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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former FBI General Counsel James Baker took the stand in the trial of Michael Sussmann on Wednesday afternoon, declaring that he is “not out to get Michael,” but is simply cooperating as part of Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation.
Baker falls at the center of the trial. Sussmann has been charged with making a false statement to the FBI when he told Baker in September 2016, less than two months before the presidential election, that he was not doing work “for any client” when he requested and attended a meeting where he presented “purported data and ‘white papers’ that allegedly demonstrated a covert communicates channel” between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which has ties to the Kremlin.
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Durham’s team alleges Sussmann was, in fact, doing work for two clients: the Hillary Clinton campaign and a technology executive, Rodney Joffe. Following the meeting with Baker, Sussmann billed the Hillary Clinton campaign for his work.
Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Baker, during testimony Wednesday, explained that the 2016 meeting was initially requested by Sussmann via text message to his personal phone on Sept. 18, 2016.
Durham, in a filing in the weeks leading up to the trial, referenced these text messages, saying “the night before the defendant met with the general counsel, the defendant conveyed the same lie in writing and sent the following text message to the general counsel’s personal cellphone.”
Baker testified that he had forgotten about the text conversation and found it in response to a request from the government earlier this year. Baker said that in March, Durham asked him to “look for” emails and other communications he may have had with Sussmann.
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“I’m not out to get Michael and this is not my investigation, it’s yours,” Baker said to the prosecution. “Nobody had asked me to go look for this material before that.”
Baker testified that upon finding the text messages, he notified the government through his attorney “as quickly as I could,” and said that same afternoon, FBI agents “came to my house.”
Baker explained his relationship with Sussmann, saying the two were “friends” who had kept in contact, but testified that he was “a bit surprised” to receive the texts.
“I was a bit surprised to get it from Michael, kind of wondered how he got my personal cell number, but Michael is a friend so it didn’t really freak me out,” Baker testified. “I trust Michael, it seemed to me at the time it was very important and so I thought I should meet with him right away.”
The government presented the text messages to the jury for consideration Wednesday.
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The text message stated: “Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss,” the text message stated, according to Durham. “Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks.”
Baker replied, “OK. I will find a time. What might work for you?”
Sussmann replied: “Any time but lunchtime you name it.”
“2:00pm in my office? Do you have a badge or do you need help getting into the building?” Baker responded.
“I have a badge. Please remind me of your room #,” Sussmann said.
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Baker on Wednesday explained he thought Sussmann could have a badge to admit him into the FBI Headquarters due to the work he often did with clients and law enforcement.
Baker is expected to continue testimony on Thursday.