A prominent cybersecurity attorney pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of lying to the FBI at a meeting five years ago about possible ties between Donald J. Trump and Russia.
The attorney, Michael A. Sussmann, appeared before a magistrate in Washington, where he had been charged the day before. After a brief hearing, he was released on certain conditions, including travel restrictions.
The indictment centers on whether Mr. Sussmann lied about who he represented during a September 2016 meeting with a top FBI attorney. At that meeting, Mr. Sussmann provided analysis of cybersecurity researchers who said unusual internet data could indicate a hidden communication channel between computer servers connected to the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-affiliated financial institution.
The indictment says Mr. Sussmann falsely told the FBI attorney that he had no clients, but that he actually represented both a technology executive and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Sussmann’s attorneys deny that he ever said he had no clients, claiming he was there only on behalf of the executive and not on behalf of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
The FBI investigated concerns about Alfa Bank but found insufficient evidence to back them up, and the special counsel who later took over the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, ignored the matter in his final report.
Mr. Sussmann is a former computer crime prosecutor who has worked for the Department of Justice for 12 years. In 2016, he represented the Democratic National Committee on issues related to Russia’s hacking of its servers.
Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers have accused special counsel, John H. Durham, of having filed suit against their client for political reasons. mr. Durham was bugged in 2019 by Trump administration officials to review the FBI’s investigation after the president and his allies cast doubt on its legitimacy and the Justice Department inspector general discovered major problems with one aspect of the investigation – eavesdropping on surveillance applications – and in one related example, criminal behavior.
In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, then-Attorney General William P. Barr appointed Mr. Durham as special counsel so that the investigation would continue regardless of who won the White House. In a press release announcing the charges on Thursday, the Justice Department said Mr Durham’s investigation is continuing.