Special counsel says that a tech exec had access to White House computers in order to find dirt on Trump

Trump's former president and his associates claimed that the disclosure proved Trump was being monitored while he was in office.

Special counsel says that a tech exec had access to White House computers in order to find dirt on Trump

In a court filing, a tech executive said that he "exploited" the White House's computer data to obtain "derogatory information" on President Donald Trump. A special counsel was appointed during the Trump administration.

John Durham was appointed by William Barr, the then-AttorneyGeneral, in 2020 to investigate the origins FBI's investigation into Russian election interference. He said that "Tech Executive-1", not named in the file but first identified by The New York Times by Rodney Joffe as Tech Executive-1, used his access the domain name system or DNS data to compile information on which computers and servers White House servers were communicating.


 

Trump and his associates claimed that the disclosure proved Trump was being monitored while he was in office. Fox News' Jim Jordan, R. Ohio, said that they were spying on Trump. Trump stated Monday that the alleged spying was the "biggest story of our times, larger than Watergate."

It is not clear whether data was collected while Trump was president. It does not claim that any communications from the Executive Office of the President or any other parties were read or compromised. There is no evidence that data collection went beyond identifying the source and destination of internet traffic.

Rob Graham, a cybersecurity expert, told NBC News that Joffe was searching for domain names and addresses from which a computer could connect.

Graham explained that DNS will translate the website name to an IP address and group of servers when you type it in. This traffic is only used to determine if one server or computer is trying reach another. It does not reveal the content of messages or screens.

Joffe was not charged and the information about Joffe was made in a court filing by Michael Sussmann. Sussmann was a Durham lawyer who was indicted in September for lying about his relationship to the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

Friday's filing revealed that "Tech Executive-1" provided Sussmann with data concerning communications between EOP computers servers, two Trump-owned buildings near New York, and an unrelated medical company using Russian-made cellphones.

Prosecutors claim that Sussmann provided the data to an unnamed federal organization at a meeting on February 9, 2017, 20 days after Trump's election. He stated that the data "demonstrated" that Trump and/or his associates were using Russian-made, rare wireless phones near the White House and other locations.

The filing stated that "The Special Counsel's Office had not identified any support for these allegations".



 

Prosecutors claim that Sussmann didn't disclose to the CIA (identified by the Times as the CIA) that he was working on behalf of a client at the time he submitted the report. However, he was actually representing Joffe, aka Tech Executive-1.

Experts say that Sussmann could be subject to additional legal exposure if Joffe is not made aware of his relationship to him.

Attorneys for Sussmann responded to Friday's filing. They claimed that the special counsel tried to make it appear that Sussmann had given the CIA data from Trump's White House. However, the data that was provided to the agency was from the Obama administration.

"Though the Special Counsel suggests that in Mr. Sussmann’s February 9, 2017, meeting, he provided Agency-2 EOP data from before Mr. Trump became office," stated the attorney, "the special counsel is well aware that Agency-2 data only covered the time period prior to Mr. Trump taking office, when Barack Obama had been President."

Attorneys also stated that Sussmann did not bill the Clinton campaign for their February meeting with CIA. This was impossible since the campaign had effectively ended.

Sussmann's lawyers told the court that it was not the first instance in the case where the Special Counsel sought to include allegations regarding uncharged conduct into public filings. They did so with inflammatory and prejudicial rhetoric.

Joffe's spokesperson stated that "Contrary the allegations made by the special counsel, Mr. Joffe has not worked for a political party and was legally granted access to DNS data from a private client who separately provided DNS services to the Executive Office of the President. (EOP)"

Joffe's spokesperson stated that the terms of his contract allowed for "the data to be accessed in order to identify or analyze any security breaches and threats."

The spokesperson stated that there were legitimate national security concerns regarding Russian attempts to hack the 2016 election. Respected cyber-security researchers became concerned when they discovered DNS queries that were originated from Russian-made Yota phone phones, and this was in close proximity to Trump's campaign and EOP. They prepared a report on their findings which was shared with the CIA.

Special counsel Durham's office spokesperson said that the office declined to comment beyond court filings, and any response will be made in future filings with court.

In September, Sussmann was initially indicted by Durham's office. According to NBC News, Sussmann was indicted in September for advising the Clinton campaign on cybersecurity issues. A partner of his firm also served as general counsel. Prosecutors claim that Sussmann shared with James Baker, the FBI's general counsel, suspicions about secret communications between Trump campaign and Russia during a September 19, 2016 meeting. Prosecutors claimed that Sussmann "stated falsly" that he wasn't working for any client when he reported the suspicions.

Later, it was proven that the suspicions regarding internet traffic with Russia’s Alfa-Bank were unfounded.

Sussmann's lawyers issued a statement at the time of the indictment that stated: "Michael Sussmann is indicted today due to politics, not facts. This case is the exact opposite of what the Department of Justice is supposed represent.

"At its core the Special Counsel is bringing an accusation of false statement. This is based on an oral testimony that was made five years ago to one witness, which is not recorded and is not observed by anyone else. This type of baseless case would not normally be brought by the Department of Justice.

Durham's investigation is continuing and has led to one more indictment, in addition to Sussmann's. He also indicted a Russian analyst, who was a source of the Steele dossier, with lying to the FBI.

Durham was also the acting U.S. Attorney for Connecticut under the Clinton administration. He was then acting U.S. Attorney and then U.S. attorneys during the Trump administration. Durham resigned last year.

Friday's court filing was part of an inquiry into whether Latham & Watkins had a conflict in interest in Sussmann's counsel role. The firm also represented other interested parties in the case.

CORRECTION (February 15, 2022 at 7:21 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this article misrepresented the time period when internet data was obtained from the White House by special counsel Durham on February 11. The filing did not specify when the data collection was completed or what time period it covered. It also didn't state that the data collection occurred during Trump's presidency, but rather through February 2017.


 

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