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Jurors hear contrasting stories about FBI handling of Trump-Russia secret server claims

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An FBI agent involved in the investigation of links between Donald Trump and Russia told a colleague weeks before the 2016 election that top FBI brass were “fired up” about since-discredited allegations of a secret communications channel between Trump and a Russian bank with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

“People on 7th floor to include Director are fired up about this server,” FBI agent Joseph Pientka wrote in an internal instant message to another agent working on the issue, Curtis Heide, on Sept. 21, 2016. “Reachout and put tools on… its [sic] not an option – we must do it.”

But Pientka’s comment, revealed in courtroom testimony Monday, was part of a conflicting narrative presented to jurors about the secrecy and urgency with which the FBI treated allegations related to the Putin-linked Alfa Bank. Those claims arrived at the bureau via Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity attorney who represented the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, in the final weeks of the 2016 contest.

Special Counsel John Durham has charged Sussmann with falsely telling the bureau he had brought the Alfa Bank tip in his personal capacity, not on behalf of any of his clients — potentially affecting the FBI’s handling of the tip. But Sussmann’s defense team has emphasized that the bureau was well aware of Sussmann’s ties to the Democratic Party and that the circumstances of the tip were irrelevant to FBI’s decision to pursue it and ultimately deem it unsubstantiated.

The ongoing trial is the first courtroom test of Durham’s long-running investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, and he’s used the Sussmann prosecution to publicly disclose a broad swath of his case. Sussmann’s team, though, has cast doubt on the allegations, describing them as a desperate effort to shoehorn salacious and misleading evidence into the public record. So far, Sussmann’s trial has featured testimony from a series of high-profile witnesses, including Democratic Party attorney Marc Elias, former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and former senior FBI officials.

Despite Pientka’s messages, other witnesses described the bureau’s reaction to the Alfa Bank tip as relatively modest — a........

© Politico

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