Heide said he didn’t know that Mr. Pientka knew the source of the Alfa Bank allegations, and said the detail is something he would have liked to have known.

Defense lawyers for Mr. Sussmann noted several errors in the FBI‘s documentation of its Alfa Bank probe.

In the electronic communication closing the case, Ms. Sands refers to the probe as “preliminary,” when in fact it was a full-field investigation. The closing document also repeats that a Justice Department referral spurred the probe.

“Not a lot of attention to detail?” asked defense attorney Sean Berkowitz.

“There were mistakes, yes,” Mr. Heide responded.

Mr. Berkowitz also seized on inconsistencies in Mr. Heide‘s recollection. Although Mr. Heide testified that he was notified of the “typo” in 2018, he told investigators with special counsel John Durham in November 2019 and June 2020 that the case was based on a Justice Department referral.

Mr. Heide fired back that he was not allowed to review emails for his meeting with Mr. Durham’s team, so his memory was “hazy.” Mr. Berkowitz countered that he was surprised Mr. Heide‘s lawyer didn’t provide him with information to review before the Durham meeting.

“I think there was confusion about where it came from,” Mr. Heide said.

Mr. Heide said his team quickly concluded in a few weeks that the Alfa Bank allegations were “bunk.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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