NEW YORK — Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign said its communications with a firm that did opposition research into then-candidate Donald Trump’s Russia ties should be kept out of a related criminal case.
The campaign and research firm Fusion GPS said in Tuesday court filings that their 2016 messages are protected by attorney-client privilege. Fusion said the privilege applies because it had been hired by the Democratic National Committee’s law firm — Perkins Coie LLP — to help prepare a defense in case Trump sued them for defamation over their Russia claims.
The filings by the campaign and Perkins Coie seek to intervene in the criminal case against DNC-linked lawyer Michael Sussmann, who is accused of lying to the FBI before it opened the Trump-Russia-probe.
Special Counsel John Durham, tasked with investigating the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, seeks to use the communications at the July trial of Sussmann. Durham has asked a judge to review the communications to determine if they are truly covered by attorney-client privilege.
“The government is not entitled to obtain privileged material simply because it has filed a motion to compel,” campaign lawyer Robert Trout said in a filing. The lawyer said it would file the details of its argument under seal.
Fusion, whose probe ultimately helped produce the so-called Steele dossier about Trump, was hired by then-Perkins Coie partner Marc Elias, a top DNC election attorney, according to the filing.
Elias had a “reasonable concern about Mr. Trump’s litigiousness given his numerous threats of and actual litigation against his critics,” Fusion said in its filing. “Indeed, that concern was prescient, with Mr. Trump having recently launched litigation seeking tens of millions of dollars against every interested party here.”
Fusion’s messages with the DNC and the campaign may be relevant to the case because Sussmann is accused of falsely telling the FBI he wasn’t representing any client when he gave the agency information about suspected links between Trump Tower and a Russian bank a few months before the election.
Durham has accused the Clinton campaign and the DNC of wrongfully withholding the communications, which were sought under a grand jury subpoena.
Sussmann’s motion to dismiss the case was denied earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, who ruled a jury would need to decide whether Sussmann’s alleged lie to the FBI was material to the Russia probe.
Fusion said it was hired because of its expertise on topics including Russia, the Kremlin, foreign interference in U.S. elections, Russian oligarchs and their relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the filing. Trump famously asked Russia to “find” Clinton’s “30,000 emails.”
Story by Erik Larson.