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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Friday that campaign officials “did not trust” the FBI in 2016, and testified that some of “the most damaging days of the campaign” were caused by former FBI Director James Comey, “not Trump.”
Mook was called to the stand by Michael Sussmann’s defense Friday, and was asked whether he, or any Clinton campaign officials, authorized the defendant to bring information alleging a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank to the FBI.
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“No,” Mook said.
The defense asked Mook if the campaign “would have wanted to engage with the FBI” in September 2016.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton arrive for the Presidential Inauguration of Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool
“This was alarming information… if vetted, we would want to get the information to the public, but going to the FBI does not feel like the best way to communicate with the public,” Mook said.
“With respect to the FBI, as I am sure they are patriotic people, we did not trust them,” Mook explained. “Two or three of the most damaging days of the campaign were caused by Comey, not Trump.”
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Mook slammed Comey, saying he “broke protocol,” and referred to the public statements he made regarding the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and handling of classified information.
FBI Director James Comey is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2016, prior to testifying before the House House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing to explain his agency’s recommendation to not prosecute Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over her private email setup.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Comey, on July 5, 2016, announced during a rare press conference that he would not file charges against Clinton, saying that she was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information on her private email server.
But months later, on Oct. 28, 2016, Comey sent a letter to Congress, pointing to the bureau’s discovery of emails belonging to Clinton and aide Huma Abedin on a laptop belonging to Abedin’s then-husband, Anthony Weiner.
Those emails reopened the FBI’s investigation into Clinton, known as “Midyear Exam” or “MYE” just a week before the 2016 presidential election.
New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin attend a news conference in New York, U.S. on July 23, 2013. Photo
“So, we did not trust the FBI at that time,” Mook said. “And so much so, that Comey invited some of us to a briefing shortly before the election about election security. We didn’t go because we just didn’t want to have anything to do with the organization at that time, or engage in that way.”
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Clinton has repeatedly blamed Comey and the FBI investigation into “Those Damn Emails” (the title of one chapter in her book “What Happened”) for having contributed to the loss in her second presidential run.
“If the election were on October 27, I’d be your president,” Clinton said in May 2017.
Mook’s testimony comes as part of the trial of Sussmann trial, who is charged with making a false statement to the FBI. Sussmann told then-FBI General Counsel James 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 in which 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.
Attorney Michael Sussmann departs the U.S. Federal Courthouse after opening arguments in his trial in Washington, D.C.
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 testified Thursday that the FBI investigated the Sussmann data alleging a Trump connection to the Kremlin-linked bank, and found that “there was nothing there.”
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The government, in its opening statement Tuesday, argued that Sussmann’s delivery of the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations to the FBI was part of the Clinton campaign’s plan to create an “October surprise” against then-candidate Donald Trump.
When asked for the definition of an “October surprise” Friday, Mook testified that it is “the idea that you have a devastating piece of opposition research and drop it on candidate so the candidate doesn’t have time to respond or recover from it and, as a result, loses the election.”
Comey reopened the Clinton email investigation on Oct. 28, 2016, and just days later, Clinton first tweeted about the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations.
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The government moved to admit a tweet from Clinton dated Oct. 31, 2016 as evidence, despite U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper ruling last month that the court would exclude that tweet as hearsay.
Cooper, Friday, granted the government’s motion to admit the Clinton tweet, which stated: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
In this Jan. 13, 2017, photo, President-elect Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York.
Clinton also shared a statement from Jake Sullivan, which stated: “This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow. Computer scientists have uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
Sullivan said the “secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.”
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“This line of communication may help explain Trump’s bizarre adoration of Vladimir Putin and endorsement of so many pro-Kremlin positions throughout this campaign,” Sullivan’s 2016 statement continued. “It raises even more troubling questions in light of Russia’s masterminding of hacking efforts that are clearly intended to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Sullivan added that they “can only assume federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.”
When asked whether the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations were part of the campaign’s plan for an “October surprise,” Mook defended the Oct. 31, 2016 tweet, saying: “I did not see it as some sort of silver bullet and I don’t think that others on the campaign did either.”
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Meanwhile, Mook testified Friday that Clinton approved the dissemination of materials alleging a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank to the media, despite campaign officials not being “totally confident” in the legitimacy of the data.
Robby Mook, Campaign Manager for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and Communications Director Jen Palmieri (L), talk to reporters onboard the campaign plane enroute to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016.
Mook said he discussed whether to give the information to a reporter with senior campaign officials, including campaign chairman John Podesta, senior policy advisor, now White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and communications director Jennifer Palmieri.
“I discussed it with Hillary as well,” Mook said.
“I don’t remember the substance of the conversation, but notionally, the discussion was, hey, we have this and we want to share it with a reporter,” Mook said.
The government asked Mook if Clinton approved “the dissemination” of the data to the media.
“She agreed,” Mook testified.
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Mook later said he “can’t recall the exact sequence of events,” when asked if he shared the idea to give the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations to the media with Clinton before or after the decision was made.
“All I remember is that she agreed with the decision,” Mook testified.
Mook’s testimony revealing Clinton approved the plan to share the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations with the media comes after Fox News first reported that the CIA, dating back to July 2016, had information of Clinton’s “approval of a plan” to tie Trump to Russia “as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
Fox News obtained declassified notes from then-CIA Director John Brennan after briefing then-President Obama on July 28, 2016, memorializing Clinton’s purported “proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”
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The information was properly forwarded to the FBI in an Counterintelligence Operational Lead (CIOL), and to the attention of then-FBI Director James Comey and then-Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok on Sept. 9, 2016.
“The following information is provided for the exclusive use of your bureau for background investigative action or lead purposes as appropriate,” the 2016 CIA memo to Comey and Strzok stated.
“Per FBI verbal request, CIA provides the below examples of information the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE fusion cell has gleaned to date,” the memo continued. “An exchange [REDACTED] discussing US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
The memo was heavily redacted.
Fox News first reported that those materials were provided to the Justice Department by former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe in 2020 to support Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.