Today we saw some important testimony in the Michael Sussmann case. First, Rodney Joffe, an FBI confidential human source, went around his FBI handler to relay dubious Alfa Bank information to a friend at the FBI. Second, there were indications that Joffe previously worked on Russia cyber security matters. This leads us to ask whether Joffe was in some way involved in the Trump/Russia investigation. More on that below.
The testimony of retired FBI Agent Tom Grasso.
Grasso, a witness for Sussmann, was a Special Agent with the FBI whose “primary responsibility involved investigating cyber crimes.” He was part of a unit detailed to the National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The NCFTA, as Grasso explained, “is a nonprofit entity where nonprofit entity where private sector and law enforcement can come together to collaborate on cyber crime matters; and the FBI unit that I was a part of was detailed to be the FBI component of that project.”
Grasso met Rodney Joffe through the NCFTA. I’ll let Grasso explain the connection:
Q. Do you know a gentleman named Rodney Joffe?
Grasso: I did.
Q. How do you know him?
Grasso: Rodney Joffe is a private sector partner and a friend of mine who I initially met in — somewhere between 2005 and 2010, as I recall.
Q. Did he, from time to time, provide you information or interact with you in assisting on the investigation of FBI investigations?
Grasso: Yes, sir, on a regular basis.
In fact, Grasso had nominated Joffe and others for an FBI award for cyber crime investigation back in 2013 relating to “Butterfly Botnet” (malware described to have reached about four million infected computers).
Overall, Joffe and Agent Grasso had a good personal and professional relationship. And Joffe exploited that relationship to further the Alfa Bank hoax.
In early October 2016 (on or before 10/2/16), Joffe called Agent Grasso and provided some information on the purported ties between the Alfa Bank/Trump Organization. Joffe further informed Agent Grasso that there was an ongoing investigation on this matter – something Agent Grasso had been unaware of up until that point. According to Grasso:
Q. How, if you recall, did Mr. Joffe provide this information to you?
Grasso: I recall that he provided the information to me verbally over the phone.
Q. And when he provided the information to you, without getting into great detail, what did he describe the information as relating to?
Grasso: As I recall, he described the information relating to communications between the Trump Campaign and some entity in Russia.
Q. And coming out of your conversation with Mr. Joffe, did you understand that there was any ongoing investigation into those issues?
Grasso: My recollection is that at the time he advised me that there was an open FBI investigation on the matter.
After that conversation, Agent Grasso sent this e-mail to the FBI Agents handling the Alfa Bank investigation:
Agent Grasso took this information from Joffe despite knowing that Joffe was a confidential human source (CHS) with the FBI – and despite the fact that Joffe didn’t go through his handler to relay this information.
The Cross-Examination of former Agent Grasso.
We’ll start with some important questions posed by Special Counsel DeFilippis on Joffe’s background.
Q. And so Mr. Joffe worked on a number of investigations involving foreign cyber threats; is that right?
Grasso: I would say all a matter of cyber threats, yes.
Q. Okay. So does that include nation state threats? Would he be, you know, working with the Bureau on nation state threats?
Grasso: I believe so, yes.
Q. And so that includes some of the big cyber threat countries, like Russia?
Grasso: Yes. At the time Russia was one of our top threats in the FBI for cyber crime.
Q: And so Mr. Joffe would work on Russian-related cyber matters?
Grasso: I believe so. He — I don’t think he was specifically tasked with doing that, but I’m sure the work that he did touched on matters having to do with Russia due to the prevalence of cyber crime activity that comes out of Russia.
There’s our confirmation that Joffe worked on “Russian-related cyber matters.” This line of questioning suggests (but doesn’t outright prove) that Joffe may have had some type of involvement in the biggest cyber security matter of 2016: the “Russian” hack of the DNC.
Of course, these questions could have been the Special Counsel trying to discredit Joffe’s claim (see below) that he wanted to remain anonymous because he was relaying risky information.
Anyway, assuming Joffe was involved in the Trump/Russia investigation, then we are presented with some important questions. Did Joffe inform the FBI’s understanding of the DNC/DCCC hacks? If so, what did Joffe contribute?
Then there’s Joffe’s close relationship with Sussmann and his support for the Clinton Campaign. Ask whether the Alfa Bank hoax was the first time Joffe colluded with Michael Sussmann. After all, it was Sussmann who “scrubbed” the CrowdStrike report that attributed the DNC hack to Russia. As Aaron Mate explained in this crucial article:
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, CrowdStrike delivered a draft report to the FBI on Aug. 31, 2016 that an unidentified FBI official described as “heavily redacted.” James Trainor, then-assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, told the committee that he was “frustrated” with the CrowdStrike report and “doubted its completeness” because “outside counsel” – i.e. Sussmann – “had reviewed it.” According to Trainor, the DNC’s cooperation was “moderate” overall and “slow and laborious in many respects.” Trainor singled out the fact that Perkins Coie – and specifically, Sussmann – “scrubbed” the CrowdStrike information before it was delivered to the FBI, resulting in a “stripped-down version” that was “not optimal.” (Emphasis ours.)
The DOJ and FBI essentially allowed Sussmann “to decide what it could and could not see in CrowdStrike’s reports on Russian hacking.” Did Joffe have a role in that?
Consider something else. What if Crowdstrike was a patsy, there to unknowingly reach false conclusions of a “Russian hack” based on information provided to them, in part, by Rodney Joffe?
Back to Agent Grasso’s testimony. Here he explains Joffe’s demands that Grasso not disclose his identity:
Q. In the case of the Alfa-Bank-related information that you just described, Mr. Joffe specifically asked you not to disclose his identity to other people in the Bureau; is that right?
A. That is correct, yes.
Q. He didn’t want you to tell even the people at the FBI you were talking to that this was coming from Rodney Joffe, right?
A. Yes, that is correct. He wanted his identity protected, yes.
Grasso paraphrased (on redirect) Joffe’s reasoning to stay anonymous: “This is very sensitive information. People’s safety could be at risk.”
And here is Grasso testifying to the significance of Joffe’s motivations in reaching out:
Grasso explained that these omissions were material because the motivation of a source’s political agenda is relevant to the type of cases they “can open.”
A Final Thought.
Yesterday we reviewed the testimony of FBI Agent Curtis Heide. According to Roger Stone, Agent Heide supervised the early-morning raid on Stone’s home and marched Stone out in handcuffs. Small world.
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